In defense of Ellen DeGeneres: Comedy royalty has proved her doubters wrong with 30 years of TV gold
She doesn't take herself too seriously, doesn't bother to preach her social opinions, and even when she does, it's nothing like the holier-than-thou approach taken by others.
Since making her first television appearance in 1986 on 'The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson', the gawky, tomboyish and certainly one of TV's favorite funny women, Ellen DeGeneres has come a long way. She hangs out with the likes of Michelle Obama, shells out the better half of her earning for anyone in need and has never been shy about speaking her mind.
Had it been a personality like George Clooney or either of the Obamas in her place, such qualities would have turned them into instant Hollywood royalty, loved by fellow A-listers and admired by the legions of fans. Surprisingly enough, that's not the case for Ellen - the American comedian who turned 60 this year without a hint of wear and tear.
Not that in her three-decade-long journey in the entertainment industry, the stand-up comic-turned-TV host hasn't battled any lows, but that's where the Ellen charm comes in. She doesn't take herself too seriously, doesn't bother to preach her social opinions - and even when she does it's nothing like the holier-than-thou approach taken by many of her colleagues - and her comedy is just a reflection of her "happy girl" persona.
Far from the cutting, caustic, and abrasive style of humor that TV has been breeding for some years now.
During the 30 odd years (and counting) that Ellen has spent wisecracking on the small screen, she has rubbed shoulders with the who's who of showbiz - from Oprah Winfrey to Miley Cyrus. While most famous guests appear on her award-winning The Ellen Show with a wide grin and some great words for the very-generous hostess; there is a band of haters, who have dedicated every bit of their energy towards spiting her.
Gracing the top spot on this list is none other than fellow comedian and actress Kathy Griffin. Known for an acid tongue, the 57-year-old suddenly made waves back in 2016, almost saving her downward spiraling career, when she released a tell-all book titled 'Kathy Griffin's Celebrity Run-Ins: My A-Z Index'.
Amongst the 125 celebrities whom Griffin had targeted in her book, one was Ellen DeGeneres, described scarcely as the daytime host with "short blonde hair".
"I'm almost positive a certain beloved daytime talk show host once had me kicked out of a backstage dressing room at the Emmy Awards," Griffin wrote in her book adding, "I can't prove it, but this person, who has short blonde hair, has a mean streak that all of Hollywood knows about."
While Griffin's passive-aggressive jabs could hardly dent Ellen's reputation, the sharp, sudden and shocking blow that she might not have anticipated, came from Caitlyn Jenner. Taken aback by Ellen's disposition of her stand on same-sex marriage, the former athlete and current reality star spilled the tea on the talk show host during an interview with Andy Cohen.
Apparently, Jenner was asked to share her shifting perspective on marriage and equality, but the conservative tone of the E! star's comments rubbed Ellen the wrong way and she ended up discussing this later at a public forum.
"I kind of explained my progression … but then all of a sudden, Ellen comes back and says, 'Sounds like you're really not for it.' I said, 'No I just said I was for it but it was a progression.' She went on Howard Stern and kind of upped the ante and Howard goes, 'Yah, I can't believe Caitlyn's not for marriage equality,'" argued Jenner.
Despite her sweet demeanor and pleasant personality, Ellen managed to tick off a whole lot of her celebrity colleagues including British journalist Piers Morgan, who took serious offense with her "sexist" tweet wishing Katy Perry a happy birthday.
Perhaps there is logic to what some of these A-listers argue - the strongest allegation against her is her backing of an allegedly elitist brigade. And agreed, she is not the best in the business as far as her witticism is concerned. Who doesn't remember her 2014 stint as the host of the Academy Awards? In fact, she will fall inferior to many of her contemporaries, who not only drive the talk-show business but also use their platform to pass on critical political commentary.
All of this, while Ellen simply shrugs and huffs and giggles and dances around with her guests, who too seem to have no qualms about indulging in the silly and the idiosyncratic order of the routine.
It's not the sharp quips or brilliant commentaries that contribute to her viewership, rather the lack of brainy quotient that appeals her star guests and audience alike. But do not be mistaken, behind all this silliness is a strong voice that she efficiently uses to push her social thoughts and opinions.
She changed the conversation about gays
As monumental as the milestones that mark the acceptance of same-sex marriage and the LGBT community, is Ellen's journey in the industry as an openly gay artist. In a now-infamous Time cover that debuted in the year 1997, the comedian came out with the words "Yep, I'm Gay", splashed across the glossy pages.
Two weeks later, Ellen was seated opposite the Oprah, discussing her choice of coming out of the closet and the way she did it.
Thanks @theellenshow ♥️🙏🏼— EllenDegeneresWorld (@EllenD_world) April 14, 2018
It was 21 years ago, on the April 14, 1997, Ellen on the cover of TIME magazine , when she confirmed something she’d been building up to for decades: “Yep,” as the cover put it, “I’m gay.” pic.twitter.com/13KtiMYPOn
"Did you expect it to turn into all of this?,” the now-64-year-old media tycoon had asked, to which a fairly young Ellen responded, saying, "I decided this was not going to be something that I was going to live the rest of my life being ashamed of.”
"I never thought it was anybody's business, who I am and who I am with. So I thought, why do people need to know?" she later told Winfrey. "And then I realized that as long as I had this secret that I worried about all the time, that it made it look like something was wrong."
Indeed, her decision sparked a wave of debate. She suffered the wrath of advertisers - with JC Penney and Chrysler pulling their adds from her TV show 'Ellen' - and religious groups who targeted the parent company, Disney. On the other hand, Ellen, intentionally or not, had fueled a line of conversation that many of her contemporaries and even the industry newcomers today need to thank her for.
Explaining the Ellen phenomenon, a communications professor at the University of Wisconsin once said, "Ellen DeGeneres is ... almost a litmus test of where we have been as a society. When she first came out and really put the issue of same-sex partnerships on people's agendas, and I mean people who really wouldn't have thought about it, I think the country was still in a very different state."
Given the circumstances, it came as no surprise that it took a comedian to get the conversation started. Like fellow comedian and gay-rights activist Jessica Halem says, "That's their role, to be the jester [or] the fool who says, 'Let me talk about things you might not be talking about yourself and let me invite you into that conversation.'"
The life-changing decision was not devoid of consequences though. Soon after the coming-out Time cover, her show "Ellen" came to an end and the follow-up series 'The Ellen Show' also met with the same fate. But what was completely unexpected and unpredicted was the boost this entire fiasco served to Ellen's burgeoning career as a female comedian.
The Ellen that we have become so familiar with today, the host of a daytime talk show, winner of most People's Choice Awards, recipient of Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the beloved voice behind the animated character Dori, wouldn't have been possible had it not been for her decision, perhaps hasty, to not live in the shadows some 30 years back.
She maintains her distance from politics but isn't afraid to call out Trump
Not once, but multiple times Ellen has clarified her stand when it comes to politics - that she doesn't want to become a staunch part of the administration-criticizing system. And yet when president Donald Trump signed his first infamous bill, banning people from seven countries from entering the United States, the otherwise jovial comedian couldn't help but speak her mind.
“Like I said, I don’t get political, so I’m not gonna talk about the travel ban. I’m just gonna talk about the very nonpolitical, family-friendly, People’s Choice Award–winning Finding Dory. Dory lives in Australia, and these are her parents, and they live in America. And I don’t know what religion they are, but her dad sounds a little Jewish," she ranted to the resounding cheers of the studio audience who were beyond thrilled with the comparison between something as serious as politics and Dory.
Now it's not like Ellen's show has never seen a guest from the domain of politics - Hillary Clinton and the Obamas are frequents to the show - but in 2017, she definitely seemed to be upping her game when she took a strong stand against inviting Trump as a guest on her show. Clearly, a move inspired by the current wave of the times, Ellen, however, in her explanation steered clear of any bad blood.
Sharing her piece of mind about a Trump ban on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the TV personality said to Vanity Fair, "Because I’m not going to change his mind. He’s against everything that I stand for. We need to look at someone else who looks different than us and believes in something that we don’t believe in and still accept them, and still let them have their rights.”
One may argue that Ellen is more about the social causes than the political ones. She has kept her show clean, maintained her distance from touchy topics and her comedy tickles but seldom jolts the listener out of their senses. But these are unprecedented times, where every once in a while, even an apolitical show takes a sudden turn towards current affairs.
Whatever the fuel be - one thing is certain, when Ellen is involved, there will always be a certain level of sophistication involved. Whether it is with handing out hefty checks on her show or defending her dearest Oprah from Trump's barrage of criticism.