I’m sure Ellen DeGeneres won’t care less with my “coming out” of sorts, but no, I haven’t liked her for years.
In recent days, the social media campaigns to “cancel” Ellen have been out in full force, even trending. It’s unclear if her daytime talk show will be cancelled in light of the serious accusations of wrongdoing behind the scenes. (Though, it’s widely speculated the self-titled show makes Warner Bros. a shit ton of money so it’s not going anywhere.)
There are two stories playing out right now: The antics of a handful of producers on the Ellen show, which is being investigated following media reports of staff misconduct; and the ongoing gossip that Ellen, contrary to her “be kind” on-screen messaging, is a nasty person in real life.
As an entertainment reporter with contacts at the WB show, I can tell you these two storylines aren’t news to me.
Reports of racism, sexism, sexual harassment and intimidation have plagued DeGeneres’s show in recent weeks. She took her time in condemning such actions and was criticized for her lack-of-apology apology issued last week. It’s said DeGeneres is so far removed from the day-to-day happenings of her own show that she was unaware people felt uncomfortable working there.
As for DeGeneres herself, there was a trending Twitter feed earlier this year that solicited stories about the comedian being a mean person. It had thousands of replies, though few were publicly investigated to corroborate.
So, why don’t I like her?
Admittedly, I was a fan of her sitcoms – These Friends of Mine/Ellen and The Ellen Show, I bought her comedy CD (I fell asleep to Taste This nearly every night as a teenager), and I howled with laughter in the bathtub many a night to her comedy DVD, Here and Now. When she went daytime with her talk show, she lost me.
I felt I knew the real DeGeneres when I saw her stand-up act and subsequent interviews on late-night shows. Perhaps she was in character then, but it was more a believable persona than on her talk show. DeGeneres lost me when she attempted to appear palsy with her celebrity guests. I never believed they were friends. On-screen niceness ensues, but never am I convinced she calls up any of them to hang out on weekends.
On the surface, the exchanges seem playful and fun – just as they are when I chat with stars on my syndicated radio shows – but I don’t believe she cares about the guests. (Truthfully, there’s a lot of acting involved when you host an interview show. Trust me.) DeGeneres has never made me buy it though.
I think for guests on her show, they feel welcomed and excited because DeGeneres isn’t a threatening personality, she’s not coming at them with hard-hitting questions and it’s a fun atmosphere created by a talented team of professionals (for the most part, minus the brewing scandal, of course). If anything, she’s only listening in the moment to trigger a playful retort to garner a laugh from the audience.
Compare the interactions with someone like Rosie O’Donnell, who seemed to be a genuine fan of the guests welcomed on her talk show so many years ago. O’Donnell took an interest and appeared to personally know most people. (If she didn’t, it goes to show how good of an actor she was.) There was something believable about how O’Donnell volleyed back and forth with the people seated next to her.
For DeGeneres, it seems the bigger her show got and the more famous she became, she took a step back as being someone you could easily relate to as a viewer. She was no longer that down-on-her-luck comedian from Louisiana who was all but blacklisted for coming out decades ago. Suddenly, she was in her own orbit and lost that connection with everyday people. (Regular viewers of her talk show might disagree but I question how much they know about her life and career prior to the daytime years.)
With the recent scandalous reports from DeGeneres’s talk show, former employees confirm the long-held belief that DeGeneres is unapproachable and distant with lower-level staff. For those who remember DeGeneres during those stand-up and failed sitcom days, you likely see different personality traits that developed over the years.
I often wondered if the generosity and good-deed-doing segments from the talk show were to overcompensate for the witch that DeGeneres has become (allegedly?). Maybe now we know.