The real reason fans turned on Ellen



Imagine being Ellen DeGeneres.

Every time you go for a walk or to the shops everyone expects you to dance.

Pointing out the ludicrousness of being constantly expected to project her on-screen persona, DeGeneres was blunt: "Of course I'm not dancing. I'm walking down the street."

This is the problem with modern celebrity. Because stars are more visible to us, thanks to social media, we expect them to be "always on", fully inhabiting the character they play or the role they represent.

How else to explain the monumental pile on that's afflicted DeGeneres since not-so-famous writer and comedian Kevin T. Porter put out a tweet seeking mean stories about the talk show host.

"Respond to this with the most insane stories you've heard about Ellen being mean & I'll match every one w/ $2 to @LAFoodBank," he wrote.

Notwithstanding the irony that in seeking "mean" stories, Porter was himself being mean, why do we expect DeGeneres to always be the fun-loving, happy, kind person she is on her show? None of us are that one-dimensional and would she be the talent she is if she was simply cookie-cutter nice?

DeGeneres is 62. Her show has been running for 17 years, she's won 30 Emmy Awards and, earlier this year, received the Golden Globe Carol Burnett Lifetime Achievement Award.

She's come out as gay, married her long-time girlfriend Portia de Rossi in 2008, and her hilarious selfie with a group of the world's biggest stars squeezed in at the 2014 Academy Awards remains the second-most retweeted tweet ever.

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Ellen’s famous selfie at the 2014 Oscars. Picture: Ellen DeGeneres/Twitte
Ellen’s famous selfie at the 2014 Oscars. Picture: Ellen DeGeneres/Twitte

Such approbation and longevity don't fall from the sky; it's a special sort of alchemy born of character, instinct and deep knowledge of your audience and what makes them tick.

And yet this is being touted as the year of her demise because of a series of less-than-glowing claims by guests on her show, former staffers and a bodyguard.

Apparently, she has a "cold" demeanour. Apparently, she is a perfectionist. Apparently, according to actor John Cusack, she was "normalising mass murderers" by sitting next to former Republican president George Bush at an NFL football game. Apparently, her quip that self-quarantine was like jail was "distasteful".

Oh please. What hysterical nonsense. DeGeneres is a comedian but also a human who has bad days, a huge work ethic and a pithy sense of humour that may occasionally miss the mark. It's an occupational hazard just as an accountant might occasionally miscalculate numbers or a journalist might incorrectly position an apostrophe.

It's time we gave the woman a break. Entertainers, even rich, successful ones, have no greater obligation than any of us to be perfect, well-mannered people. Arguably they're more relatable when they expose their vulnerabilities and flaws and it's no surprise that after 17 years in the same job, DeGeneres may be more complex than the warm, attentive and engaging person she exhibits on her show.

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Ellen DeGeneres and wife Portia de Rossi. Picture: Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Netflix
Ellen DeGeneres and wife Portia de Rossi. Picture: Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Netflix

In an interview to coincide with her Netflix stand-up special Relatable, she told the New York Times 18 months ago that she wanted to show another side of herself. "I wanted to show all of me," she said. "The talk show is me, but I'm also playing a character of a talk-show host. There's a tiny, tiny bit of difference."

Tig Notaro, a friend who co-directed the special, said the show gave DeGeneres an opportunity to show the riskier, more subversive side of herself.

"Being trapped in the world of being asked to dance and expected to be nice, it's real," she said of the show. "I'm sure there's people who think she's kidding. Or can't have a bad day. But she does. It's an interesting pickle she's in."

The truth is, when we ascribe an ideal to the celebrities we uphold, we're revealing an issue with ourselves, not them. To presume, for instance, that Matt Damon is always decent or that Madonna is always self-promoting or that Michael Jordan is the sum of what he did on a basketball court, is to disregard the nuances, insecurities and challenges that all of us have.

Even if DeGeneres as not as nice as we'd like to think, so what?

The complaints about her are largely petty: an alleged complaint by a waitress that she criticised her chipped nails; a bodyguard who says he wasn't acknowledged, a PA who was forced to find some vegan cauliflower snack as part of her rider on a talk show which she then didn't eat.

Who says she demanded the snack? Perhaps her own assistant demanded it, not her. It's telling that the instigator of the stories against her eventually abandoned his call-out for anecdotes and made a paltry $600 donation to charity. "It's now hard to tell which stories are real or not," he tweeted.

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Who really cares if Ellen is ‘rude’ sometimes? Aren’t we all? Picture: James Devaney/GC Images
Who really cares if Ellen is ‘rude’ sometimes? Aren’t we all? Picture: James Devaney/GC Images

In an era that's seen revelations of sexual assault by the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and Rolf Harris, an awkward exchange over a party invitation between DeGeneres and actress Dakota Johnson is hardly grave cause for concern. And so what if she demands staff chew gum before speaking to her? Bad breath is gross.

DeGeneres has entertained us for quarter of a century. She's been instrumental in breaking down discrimination around homosexuality and she's maintained a loving relationship in an industry which comes with the scrutiny most of us will never appreciate.

She also did her little dance routine on her show long after she wanted to simply because her audience loved it.

DeGeneres has previously admitted she's a sensitive person, was deeply hurt by Elton John's comment that she should stop talking about her sexuality and be funny, and that she fears something bad happening to her wife.

She sounds like she has the concerns and insecurities of anyone. After all these years in the spotlight, can't we allow her to be the full person she is, not a cardboard cut-out grinning pleasingly on our screens?

Angela Mollard is a freelance writer. Continue the conversation @angelamollard

Originally published as The real reason fans turned on Ellen