Here’s a quiz question for you…. As a bona fide TV icon, Ellen DeGeneres has done which of the following: (a) been part of a historic moment on The Tonight Show; (b) used her self-titled sitcom to announce to the nation that both she and her character were gay; (c) hosted the world’s biggest awards show; (d) all of the above. We think you know the right answer. So who better to kick off our quiz on everything TV than the woman who continues to dance into our living rooms on a daily basis as host of The Ellen DeGeneres Show? Don’t touch that remote, as DeGeneres reflects on her career in television, tells us what’s on her TiVo, and looks ahead to a (pretty freaky) future.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your first big break on TV came doing stand-up on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. What do you remember about that experience?
ELLEN DEGENERES: I was the first woman ever to be called over to sit down next to him. It was a big deal, because he’d only done that, at the time, with a few men in the history of the show. When I started dreaming of being a comedian, I wrote this skit about a phone call to God, and when I read it back, I said, ”I’m going to be on Johnny Carson with this, and I’m going to be the first female comedian to be called over to sit down.” So I had that in my head, but nobody ever really knows.
How did getting your own sitcom with Ellen come about?
I’d been on Carson a number of times. I had HBO specials. I was pretty well-known. Meanwhile, there was a big wave of comedians getting their own shows. So when I went to audition for literally one line on a new show called Laurie Hill, everybody was like, ”Roseanne has her own show, blah-blah has her own show,” and it was just crazy that I was going to audition for one line on a show when everybody else was getting their own. So I went to producers Carol Black and Neal Marlens and said, If this show gets canceled, will they create one for me? Sure enough, it did. That’s how These Friends of Mine came about, which turned into Ellen.
Did the subject of your sexuality come up when they were planning the concept of the show?
People didn’t know what to do with me. If you have the lead of a show, she is usually married or looking for the right guy. I was honest with Carol and Neal. I said, ”This may affect what you’re doing. I’m gay.” They knew, so I said, ”Okay, I just don’t want any surprises, and I don’t want you to spend all this money, invest in me, and think that I’m keeping it a secret.” They asked if I wanted to be gay on the show, and I said, ”No, God no!” I was still very closeted. But I just wanted to be honest so they didn’t feel like they were getting tricked or something.
NEXT PAGE: Ellen on life as a Hollywood Square, hosting the Oscars, what’s on her TiVo, and more. Plus: Answers to the Ellen mini-quiz below.
TAKE THE ELLEN MINI-QUIZ
Think you know your Ellen trivia? See if you can dance through this quiz. (Answers on the next page)
1. Who was Ellen’s first guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show?
A. Jennifer Aniston
B. Jerry Seinfeld
C. Will Smith
D. Julia Roberts
2. Who played the therapist who counseled DeGeneres through coming out on Ellen?
3. Which series did DeGeneres not guest-star on?
B. Will & Grace
C. Mad About You
4. What star played ”Young Ellen” on DeGeneres’ short-lived CBS sitcom, The Ellen Show?