November 24, 2016 12:00:17 am
It’s hard to dislike Ellen DeGeneres. Sure, you can be indifferent to the American talk show host, but dislike won’t come easy to anybody who has watched her dance, prance, prank and giggle with her celebrity guests on The Ellen DeGeneres Show (Ellen), her multiple award-winning daytime talk show. It would be foolish to dismiss the programme as one that appeals to the lowest common denominator (intellectuals don’t watch cat videos on YouTube, right?), because the 58-year-old comedian and actor makes it look so easy. But to be yourself, day after day, year after year, in front of millions of viewers — the hardest thing to do in showbiz — and nobody does it better than DeGeneres.
There’s always been more to DeGeneres than meets the eye. Ask her viewers: when she came out as gay to Oprah Winfrey on the latter’s show in 1997, ratings drastically fell and DeGeneres’ show on ABC,These Friends of Mine, was scrapped. While awarding her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honour, President Barack Obama said, “It’s easy to forget now, when we’ve come so far… just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages almost 20 years ago…What an incredible burden that was to bear — to risk your career like that — people don’t do that very often. And then, to have the hopes of millions on your shoulders”.
If you watch the Ellen show, you’d know her audience on the sets: mothers, upper-class, educated women and some men. Who’s watching her at home? Housewives and young children, some of whom come from conservative backgrounds, some who’d stopped watching her after she came out to them. What brought them back, and what has led to her tribe increasing in the 13th year of her show, is that DeGeneres is immensely likeable; her identity as a lesbian is firm and yet, unthreatening to those who interact with her, her activism is mindful and sensitive, and most of all, she knows how to have fun, and how to bring diverse people to her show to have a little fun with her.
She’s not polarising like Winfrey or Rosie O’Donnell could be, or the ladies at The View can be. DeGeneres’ appeal is that her humour is clean, the show is a safe space to just have a laugh or two, and dancing is mandatory. She’s constantly looking for talent on the interweb and uses her show to promote performers, almost anywhere in the US, to give them an opportunity to be seen and heard. There’s no catch on Ellen, it is what it is.
Is it too safe, too sweet and sappy, bordering on a Disney movie? Yes, it can be. But where’s the harm in that, DeGeneres asks us, while showing us yet another puppy and baby video. So much of what troubles us as people can be soothed with a little laughter, no matter where it comes from. In this post-truth, post-Brexit, post-Trump world, we’ve never needed humour as much as we do now. So laugh with her, or at her, but laugh anyway, ’cause DeGeneres don’t care.
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