8 times the crown slipped for Ellen DeGeneres as accusations swirl over the star being ‘one of the meanest people alive’
To many, Ellen DeGeneres is an oasis of generosity and positivity.
For decades, she has been known across the sun-splashed pavements of Los Angeles for her pleasant persona. First as a stand-up comedian, then as the star of her sitcom and then as the host of her own eponymous daytime talk show.
But the star has, in recent years, fielded criticism. From on-air broadsides against celebrities to controversy around the company she keeps, rumours of how “mean” Ellen is continue to roil her.
DeGeneres knows this. She has spoofed her own public image before and spoken of her privilege as a rich, white woman in an effort to subvert the empire she herself built.
Yet, the world does tend to forget. As much as many laud Ellen as a queer pioneer of visibility since 1997, that is the sanitised story. After coming out on her ABC sitcom, conservative America shunned her and labelled her “Ellen Degenerate”.
As chirpy as The Ellen Show host so often is on-camera, she has offered the world glimpses into her mental health, still bruised by the backlash she faced after coming out which even included multiple death threats.
Spikes have, over the years, been thrown by celebrities, former employees and viewers under DeGeneres’ feet. She has always denied them, once saying to the New York Times: “That bugs me if someone is saying that because it’s an outright lie.”
And as the flood gates opened earlier this year and the halo Ellen has worn for decades begins to wobble, PinkNews looks back on the controversies that have rattled her reputation for niceness.
1. Kathy Griffin infamously said the TV personality has a ‘mean streak’.
In Kathy Griffin’s book, Celebrity Run-Ins: My A-Z Index, she said: “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.
“I can’t prove it, but this person, who has short blonde hair, has a mean streak that all of Hollywood knows about.”
DeGeneres has denied this incident happened, but their feud stretches back to 2007 when she did a set about how “mean” Griffin is.
Griffin’s descriptor – “mean streak” – has haunted DeGeneres since, casting a spectre of doubt onto her sunny stalwart appeal.
2. When Ellen DeGeneres defended Kevin Hart during the homophobic tweets Oscar row.
A string of tweets dated 2009 to 2012 in which Kevin Hart hurls homophobic slurs resurfaced in late 2018 and threw the comic’s upcoming gig as Oscars host into jeopardy.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hosts the Oscars, gave Hart the ultimatum of apologising for the tweets or lose the job.
Hart passed on the apology – noting he has addressed the tweets “several times” – much to the dismay of DeGeneres. She expressed sympathy towards Hart and urged for him to, nevertheless, host the ceremony.
Ellen also revealed that she wrote to the Academy to ask them to reconsider Hart’s role.
3. When it turned out she’s best buds with… George Bush.
A few minutes into the second quarter of an American football game, cameras cut to the stadium owner’s private suite.
But many viewers were perplexed by what they saw.
DeGeneres appeared to be sharing a joke with former president George Bush, who snickered as she read something from her phone.
Viewers were bemused by the odd couple, considering the former president’s problematic past with LGBT+ rights and both DeGeneres and de Rossi being outspoken activists.
4. And then refused to apologise for it amid severe backlash.
Outcry towards the surreal sighting was so intense that Ellen was forced to respond to criticism on her show.
The daytime television host reasoned that, indeed, she is “friends” with Bush, and though their beliefs are different, they see past that.
But fans remained unmoved. “Disagreeing with friends that wear fur is not the same as being friends with an anti-gay war criminal president that directly and negatively impacted millions of lives,” one user said.
5. The aggressively awkward interview between her and Dakota Johnson.
The interview between DeGeneres and Dakota Johnson is all about the silences.
In a painfully awkward chat, the pair spoke about Johnson’s recent birthday party, a soiree DeGeneres jokingly said she wasn’t invited to.
“That’s not the truth, Ellen, you were invited,” Johnson replied. “But I didn’t even know you wanted to be invited – I didn’t even know you liked me.”
O-oh. The two bickered for a short while, with smiles stiffening and replies shortening, with Johnson contradicting her, Ellen eventually concedes that she simply must have been busy the day of the actor’s birthday.
But what was she busy doing? Watching the game with Bush.
6. NikkieTutorials says Ellen DeGeneres was not as welcoming as she expected.
After the YouTuber came out as trans, NikkieTutorials was catapulted onto The Ellen Show to discuss her journey.
But weeks after her stint on the show, and she made some barbed comments about the host’s behaviour.
Asked about her experience on The Ellen Show, Nikkie replied bluntly: “It’s really nice that you came over and said hello to me… She didn’t.”
When the interviewer pressed her on this, she said the show felt like “a whole different world”.
7. When the flood gates opened.
Right now we all need a little kindness. You know, like Ellen Degeneres always talks about! ?❤️
She’s also notoriously one of the meanest people alive
Respond to this with the most insane stories you’ve heard about Ellen being mean & I’ll match every one w/ $2 to @LAFoodBank
— Kevin T. Porter (@KevinTPorter) March 20, 2020
It all started with a tweet.
One of DeGeneres’ ex-employees, Kevin T Porter, described her as “one of the meanest people alive” in a winding Twitter thread.
He encouraged Twitter users to share their “insane stories” of Ellen’s behaviour, pledging to match each one with a $2 donation to LA Food Bank.
Raising around $600, an avalanche of, albeit, unverified stories came crashing in from former employees, neighbours and others linked to her.
Claims of bullying staff, stringent workplace rules and heated encounters with Ellen all colliding with her perky image.
8. The time Ellen DeGeneres made a joke that her at-home quarantine is like prison, ‘everyone is gay’.
What a great look for Ellen as thousands of people sit in actual jail cells just hoping for the best without soap and basic protections https://t.co/RBytt0Kl4B
— Caroline Darya Framke (@carolineframke) April 7, 2020
So, what is she saying here, exactly?
Oof. When DeGeneres ended a brief hiatus of her show after coronavirus concerns led to it being suspended, she included the double-edged joke in the first episode that didn’t land right with some fans.
She said: “[Quarantining at home] is like being in jail, it’s mostly because I’ve been wearing the same clothes for ten days and everyone in here is gay.”
Fans reminded her that jails across the States have become petri dishes for the deadly disease and that Ellen, there’s people that are dying.