11 times Ellen DeGeneres’ crown slipped as talk show ends: From ‘mean’ rumours to Mariah controversy
After 19 seasons, more than 3,200 episodes and thousands of guests, The Ellen DeGeneres Show is coming to an end.
The Ellen finale, airing Thursday (27 May), will see DeGeneres joined by special guests, from former first lady Michelle Obama to Kim Kardashian, to share their memories and favourite moments.
The chat show first aired in 2003 and resuscitated DeGeneres’ career after a period in which she was largely unemployed, following her coming out as gay in 1997.
Over the years years, DeGeneres grew to be one of America’s most-loved household names. But her crown became tarnished over the years, with celebrities and ex-employees alleging that DeGeneres’ megawatt smile was hiding a “mean streak”.
In 2020, the Ellen brand was pummelled when staffers came forward about the talk show’s “toxic workplace” culture, as well as claims of bullying and racism on set.
Views for Ellen plummeted, and soon DeGeneres announced the show would be ending. She was keen to make clear she was stepping down for creative reasons, having agreed on an end date with executives years ago.
But for many, it was the natural end point of a slow fall from grace. Here are 11 moments when the crown slipped for Ellen.
1. Kathy Griffin said Ellen DeGeneres 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 doubt on her sunny appeal.
2. When Ellen DeGeneres defended Kevin Hart
Tweets dated 2009 to 2012 in which Kevin Hart uses homophobic slurs resurfaced in late 2018 and threw the comic’s upcoming gig as Oscars host into doubt.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hosts the Oscars, gave Hart the ultimatum of apologising for the tweets or losing 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 him to nevertheless host the ceremony.
DeGeneres 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 Texas AT&T Stadium owner’s private suite.
But many viewers were baffled by what they saw.
Ellen 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
Outcry toward the surreal sighting was so intense that DeGeneres was forced to respond to criticism on her show.
She reasoned that, indeed, she is “friends” with Bush, and though their beliefs are different, they see past that.
Fans, however, 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 with Dakota Johnson
The interview between Ellen 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.”
Yikes. The two bickered for a short while, with smiles stiffening and replies shortening. Johnson countered DeGeneres at all turns before she conceded 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 said Ellen DeGeneres was not as welcoming as she expected
After NikkieTutorials came out as trans, she went onto The Ellen DeGeneres Show to discuss her journey.
Weeks after her stint on the show, she made some barbed comments about the host’s behaviour.
Asked about her experience with Ellen, 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 her behaviour, pledging to match each one with a $2 donation to LA Food Bank.
Raising around $600, an avalanche of unverified stories came crashing in from former employees, neighbours and others linked to her.
Claims of bullying staff, strict workplace rules and heated encounters with Ellen all collided with her lively image.
8. The time Ellen joked her at-home quarantine was like prison
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
When DeGeneres ended a brief hiatus of her show after coronavirus concerns led to it being suspended, she included a 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 US had become petri dishes for the deadly disease and that Ellen, there are people that are dying.
9. When she made ‘mean-spirited’ jokes about an Ellen impersonator
Dawn Lutrell, an Ellen DeGeneres impersonator who saw the host as something of an idol, was left “heartbroken” and even sought therapy after DeGeneres mocked her during a segment.
In 2018, Lutrell’s agent shared an audition tape of her performing as DeGeneres with a producer on the show. Soon enough, DeGeneres was on the air claiming she has been “on the internet”.
As Lutrell told The Telegraph, DeGeneres’ takedown of her appearance and livelihood left her with one thought: “Ellen’s kind of mean-spirited and a bully.”
10. When she grilled Justin Bieber and his wife Hailey about having children
STOP DOING THIS. seriously, its uncomfortable, especially if someone WANTS one but can't or has had a miscarriage, etc. There's more to being married or in a long term relationship than having babies. Stop 👏 asking 👏#EllenDeGeneres #Bieber https://t.co/53Mby0ocH3
— 🌽 Mika 🇺🇦 (@xXyoungrebelXx) December 2, 2020
During her 18th season, DeGeneres’ booked Justin and Hailey Bieber for her show.
But viewers were left unimpressed by her interview style, which saw her keep pushing the couple, 26 and 24 respectively, whether they’re having children.
“What are you all waiting for?” DeGeneres joked. “You know you love kids. You’re so good with kids. What’s the holdup?”
As one Twitter user summed up: “Even if you think it’s funny, it’s not. What if they had been trying and didn’t want to talk about it?
“Can we stop asking families when they’re going to have kids?”
11. That Mariah Carey interview
It was an interview that she came to recall more than a decade on as “extremely uncomfortable”, but in 2008, Mariah Carey appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
DeGeneres asked Carey to confirm or deny tabloid rumours that she is pregnant, even offering her a glass of champagne and pressuring her to take a sip.
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After being forced prematurely to tell the world that she was pregnant, she suffered a miscarriage.
“I wasn’t ready to tell anyone because I had had a miscarriage,” the singer told Vulture.
“I was extremely uncomfortable with that moment is all I can say,” Carey added. “And I really have had a hard time grappling with the aftermath.”