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Ellen Degeneres

Ellen DeGeneres is one of the most popular contemporary comedians and the host of a successful daytime talk show. She is perhaps best known to young audiences as the voice of the endearing but absentminded fish Dory in the blockbuster animated hit Finding Nemo (2003), a role that perfectly captured her rambling, seemingly unrehearsed comic style. After rising through the ranks of stand-up comedy during the 1980s and early 1990s, DeGeneres became a successful television star with her show Ellen in the mid-1990s. Her career became temporarily derailed in the late 1990s, but she got back on track a few years later, surpassing her earlier successes by a long shot. During 2003 DeGeneres published a best-selling book of short stories and essays, toured across the United States with a new stand-up routine, voiced the part of Dory in Finding Nemo, and launched her syndicated talk show. Displaying the self-assurance that comes from a string of successful career moves, DeGeneres explained to Nicholas Fonseca of Entertainment Weekly how she feels about her latest venture: "I've never been so passionate about something. I will probably do this for the rest of my career."

DeGeneres was born outside New Orleans and spent most of her childhood there, living with her parents and her older brother, Vance. As a child, DeGeneres spent much of her free time exploring the city. She recalled to Liz Scott of New Orleans Magazine, "I rode my bike everywhere. All over the campus [of Newcomb College]. All over uptown. You know, people can grow up in New Orleans without realizing how unique a city it is. I remember thinking that it was a really neat place." When DeGeneres was thirteen years old, her parents divorced, and she moved with her mother to Atlanta, Texas. As quoted in the St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, she recalled using comedy to help her mother through the painful period after the divorce: "My mother was going through some really hard times and I could see when she was really getting down, and I would start to make fun of her dancing," DeGeneres remembered. "Then she'd start to laugh and I'd make fun of her laughing. And she'd laugh so hard she'd start to cry, and then I'd make fun of that. So I would totally bring her from where I'd seen her start going into depression to all the way out of it."

"I'm doing a talk show. It's not my job to get into an argument with somebody about religion or politics or sexuality or anything. It is my job to make people laugh."

After DeGeneres graduated from high school in 1976, she moved back to New Orleans, holding down a series of jobs, none of which suited her personality. She worked for a time in a law firm

At the age of twenty-three. and she appeared on several HBO specials. In 1982 she entered a national talent contest held by the cable network Showtime. receiving mixed reviews and decent ratings. from hostess to bartender to oyster shucker. Over the next several years. Open House and Laurie Hill. Carson brought her over to the couch. When DeGeneres won the contest. The show starred DeGeneres as Ellen Morgan. she started to flesh out a comedy routine. These Friends of Mine premiered on ABC in March of 1994. finding humor in the mundane.but felt stifled by the dress code. including its title. . She also worked at a retail clothing store and as a house painter. The invitation to sit down with Carson paid tribute to a comedian's talent and stature. The reviews and the ratings steadily improved. she traveled around the country performing stand-up comedy. the show had undergone major changes. which became Ellen. first performing just for friends and then at local coffeehouses and comedy clubs. at a New Orleans comedy club. DeGeneres earned numerous nominations for Emmy Awards. By the beginning of the second season. Ultimately she realized that she did not like following other people's rules. she branched out to begin acting in television series. In 1986 DeGeneres made history in her first-ever appearance on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. and she would have to make a career for herself that allowed for independence. She had arrived. never being invited to sit on the couch and have an on-camera chat with Carson. In 1991 DeGeneres was honored as best female stand-up comic at the 1991 American Comedy Awards. average-gal persona. before earning her own show. everyday events of the characters' lives. It focused on the lives of Ellen and her friends." she went immediately from local New Orleans comic to nationally recognized up-and-coming comedian. She held a number of restaurant jobs. About the same time. as more and more viewers connected with DeGeneres's oddball humor and appealing. earning the title of "Funniest Person in America. and in 1997 she won the prestigious Peabody Award for her work on the show. A female comedian had never been asked to sit on the couch after a first-time performance on the show. or emcee. She appeared in a couple of short-lived sitcoms. an employee (and later owner) of a bookstore called Buy the Book. sending in a videotape of her stand-up act. The night DeGeneres debuted on the Tonight Show in 1986. Soon she became the master of ceremonies. Most comedians who appeared on the Tonight Show performed their standup routine and then returned backstage.

where my perception was. becoming the first gay lead character on a network television sitcom. The show was cancelled after the 1997–98 season. 2001. The announcement came as no surprise—fans and journalists had speculated that it was coming—but it still generated a media storm. fearful of offending viewers. That show. but none of these established her as a successful film actress. Her highly publicized relationship and August of 2000 breakup with actress Anne Heche (1969–) eroded much of the goodwill fans felt toward her—or at least that is what DeGeneres believed. both professionally and personally. setting the stage for what some have described as her career's second act." She appeared in a number of films during this period. Ellen began losing viewers. called "The Puppy Episode. Soon after the terrorist attacks of September 11. . DeGeneres was asked to host the prime-time Emmy Awards. and wise" performance. and the network. During the 1997–98 season. Amid these disappointments. Some major advertisers had pulled out. DeGeneres impressed her fellow actors and millions of viewers with what Fonseca described in Entertainment Weekly as a "witty. a program that had been delayed twice due to the tragedy. which was praised by reviewers but never attracted a large audience. As many in the entertainment industry struggled over how to amuse audiences—or whether they should even try—in the somber aftermath of 9/11. In 2001 DeGeneres starred in a short-lived sitcom called The Ellen Show. began attaching warning labels to episodes that showed Ellen kissing another woman or discussing her sexual orientation. Many observers suggested that the show had fundamentally changed when the main character's sexual orientation became the focus of numerous episodes. DeGeneres herself came out to millions with a cover story in Time magazine announcing that she is gay. Some believed that the network simply did not want the controversy generated by the announcement about Ellen's sexuality. respectful. At the same time. DeGeneres made pop-culture history by having her character come out as a lesbian. including EDtv and The Love Letter. as she explained in an article in People magazine: "I went through a phase.In the spring of 1997. while others were scandalized by the news.' and it felt horrible. DeGeneres went through a difficult period." garnered forty-six million viewers and brought DeGeneres an Emmy Award for best comedy writing. whether it was true or not. After her show's cancellation. DeGeneres's professional life hit one distinctly positive note. Many fans wrote supportive letters. 'Everyone hates me now.

and I instantly said. She has spent several years in a relationship with photographer and actress Alexandra Hedison. Andrew Stanton. DeGeneres responded with a comment typical of her self-criticizing. the most ever received by a talk show in its debut season. In its first season. The character of the blue tang fish Dory seemed tailor-made for DeGeneres's wideeyed. and occupied the center square on the primetime game show Hollywood "I have fun every day. In a September of 2003 article in Entertainment Weekly. DeGeneres's program won the 2004 Emmy for outstanding talk show. She returned to stand-up with a hugely successful thirty-five-city tour. She hosted Saturday Night Live. DeGeneres began showing up on television more and more often. the film's director and cowriter. The two share a home on a three-acre spread in the Hollywood Hills. and in fact the role was written expressly for her. DeGeneres commented in an article at CNN.. explained why DeGeneres was his only choice for that character: "Everybody has that friend who's funny merely for existing.. and intensely likable persona.. It's the best job I ever had. Suddenly. The successful year was topped off with a record twelve Emmy Award nominations in 2004. concluding that both the highs and the lows have been valuable to her: "Right now I'm in such a good place. because it makes me appreciate this time even more. naive. you got nominations for every single category except the song. in 2003." . Basking in a post-Emmy glow. and I'm so grateful for every step of the way. She published a best-selling book of comic essays called The Funny Thing Is." In the fall of 2003." The joys of DeGeneres's professional successes are underscored by her stable and happy personal life. appeared on an episode of Will and Grace. The Ellen DeGeneres Show earned positive reviews and solid ratings across the nation. DeGeneres reflected on her career. In a late 2003 article in People. culminating with an HBO comedy special called Ellen DeGeneres: Here and Now. You're not waiting for a punchline with her. this time she was not the star of a sitcom but the host of a syndicated daytime talk show. DeGeneres found herself once again at the center of a self-titled television program. According to an article in the Washington Post. slightly insecure comedic style: "They told me. 'What's wrong with our song?'" In addition to three technical awards. You're just waiting for her to speak so you can start laughing. DeGeneres was everywhere. That's Ellen. when she heard the news about the Emmy nominations. and she lent her voice to what became the highest-grossing animated movie of all time: Disney/Pixar's Finding Nemo.Over the next year or so.