Amid a recent lawsuit against her production company for defamation due to a joke the comedian made on her show, Ellen DeGeneres insists there’s a very deliberate reason for her “happy” brand of comedy. Call it unfortunate timing or call it a bad case of irony, but DeGeneres’ recent interview in Parade magazine sheds light on why she won’t make jokes at other people’s expense.
In the interview, DeGeneres discusses her childhood in Louisiana and says she “grew up in a very conservative home” due to her parents’ religious beliefs. She says that she “didn’t see deep emotion from my parents. It was all very polite and very surface. I never knew how anybody was feeling. Because of that religion, everything was fine all the time.”
DeGeneres realized early that this wasn’t a healthy way to grow up, where feelings other than happiness simply weren’t approved of. She says this is what led her to be incredibly sensitive to the emotions and feelings of others, especially her mom, who experienced a breast cancer diagnosis and a rough patch of dating after divorcing DeGeneres’ father.
These difficult times in DeGeneres’ teen years had a direct influence on her brand of comedy as an adult. She tells Parade, “I was very sensitive, and I still am. I never want to hurt anybody. I want to make people laugh. I didn’t think it was ever funny to make fun of people. There’s so much to laugh at without it being at someone else’s expense… I’ve been treated in a way that has not been kind, respectful or considerate. I learned compassion from having experienced some bad stuff.”
DeGeneres is very aware of the impact her show has, and she knows she’s viewed through a lens of wholesome, positive television: “It is a happy show, on purpose. I represent happiness to a lot of people. I want to keep myself as open and as nonjudgmental as possible… Our only agenda is to make people feel good. It’s an hour of joy.”
For that reason, she says, she won’t make fun of even the easiest of targets, such as Donald Trump. Even though plenty of other TV hosts frequently take jabs at the presidential candidate, DeGeneres says, “I don’t want to make fun of anybody. It’s not who I am.”
DeGeneres’ happy humor certainly separates her from the pack, even on daytime TV, and I think it has certainly endeared her to the average TV viewer. Especially when her show was starting out and it may not have been common for a gay public figure to appear on TV screens each afternoon, DeGeneres showed people why she shouldn’t be judged based on her sexuality.
She has also managed to have a remarkably small amount of controversy for a public figure and consistently remains a safe choice for hosting duties and the like. For someone who won’t even make fun of Trump, whom even the most innocuous public figures have no problem joking about, it certainly seems unfortunate that DeGeneres is now being sued for allegedly doing just that to a real estate agent in Georgia.
Titi Pierce filed a defamation lawsuit against DeGeneres and Warner Bros. Entertainment, alleging that DeGeneres made a joke about breasts on her show when showing Pierce’s real-estate sign, which featured her name and phone number. Pierce’s lawsuit claims that the joke on the episode, which most recently aired on April 15, has led to “ridiculing and harassing” phone calls from the public.
Producers gave a comment to The Wrap on the suit, saying, “We try to have fun every day and make people laugh and never intend to hurt anyone’s feelings.”
I’m not quite convinced this lawsuit will harm DeGeneres’ iron-clad upbeat public image, but it certainly seems like unfortunate timing, given her quotes in Parade. Perhaps next time, DeGeneres should stick to a Trump joke. At least we know he won’t try to sue her.