Photography by Gavin Bond. Retouching by Kevin Korneman, cmykproof.com. Photographed on the Warner Bros. Studio Lot, Burbank, Calif., on October 11, 2016. Styling by Kellen Richards for Walter Schupfer. Hair: Laini Reeves. Makeup: Heather Currie for Cloutier.
In a career that’s spanned more than 35 years, Ellen DeGeneres, 58, has almost always made daily life — and not people — the butt of her jokes, including on her popular 1990s sitcom, Ellen, which was canceled by ABC in 1998, roughly a year after she (and her onscreen counterpart) came out as gay. At the time, the media response reaffirmed DeGeneres’s comedic philosophy. “I was the punch line of lots of jokes,” she says. “I laughed at some, but I realized there’s somebody on the other side of them. It’s cruel. I’ve never liked mean comedy, but that became even more important to me after I was the brunt of it.”
It took roughly three years of false starts, rejection, and status quo trepidation from station managers before DeGeneres could get NBC to pick up her talk show, which is now in its 14th season and has won 57 Daytime Emmy Awards, 9 of which have been for Outstanding Talk Show. “Before this show, I had a lot of insecurity,” DeGeneres says. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to work again, and although I was out, I was still trying to alter myself — not dressing the way I wanted to dress or wearing my hair the way I wanted to. I slowly gained the confidence to be authentic, and what I’ve learned about other people is that they strive to be authentic, too. So whether they fully support me, love my lifestyle, or love that I’m married to a woman, I think they like that authenticity, and they’re drawn to it.”
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The Ellen DeGeneres Show has given its star a grand platform to share her benign yet sidesplitting humor and opinions, and only rarely has she veered from that norm. Perhaps the most recent notable case was in her October 14 interview with Hillary Clinton, wherein DeGeneres took aim at Donald Trump, saying that watching the debates was like watching Clinton “debating with a teenager.”
“Even my agent said, ‘I’ve never seen you be so partisan,’” DeGeneres says. “I’m not really a political person, but when somebody’s acting like an entitled, lying brat, and you know he’s hurt a lot of people, it’s easy to see what kind of human being he is.”
Today, DeGeneres is pulling other uplifting, like-minded LGBT personalities into her fold, including Tyler Oakley, “a positive influencer,” she says, who, in September, was given his own talk show on Ellentube, DeGeneres’s online video site. It’s one of the more inspiring recent developments for an empire built by a queer figurehead who, like so many of us, had to hoist herself out of a rut to thrive. “If this isn’t an example of ‘It gets better,’ I don’t know what is,” DeGeneres says. “Time is a strange thing. I was at rock bottom and out of money, with no work in sight, but one step at a time, it gets better. It gets much better than better.”