Ellen DeGeneres continues to inspire in her talk show’s 15th year

Jess Kaplan, Contributing Writer

Ellen DeGeneres’s hit talk show, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” launched its 15th season on Sept. 5, marking a decade and a half since DeGeneres’ bright energy, signature humor, and compassion first graced our televisions.

DeGeneres was born and raised in Metairie, La. Growing up, DeGeneres did not fit into any mold; she was not book smart, not particularly athletic, and not even considered the funny child in her family. Having few career ambitions, she worked a variety of peculiar jobs, selling vacuum cleaners and painting houses throughout her early twenties. Later realizing that she had a knack for comedy, she began performing at comedy clubs. It wasn’t long before a booking agent from “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” invited her to appear on the popular late night program. This appearance earned DeGeneres the distinction of being the only female comic to be invited on the show; her quick wit and alluring energy won over audiences.

The most pivotal moment in DeGeneres’s career was when she came out as a lesbian on the April 1997 cover of TIME magazine under the headline “Yep, I’m Gay.” Fans responded with a wide range of reactions, with some commending her bravery and others expressing how severely offended they were by her sexuality. The following week, DeGeneres’s alter ego in her self-titled television sitcom also came out as a lesbian, making her the first gay leading character on prime-time television. This action ignited a storm of controversy, causing show sponsors to withdraw their advertisements and ratings to decline. DeGeneres’s act of coming out overshadowed her talent, leading ABC to cancel the show after only five seasons.

Many predicted that after coming out, DeGeneres’s career would face major setbacks. Twenty years later, DeGeneres has proven all of her critics wrong. She has starred in “Finding Nemo,” hosted both the Emmy and Academy Awards, acted as the Covergirl spokeswoman, earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her greatest success is her talk show, through which she danced her way into the heart of millions. Her high ratings and Emmy count —30 to date—  are astounding, to say the least. While her show is silly and fun to watch, DeGeneres always makes her overriding message of “being kind to one another” abundantly clear to her viewers.

“It’s easy to forget now just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages 20 years ago.” former President Barack Obama said when he awarded DeGeneres with the Presidential Medal of Honor. There is no denying that DeGeneres’s coming out left a great impact on American pop culture. She effectively opened America’s eyes to the LGBT community and set a precedent for future LGBT storylines on television. The success of DeGeneres’s talk show in particular made it clear that America was heading in a new, more open-minded direction.

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