January 26 is Ellen Degeneres’ birthday! Degeneres is an American comedian, actress, and talk show host best known for starring in her self-titled sitcom, Ellen, and hosting her own talk show since 2003 called the Ellen Degeneres Show.
Degeneres was born in Metairie, Louisiana in 1958, and moved to Atlanta, Texas with her mother when she was a teenager after her parents divorced. She worked a variety of odd jobs when she was younger ranging from waitress to house painter to legal secretary. She had dreams of becoming a veterinarian because of her love for animals, but believed she wasn’t “book smart” enough to pursue the career. Her older brother, Vance, who was pursuing a career as an actor and comedian as a correspondent on The Daily Show first sparked her interest in comedy. At a public speaking event, Degeneres was nervous and began inadvertently making jokes to the crowd. They loved her awkward comedic style, and she was soon offered stand-up comedy gigs.
Her comedy career began when she was in her early 20s and began performing at a local coffee shop. Before long, she was touring nationally and won Showtime‘s Funniest Person in America in 1982. Her big break came in 1986 when a booking agent from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson caught her act at the Improv in Hollywood. She was invited to perform on the show, and after her performance was invited to sit on the famous “couch” and chat with Carson. She was the first female comedian to be offered this opportunity on the show. From then on, she became a regular guest on late night talk shows and her popularity with the American public grew.
The young comedienne’s observational humor was a hit with audiences, and she began starring in her own sitcom, Ellen, in 1994. In 1997, the show and Ellen’s life took a major turn when she made her homosexuality public in an episode of the popular show titled, “The Puppy Episode.” This was the first time the lead character of a sitcom openly acknowledged their homosexuality on air. Degeneres and the network both received criticism, which they had expected, and several affiliate networks and sponsors refused to air the episode and withdrew their advertisements. Gay activists and supporters praised their efforts in raising awareness to gay issues, and many episodes following the coming out episode focused on gay themes, bringing them to the attention of national audiences. Despite making history, receiving an Emmy award, and gaining supportive audiences, the show was cancelled in 1998.
Degeneres’ popularity has only grown stronger over the years, and she starred in several movies before returning to television in 2003 as the host of her own talk show, The Ellen Degeneres Show. Though many other daytime talk shows popped up during this time, Degeneres was the only one to leave a lasting impression on her audience and has received countless awards for her show, including 11 Daytime Emmy Awards. The same year she began hosting her talk show, she lent her voice to Dory, the ditzy lovable companion of Nemo in the hit animated feature, Finding Nemo. In 2009, she celebrated the 1000th episode of the talk show, and that same year, became a judge on the ninth season of American Idol. Her infectious comedic style has also led her to host a plethora of award shows including the Primetime Emmy Awards and the Academy Awards.
In 2004, Degeneres began dating fellow actress Portia de Rossi, and in 2008 they were married in one of California’s most high-profile same-sex unions after its legalization. Degeneres is also known for her ethical vegan diet, and has started a vegan outreach website called “Going Vegan with Ellen,” as well as opened an all-vegan restaurant in Los Angeles.
Happy birthday Ellen!