Sunday, October 09, 2005

Ellen DeGeneres

October 9,2005

I've been thinking about Ellen DeGeneres since I tuned into this year's Emmys. She was the emcee for the show but she wasn't all that funny. The bit about taking the portable television set to the line outside the ladies' room so that all the ladies in waiting could watch the show was pretty lame. But then, Ellen didn't earn her fame retelling other writers' jokes.
Ellen DeGeneres was funniest in her old standup routine. On stage she was so full of anxiety and uncertainty that you just knew she had a guilty secret. She'd fidget constantly, wringing her hands and shuffling her feet and looking around self consciously. She never failed to dig herself into a hole of double entendres whenever she opened her mouth, haplessly explaining herself into fresh misunderstandings until she became so verbally entangled that you were compelled to identify with her humiliation, it was so much like real life. One could only dispel the uncomfortable reality of her embarrassment with laughter.
Humiliation is the key to all humor. We laugh whenever someone trips and falls down the stairs. Ineptitude is funny. Of course we know now that Ellen did have a secret: she was a lesbian. When she was uneasy about this secret and didn't choose to reveal it, then her vulnerability was material for great comedy. Now that she's out of the closet and doesn't give a damn whether anybody knows it, she's lost the wellspring of her humor and she isn't funny anymore. Newly found self confidence ruined her career.
The show in which Ellen came out of the closet was one of the funniest shows I had seen. The fact that she kissed her female lover on the mouth during the episode was a daring shock which set the stage for a new direction for the show. Suddenly the Ellen DeGeneres Show was about Ellen's lesbian relationships, with all the sexuality spilling out indiscriminately. All the infamous lesbians of the entertainment business guest starred in the show and erotic female kissing became a common occurrence. It was vulgar and heavy handed but mainly it was not funny. The ratings of the show sank like a stone and shortly thereafter it was cancelled.
Ellen went from a headliner to a has-been overnight. Later on she tried to revive her television success in a situation comedy which had to do with her character returning to live in her old home town. There was even an unlikely male love interest. But the humor wasn't about her anymore, it was about contrived, fictional characters who tried to be funny but were not. The show relied upon writers to deliver comic material. That was not Ellen's specialty. The show was cancelled after a brief run.
Someone once said that laughter was recognition of truth. Good humor is a rehash of real life. It's a show about nothing, as George Costanza would say. Finding out that Jerry Seinfeld and his friends are stupid idiots is funny. Such relationships are so fraught with annoyance that the only way to deal with them is thru an old fashion belly laugh of verification, particularly if the idiots are your relatives or co-workers. When they act stupidly you smile and change the subject.
In real life the Seinfeld four could never have remained friends. An important part of the humor consisted of Jerry pointing out the stupidity of the other three by making fun of them all the time. In real life no one would put up with that kind of relentless derision. Thank God George and Kramer never seem to be offended. And anyway why does Jerry want to hang out with such a bunch of idiots. Jerry himself is not without his share of preposterous stupidity, letting himself be taken into schemes which he knows very well are destined to explode in his face. We all know people like the Seinfeld quartet but we don't want to be friends with them.
Ellen has made a comeback in recent months with a successful talk show. She's a pretty good interviewer and she's dropped the lesbian antics. On the Emmys, when she reverted to some of her vintage bumbling and excessive overstatement she was funny. But the old guilt is gone and with it the old Ellen.


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