Receiving a career achievement award gave Ellen DeGeneres a chance to summarize her more than three decades on television as only she could.
“Before I knew it, I had a successful sitcom, and I came out. And then I lost that sitcom. And then I got another sitcom, and I lost that sitcom, too. And then I got to do something I’d never been able to do before. And that is…make my own whiskey,” DeGeneres said in front of the assembled crowd for the 77th Golden Globes on Sunday.
The univocalic standup comic, actress, and entrepreneur accepted the Carol Burnett Award for Achievement in Television on stage at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. Among the individuals that DeGeneres saluted for her career success were Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, Marlo Thomas, and the woman for whom the award is named.
“I felt like I knew her. She showed us who she was every week. She was larger than life. We counted on her to make us feel good and she delivered. Every single week, she never let us down,” DeGeneres said. “I always felt like she was speaking to me. When, at the end of the show, every time she pulled her ear, I knew she was saying, ‘It’s OK. I’m gay, too.’”
Kate McKinnon introduced the award, discussing the way that DeGeneres helped achieve greater visibility for the LGBT community via both her on-screen characters and her life away from television.
“She risked her entire life and her entire career in order to tell the truth, and she suffered greatly for it. Of course, attitudes change, but only because brave people like Ellen jump into the fire to make them change. If I hadn’t seen her on TV, I would have thought, ‘Oh I can never be on TV. They don’t let LGTBQ people on TV.’ More than that, I would have gone on thinking that I was an alien and that I maybe didn’t have a right to be here. Thank you, Ellen, for giving me a shot at a good life. And thank you also for the sweater with the picture of the baby goat on it,” McKinnon said.
Most of DeGeneres’ speech was spent working inside the usual framework of thanks that these award show speeches take; the most memorable part was when she veered off expectations and went into a history of the family everyone in the room knew to be made up. “I feel like you’ve all really gotten to know me over the past 17 years. I am an open book. And I couldn’t have done it without my husband, Mark. Mark, you are my rock. Thank you for supporting me through this crazy journey. I know it wasn’t easy for you or the kids. Rupert and Fiona, go to bed. I love you! That’s funny because they’re in college now,” DeGeneres joked.
DeGeneres closed her speech by saluting the power of the medium itself.
“All I’ve ever wanted to do is to make people feel good and laugh. There’s no greater feeling than when someone tells me that I’ve made their day better with my show, or that I’ve helped them get through a sickness or a hard time in their lives. But the real power of television, for me, isn’t that people watch my show, but people watch my show and then they’re inspired to go out and do the same thing in their own lives. They make people laugh or be kind or help someone less fortunate than themselves. That’s the power of television and I’m so grateful to be a part of it,” DeGeneres said.
DeGeneres is the first non-Burnett recipient of the Carol Burnett Award, which was instituted at last year’s ceremony as a complement to the Cecil B. DeMille Award. That annual honor, given to a performer or director who has made a significant contribution to the world of film, will go this year to 2020 Globe nominee Tom Hanks.