It had been 15 years since Ellen DeGeneres last constructed a stand-up special. Since the starting her wildly successful talk show in 2003, DeGeneres has largely eschewed the comedy stage, opting instead for hosting duties and producer roles. Why, the last time the comedian launched a stand-up special, Netflix had just turned its first profit and was still dependent on the U.S. Postal Service.
How times have changed.
DeGeneres noted as much at the Netflix FYSEE event held May 8 for her 2018 comedy special “Ellen DeGeneres: Relatable.”
“You’re famous faster,” she remarked to IndieWire about the changes in comedy in the last 15 years. “You don’t have to go around in your stagecoach and sell your wares to different towns.”
“That’s how I started,” she quipped.
“You had to really put yourself out there and it took a long time for everyone to finally know your face, your name and build a career,” DeGeneres said of the stand-up analog age. “Now, because you’re on the internet, everyone knows who you are and it’s instant fame. It’ll work for some people, if they have the stuff to back it up. If they don’t, then it’ll go away.”
The former “Ellen” star spoke at length about her career with guest host and close personal friend Jimmy Kimmel, who functions as one of the industry’s best celebrity moderators, both because of his amiable nature, but also because of his informed appreciation of whatever panel he oversees. Also, his entire job is made up of interviewing people, which certainly helps.
Kimmel brought valuable energy to the event, intended to sway a full house of TV Academy members, massaging DeGeneres’ trademark deadpan into something akin to the rapport between siblings and allowing the audience to get an even better sense of her as a person beyond the image they’ve pieced together through the years. Particularly delightful was a bit in which Kimmel quizzed DeGeneres to see if she really was still relatable or if her massive success has left her out of touch with the people.
To her credit, DeGeneres did pretty well with his questions, bypassing how much a dozen eggs cost, by stating that she raises her own, skipping how much a pint of Haagen-Dazs costs, because she doesn’t eat ice cream, but later being tripped up by an innocuous question about if she knew her own Netflix password.
“I do not,” she replied, and followed up by asking Kimmel if he knew his. “Yeah, of course I do,” he said. “Why do you have to have a password?” she continued. “For Netflix?” Kimmel asked, to the delight of the audience, “What, do you think God gives it to us?”
But DeGeneres was supremely down-to-earth as she recalled her days working on the road as a stand-up, hearkening back to those days when reflecting on why she could never go back to doing comedy full-time.
“It’s a tough life,” she told Kimmel, recounting how she would stay motels or “comedy condos,” where club owners had purchased a condo and put comedians up there to save money on lodging. When she was starting out, places wouldn’t send a car, but would have a club employee pick her up from the airport in a pick-up truck.
“You work hard and suddenly you do a theater, so then you’re in a hotel,” she continued. “If you do really well, you’re in a different city every night, instead of being somewhere for a week. It’s a lot of travel. It’s a lot of being alone. For as long as I did that, I just don’t want to do that again. I do love it. I will do it again, but I would never do it full-time.”
DeGeneres also spoke about the specific difficulties of being a female comedian and attempting to win over men from the stage. “Even just being on stage is a very aggressive thing, so men have to like you and not be threatened by you, and enjoy you, and understand and relate to the same things the women are relating to. So that’s why I always tried to make it a people thing [not a male or female thing.]”
When all is said and done, however, for as much as she enjoyed her return to stand-up, DeGeneres’ heart still belongs to her long-running talk show – for now. On the red carpet, she told Variety “I don’t know how long the show is going to go and what I’m going to feel in a few years,” she added. “I don’t know.”
Maybe her indecision about the future is the most relatable thing of all.