Ellen DeGeneres is unequivocally a humanitarian and philanthropist who’s been a trailblazer for the LGBTQ community. She’s donated millions to charity, championed animal welfare, and, in 2016, was even awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Unfortunately, she also has a reputation for being, as former Fashion Police writer Annabelle DeSisto put it, “a horrible human being.”
In a bonus episode of the podcast Everything Iconic With Danny Pellegrino, DeSisto and host Danny Pellegrino discussed the onslaught of negative press against DeGeneres and the longstanding rumor mill behind it.
Pellegrino reflected on his own experience visiting DeGeneres’ long-running talk show. He was reticent to give details but told DeSisto,
“Let’s just say she wasn’t necessarily the friendliest around set that day.”
“It’s very rare to hear nice stories about her around town. Everyone’s got a horror story.”
The most recent horror story to make headlines is that of DeGeneres’ former bodyguard, Tom Majercak, who said his experience escorting the star at the 2014 Oscars was “demeaning.”
In an interview with Fox News, Majercak opened up about his encounter with the star, noting that she was the “only person I’ve assigned to — and I’ve been assigned to quite a few celebrities — that has never taken the time to say hi to me.”
“It started going negatively when [De Rossi] introduced me to Ellen and Ellen pretty much just gave me a side glance out of her eye and didn’t even say ‘hello,’ or ‘thank you for protecting my mother, my wife and me… it was very cold.”
Though rumors have circulated for years about DeGeneres’ alleged terrible behavior, they have surged in recent months after comedian Kevin T. Porter put DeGeneres on blast in his now-infamous tweet, where he dubbed the star the “meanest person alive” and pledged to donate $2 to the Los Angeles Food Bank for each person willing to corroborate that sentiment with their own stories about her appalling antics.
Thousands of replies flooded in, including one from a user who alleged that, after serving DeGeneres and wife Portia De Rossi at brunch, DeGeneres “wrote a letter to the owner and complained about my chipped nail polish,” nearly getting her fired. Another commenter alleged that “every day she picks [a different employee] to hate. It’s not your fault, just suck it up for the day and she’ll be mean to someone else the next day.”
Porter raised $600 for the L.A. Food Bank from that single tweet and the headlines haven’t stopped since.
DeGeneres’ controversial behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic, too, has amplified the backlash against her. When broadcasting from her palatial mansion, DeGeneres joked that quarantine was like “being in jail,” which, unsurprisingly, many viewers found to be tone-deaf. (One viewer tweeted, “Except that people in jail can’t practice social distancing, don’t have enough water or toilet paper and are going to die at exceptional rates from Covid-19. Except for that, Ellen, your quarantine experience is just like being in jail.”)
Additionally, the Ellen DeGeneres Show crew was reportedly left in the dark for weeks about their employment status after the pandemic hit, only to be told after weeks of silence to “brace for a 60% reduction in pay, even as the show continues to air.” (Comparatively, talk-show hosts Jimmy Kimmel and Trevor Noah are both paying their furloughed crews’ salaries out-of-pocket during the pandemic.) Meanwhile, DeGeneres hired a separate production crew to remotely produce her at-home version of Ellen while her own longtime talk show crew remains without work.
And that treatment appears to extend to guests on her show as well.
YouTuber NikkieTutorials, whose real name is Nikkie De Jager, recounted her disappointing experience on Ellen on a Dutch talk show. According to a translation by YouTube account Sebastian Williams, De Jager said,
“Let me say that there’s a big difference between this show and Ellen DeGeneres, and I’m saying that in favor of this show… It’s nice that you say ‘hi’ before the show. She didn’t.”
Bachelor star Corinne Olympios, too, admitted that her interaction with DeGeneres “made me so uncomfortable,” referencing an accidental off-camera meeting before the show.
“She’s very aggressive, she was very cold when I saw her before the show, which I don’t think I was supposed to, because everybody got very nervous when we bumped into each other and you could tell they were like ‘oh, s–t.'”
As a huge fan, Olympios was particularly hurt. She added,
“I love Ellen so much, I thought I would be, like, talking to Dory and I was really excited.”
Maybe part of the problem is that fans who interact with DeGeneres expect her to be Dory or the dancing queen or the comedy genius that they have admired for decades. Because, of course, they are setting themselves up for failure. It is simply unrealistic for DeGeneres to be “on” all the time, despite people’s expectations otherwise. (In a 2018 interview with The New York Times, DeGeneres alludes to the pressure of such expectations, saying, “There’s been times someone wants a picture, and while I’m doing a selfie, they’re like, ‘You’re not dancing!’ Of course, I’m not dancing. I’m walking down the street.”)
And, certainly, there is an undercurrent of sexism present. If John Oliver or Jimmy Fallon neglected to say hello to a bodyguard or greet a guest with the utmost warmth and enthusiasm, I doubt it would make headlines with the same voracity that DeGeneres’ stories have. Women are already expected to be friendly and accommodating in a way that men aren’t, and, on top of that, DeGeneres constantly has to reconcile her true identity with the persona she built for herself.
DeGeneres is held to a higher standard because her literal motto is to “be kind to one another.” But perhaps it’s also because she’s a woman, too. It would be unfair, possibly even sexist, to expect the real-life Ellen to be as magnanimous, as charming, and as gosh-darn nice as her talk show persona.
But what we can expect is for DeGeneres to display basic human decency, the simple kindness that DeGeneres asks her viewers to treat each other with at the close of every show. Unfortunately, when the cameras are off, that doesn’t seem the be the case. And Hollywood has the stories to prove it.
It’s exactly like Porter said on Twitter:
“Be kind, especially to those in the most vulnerable positions right now. But be TRULY kind. Don’t settle for a cheap imitation.”