Image: Screenshot of Ellen DeGeneres in her 2015 appearance on Oprah's Masterclass
Ellen DeGeneres appeared on Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast on Monday, opening up about the tragic loss that changed her life.
Asked about her breakthrough appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, where she performed a skit about making a phone call to God, Ellen explained the heartbreak behind the comedy.
“My girlfriend was killed in a car accident when I was like 20 years old,” she told Shepard. “And I wasn’t doing comedy, I think I was probably waitressing someplace at the time. I was living with her when she was killed.”
“I couldn’t afford to live where we were living together and so I moved into this tiny little basement apartment. I moved into this basement apartment and I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor and it was infested with fleas. And I used to write all the time, I wrote poetry and songs and stuff, and I thought 'Why is this beautiful, 21-year-old girl gone and fleas are here?'”
“And I just thought it would be amazing if we could pick up the phone and call up God and ask questions and actually get an answer."
DeGeneres explained the process of writing the comedy skit. “It just unfolded. I just wrote the whole thing and when I finished I read it and I thought ‘Oh my God, that’s hilarious. I’m going to do this on Johnny Carson and I’m going to be the first woman in the history of the show to be asked to sit down.”
DeGeneres performed on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1986, becoming the first female comedian invited to sit at his desk and talk with him after performing.
In a 2015 episode of Oprah’s Masterclass, DeGeneres opened up about the guilt she struggled with after her girlfriend's death.
"We were living together at the time, and my brother's band was performing. We had broken up, and we had fought a lot," DeGeneres said. "She was trying to get me to come back home. I acted like I couldn’t hear her because the music was too loud. I was being really…dismissive of her.”
"I was planning on moving back in — I just was trying to teach her a lesson."
DeGeneres drove home with friends and passed a crashed car that had been "split in two."
"It had just happened and nobody was there yet, and we just kept going," she said. "I found out the next morning that it was her in the car."
DeGeneres blamed herself for the accident, saying that if she’d gone home with her girlfriend the crash wouldn’t have happened.
"I think it made me realize how easily you can lose somebody. I mean, just literally, in an instant she just was gone.”
"It shifted my entire focus and my life."