Image: Screenshot from Ellen's 2015 appearance on Oprah's Masterclass
During her Monday appearance on Dax Shepard’s podcast Armchair Expert, Ellen DeGeneres opened up about the aftermath of coming out as gay in 1997, including the cancellation of her sitcom, Ellen.
“(The show) ended because I came out. This is a long, long story, but they really didn’t want me to come out. I wanted to come out. I said ‘It’s my life. I want to come out. I want the character to come out. It’s the time.’ I said ‘I’m going to lose the career. Like, you can just put another show on. It’s my show to lose’ – even though it wasn’t my show.”
“They finally let me come out and it was a huge success the night of. It was huge, it was celebrated…and then they just stopped promoting it because everyone was scared. We were losing sponsors, so they were just acting like 'We’re just letting it glide. We’re not going to touch it.' I got no more advertising. I got no more promotion. So they cancelled it.”
“During the time, because there was so much talk about it, everyone was just sick of it. I had only done the cover of Time magazine, a prime time special with Diane Sawyer and Oprah – those were the only three places I talked – but people were reporting on reports and reports and reports.”
Even late night talk show hosts were making jokes at her expense. "People were making fun of me. I was really depressed. And because of that and because the show was cancelled, I was looked at as a failure in this business."
"No one would touch me. I had no agent, I had no possibility of a job, I had nothing."
Ellen even found herself being criticized by members of the LGBT community, people she thought would support her.
"Even Elton John said ‘Shut up already. We know you’re gay. Be funny,'" she said.
"I had never met him and I thought, ‘What kind of support is that from a gay person?’ But everybody assumed I was just nonstop talking about it. It hurt my feelings."
Her and Elton later made up and he has appeared on her talk show several times.
Ellen said coming out made her feel pressure to be “the new leader” in the gay community.
“I didn’t want to be a leader. I didn’t want to be political and I didn’t want to be an activist. I just wanted to be free from a secret. That’s all I wanted.”
'The gay community, it’s a really difficult line to walk. Some people thought ‘You’re not gay enough, and you’re not doing enough for our community, and there are so many that have done more.’ And I was like, ‘I didn’t say I was your leader, and I didn’t say I have done more. I just want to be a comedian, and I just happen to be gay.'"
“Of course I’m going to speak up. I think I’m doing a lot just by being a physical presence, hopefully a representation, not of the entire gay community, but of somebody at home going ‘Oh, there’s someone who’s gay .’ So it was really tough. It was a high and it was celebrated, and then it was a complete low.”
As part of last year’s celebration of 20 years since coming out, Ellen opened up to the Associated Press about how difficult those days became.
“Nobody really understood how dark it got for me. I was really, really in a deep depression. I had never been so down in my life. I was depressed. I was broke. I felt attacked. It was everything that you just fear in life, like nobody loving you.”
“For me to crawl out of that and to accomplish what I’ve accomplished with the show and with my brand and with my production company, and to succeed after all that … (It) makes me realise that no matter how dark something gets, and no matter how bad something gets, that there’s always a possibility of good coming from it.”
Listen to the entire Armchair Expert podcast with Ellen.