The show tanked, the relationship tanked, the career tanked. DeGeneres found herself, at 40, angry, depressed and out of work.
“I lost it all,” she’s saying on the phone from her office in Los Angeles. “I was angry and hurt and felt sorry for myself.”
For the next three years, the only thing she had to work on was a voice-over in an animated movie. About a fish. It paid scale. Hahahaha! Fish! Scale!
Cheer up, people! It’s Ellen! Happy! Witty! Funny!
You thought DeGeneres, who’s coming to town Monday night to receive the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, was going to sit around and mope about the bad old days?
The film was “Finding Nemo” and all it did was gross some $920 million worldwide. DeGeneres, who voiced Dory, the super-cheerful little blue tang with short-term memory loss, is now much, much bigger than she was before The Fall.
Her eponymous talk show has won dozens of Daytime Emmys and made her one of the wealthiest women on the planet. She earned roughly $53 million last year, Forbes magazine estimated in May, about the same as Rihanna and Lady Gaga. The magazine also rated her the 47th most powerful woman in the world. She’s hosted the Emmys and the Academy Awards. She has her own music label.
“It was a very hard time for me, a low point, but I also am more grateful for that than just about anything else,” she’s saying down the phone line. “It’s an invaluable experience to find out who you are. It’s a very cushy life we live here, surrounded by people who make you feel you’re great, and it’s a bubble. . . . I grew and became a much more compassionate person.”
Monday night, at the Kennedy Center show — it will be taped for broadcast on Oct. 30 on PBS stations — she’ll be feted by guests including Jimmy Kimmel, Steve Harvey, Kristin Chenoweth,
Lily Tomlin and John Leguizamo.
She and Harvey have been friends since their days headlining gigs in comedy clubs. Now he hosts his own talk show, and it serves as the lead-in to hers in several markets.
“She’s got that ‘it’ factor,” Harvey says. “She’s got that thing that’s hard to put your finger on. . . . I had to move a lot of stuff around to do (the Twain ceremony), but for a person who has been as kind as she has to me, it was an honor.”
Cappy McGarr, a Kennedy Center board member who helped found the Twain Prize in 1998 and who is an executive producer of the show, says DeGeneres’s contributions are in line with those of previous recipients, who include Richard Pryor, Carl Reiner, Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal.
“She’s just a great humorist and satirist, like Twain,” he says. “She’s blazed a path.”