It began in tragedy, when her girlfriend at the time was killed in car wreck, and DeGeneres, then 20, wanted to ask God how such a beautiful life could end so young, in such meaningless fashion. But instead, it came out as her asking God about the usefulness of fleas, which had infested her dump of an apartment.
So, nearly a decade later, she puts her right hand up to her ear, thumb and pinky extended, a make-believe phone. Flop and her career goes backward. A home run and you might someday be running your own talk show and making $50 mil a year.
“Yeah, hi God, this is Ellen . . . Listen, if you want to — sure, I’ll hold on.” Pause. To audience: “Somebody’s at the gate.”
There’s a beat. They get it, love it.
She gets a chance to ask about fleas, God says something about jobs in the flea collar industry, sneezes . . . and then wants to tell a joke.
“You got a joke for me?” DeGeneres says brightly into the phone. “I’d love to hear it. Go ahead.”
God is telling knock-knocks. She pauses, letting the audience get it. They love it.
“Godzilla. Oh. Incredibly funny.” Nodding, rolling her eyes to the audience. This God guy isn’t so bright.
“And another one? Oh, sure,” sarcastic.
She wraps it a minute later. Music, applause, whistles, and . . .
Johnny is calling her over to the desk. She is the first female comedian to receive the invitation.
“That’s very clever, very fresh,” Carson tells her. “It’s good material.”
She is a little awestruck. There’s a bit of banter and then Carson says, “Will you come back with us soon? You’ve got an open invitation.”
Ellen DeGeneres, a quarter century later, still in America’s living room.