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Ellen DeGeneres - Biography

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Comedian Ellen Degeneres

Comedian Ellen Degeneres hosts her variety show, Ellen's Even Bigger Really Big Show, on the first day of the 2008 Comedy Festival.

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Born:

January 26, 1958

Ellen DeGeneres Overview:

Comedian, talk show host, actress, author and former American Idol Judge Ellen DeGeneres can never be accused of wearing too few hats. Though she rose to prominence as a stand-up comic in the 1980s -- where her neurotic, fast-talking onstage persona was reminiscent of Jerry Seinfeld or Woody Allen -- it's her many other careers that DeGeneres may be best known for. After coming out as a lesbian in 1997, DeGeneres also became one of the most successful openly gay comedians in America.

Quick Ellen DeGeneres Facts:

  • Ellen DeGeneres was born in Metairie, Louisiana.
  • She began performing stand-up in 1981 and was named Showtime's "Funniest Person in America" just one year later.
  • She began starring in her own sitcom, Ellen, in 1994.
  • In 1997, DeGeneres made headlines when she came out as a lesbian.
  • In 2003, she became the host of her own highly-rated talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
  • She has served as host of both the Primetime Emmy Awards and the Academy Awards.
  • In 2009, DeGeneres was named as the replacement for Paula Abdul as a judge on American Idol. She left the show after one season.

Ellen DeGeneres' Early Life:

Ellen DeGeneres was born and raised in Metairie, Louisiana. After her parents divorced during her teenage years, DeGeneres moved with her mother to Atlanta, Texas. After high school, she moved to New Orleans to attend one year of college. It was here that her career as a stand-up began.

In 1981, DeGeneres began acting as emcee at Clyde's Comedy Club in New Orleans. Shortly thereafter, she began touring the country and by 1982 was named Showtime's "Funniest Person in America." She continued to perform stand-up throughout the 1980s, gradually becoming more and more successful and recognizable in the comedy scene.

Ellen DeGeneres Moves to Television:

In 1991, DeGeneres won the American Comedy Award for Funniest Female Stand-up Comic. In 1994, she was given her own ABC sitcom not unlike the immensely popular Seinfeld. The show, originally called These Friends of Mine but changed to just Ellen by its second season, was a hit for the network and made the comedian into a full-fledged star.

In 1996, DeGeneres released her first (and only) comedy album, Taste This.

Ellen Comes Out:

DeGeneres became a national news story when during a 1997 appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show she came out as a lesbian. TIME magazine did a cover story on the comic (with the headline "Yep, I'm Gay"), and DeGeneres' sexuality was even worked into the plot of her ABC sitcom. The episode, called "The Puppy Episode," was one of Ellen's highest-rated. The show received an Emmy for Comedy Writing for its 1997 season.

Shortly after the coming-out episode, however, ratings began to decline on Ellen and the series was eventually canceled in 1998. Ellen returned to the stand-up scene.

In 2000, Ellen taped Ellen DeGeneres: The Beginning, her first hour-long HBO stand-up comedy special. The following year, she once again entered the sitcom race with The Ellen Show on CBS. Though it co-starred comedians Jim Gaffigan and Kerri Kenney (of The State), it was canceled midway through its first season. The entire show is available on DVD.

Ellen Moves to Talk Shows:

In 2003, DeGeneres launched her own daytime talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show. The show quickly became a massive hit, gaining recognition for DeGeneres' loose improvisational style, absurd games and especially the comedian's dancing in each show. The talk show became one of the highest-rated daytime talk shows and has so far racked up over 25 Emmy Awards since debuting in 2003.

In 2003, DeGeneres also taped her second HBO comedy special, Here and Now.

Ellen's Personal Life and American Idol:

After a highly-publicized relationship with actress Anne Heche during the late '90s, Ellen began dating L Word actress Alexandra Hedison in the early 2000s. In 2004, she began seeing actress Portia de Rossi and eventually married her in 2008. Both are now advocates for same-sex marriage.

In 2009, it was announced that DeGeneres would be joining the megahit American Idol in the judges' chair left vacant by former judge Paula Abdul. She announced one year later that she was leaving the show after just one season in the judge's chair.

Additional Ellen DeGeneres Facts:

  • After a 1986 appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Carson invited Ellen over to the couch for an interview. It was a first for any female comedian.
  • DeGeneres has also appeared in several films, including EdTV, Goodbye, Lover and Mr. Wrong (her only starring role). Additionally, she provided the voice of Dory in the Disney/Pixar hit Finding Nemo in 2003.
  • DeGeneres has published two books: My Point...and Do I Have to Have One in 1995 and The Funny Thing is... in 2003.
  • She has hosted her own comedy variety shows (which aired on TBS) at both The Comedy Festival in Las Vegas and the Just for Laughs Chicago festival.
  • DeGeneres hosted the Emmy Awards in 2001 and 2005 and the Academy Awards in 2007. She received an Emmy nomination for her hosting duties at the Oscars.
  • DeGeneres returned to host the Oscars again in 2014.
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