illustration by Yamamoto (Look Alike)
On Ellen DeGeneres
Ellen wanted to be a veterinarian. But when she was 13 and her parents divorced, she found that her jokes cheered up her grieving mother: “My mother was going through some really hard times and I could see when she was really getting down, and I would start to make fun of her dancing,” DeGeneres later said. “Then she’d start to laugh and I’d make fun of her laughing. And she’d laugh so hard she’d start to cry, and then I’d make fun of that. So I would totally bring her from where I’d seen her start going into depression to all the way out of it.” She began to see the healing power of humor.
When DeGeneres was 21, she fell in love with Kathy Perkoff, a 23-year-old poet. Perkoff was killed in a car accident, and Ellen turned once again to comedy as a coping strategy. She wrote a monologue called “A Phone Call to God,” and performed it at her first stand-up gig in New Orleans. It was a big hit and launched her comedic career. A booking agent from The Tonight Show caught her act at the Improv in Hollywood, and host Johnny Carson invited her to appear on the late-night talk show in 1986. This led to appearances on the talk show circuit and, in the mid-1990s, her own eponymous sitcom.