The name Ellen DeGeneres has been stuck on the end of adjectives such as groundbreaking and pioneering so many times that she might as well change one of those to her first name. Of course, it wasn't always like that. And it really isn't quite that way anymore, now that shows such as Will & Grace and Queer as Folk have played upon gay stereotypes so much that having a gay main character in a show runs somewhere between passé and annoying.
But for a few years in the mid-1990s, DeGeneres became a household name by coming out on her show. The episode drew 46 million viewers and had ABC execs weeping with joy; those same network executives canceled the show after a few more seasons. CBS gave her a second chance with The Ellen Show, but after the above-mentioned shows had already brought out laughs with flamboyant gay men and raised questions with amalgamations of circuit life, a lesbian character who rarely mentioned the fact that she was gay just didn't turn enough heads. CBS has likewise said goodbye to DeGeneres.
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But that's probably a good thing, because the standup comedian is now back to doing what she does best: standup comedy. DeGeneres first came to the notice of the nation as an MC at a comedy club in New Orleans. A video of a club performance won Showtime's Funniest People in America show/contest in 1982. A Tonight Show appearance followed four years later, with DeGeneres being the only female comic Johnny Carson asked to sit and chat after performing. Then there was a long string of HBO specials before DeGeneres made the (in hindsight) unfortunate decision to do sitcoms. Her return to the stage will remind us all why two networks thought she was funny enough to bring her into our homes once a week. But will it explain that animatronic Ellen at the EPCOT Center? Best not to think too hard about such things.