How Ellen DeGeneres' 'nice' reputation turned toxic

Kristine Tarbert
·Senior Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer
·8-min read

Ellen DeGeneres may have once had a reputation as the perpetually sunny, rug-cutting host of daytime TV hit The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

But in truth, public opinion on her has been shifting for a few years, sparked by her own words and actions, encounters with others in the entertainment industry — including some familiar names — and social media.

Ellen DeGeneres
Ellen DeGeneres has come under fire. Photo: Getty Images

Her employees’ claims last month that her set is a “toxic work environment,” with workers subjected to racism, sexual harassment, and intimidation, as well as a subsequent internal investigation by Warner Bros. are only the latest developments.

Ellen DeGeneres did issue a letter to staff apologising for what they may have experienced, adding her team is taking steps to correct the issue.

Wondering where it all started going wrong? Here’s the play-by-play of what’s happened so far:

Kathy Griffin accuses DeGeneres of having ‘a mean streak’ - Nov 22, 2016

Comedian Kathy Griffin, who appeared as a guest star on the groundbreaking sitcom Ellen in 1996 and had reportedly feuded with her in the past, wrote in her memoir about a “beloved daytime talk show host” who has “a mean streak that all of Hollywood knows about.”

She strongly hinted that it was Ellen DeGeneres when she described the woman as having short blonde hair. Then, while promoting the book, Kathy Griffin’s Celebrity Run-Ins: My A-Z Index, Kathy straight-up confirmed the not-so-nice woman was Ellen. She further revealed to the Hollywood Reporter a month later that Ellen had called her out on her words. It made Kathy break down in tears.

“The only angry call I got was from Ellen DeGeneres, which is, by the way, not fun to get when you’re like, a female comic who loves her and her accomplishments,” Kathy said. “She was extremely upset, and I think she had a thought that she was going to, like, put me in my place, or whatever, but as you know I’m not shut-uppable.”

This July 16, 2019 photo shows Kathy Griffin posing for a portrait in New York to promote her film "Kathy Griffin: A Hell of a Story," in select theaters for one day only on July 31. (Photo by Matt Licari/Invision/AP)
Kathy Griffen was one of the first to call Ellen out. Photo: AP

Ellen DeGeneres pushes back against her nice image - Dec 12, 2018

In a New York Times profile, Ellen herself talked about the frustrations of being considered so nice.

“There’s been times someone wants a picture, and while I’m doing a selfie, they’re like: ‘You’re not dancing!,’” she said. “Of course I’m not dancing. I’m walking down the street.”

She revealed to the newspaper that she’s considered leaving her show.

The TV host catches heat for sitting down with Kevin Hart - Jan 7, 2019

The host invited Kevin Hart on her show a month after he stepped down from hosting the Oscars because homophobic comments he had made in the past resurfaced.

Ellen, who is gay and whose sitcom was the first to feature a gay leading character, surprisingly asked the film academy to rehire Kevin — a move that many in the LGBTQ community and their supporters did not appreciate.

Ellen invited Kevin Hart
Ellen invited Kevin Hart on the show. Photo: Youtube/Ellentube

Ellen DeGeneres socialises with President George W. Bush - Oct 6, 2019

During a football game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers, Ellen was photographed hanging out with President George W. Bush, whose administration was hostile to LGBTQ people and their rights. She explained on the episode of her show that followed that the two are actually friends.

“Here’s the thing: I’m friends with George Bush,” she said on air. “In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different, and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s OK that we’re all different.”

By the next day, writer and comedian Dan Sheehan tweeted that bad Ellen stories are just a part of living in Los Angeles, and it got a lot of attention.

Photo: Twitter
Photo: Twitter

Dakota Johnson calls out Ellen DeGeneres on her show - Nov 27, 2019

Actress Dakota Johnson appeared as a guest on what turned out to be an unusual episode of Ellen’s show. Unusual because while the two chatted about Dakota’s recent birthday, Ellen said she hadn’t been invited to the Fifty Shades of Grey star’s party.

“Actually, no, that’s not the truth, Ellen,” Dakota said.

She explained that Ellen had complained about not being invited to the festivities for Dakota’s 29th, so Dakota made sure to invite her the following year. When Ellen pressed her on how she knew she had in fact been invited and chosen not to attend, Dakota said, “Ask everybody. Ask Jonathan, your producer.”

It made for some un-Ellen Show-like TV.

RELATED:

Ellen stories flood Twitter after comedian offers food bank donations for them - March 20, 2020

Kevin T. Porter, a comedian and writer, offered to donate to the less fortunate in exchange for stories about DeGenres being mean. In more than 2,800 responses, internet users shared stories about interactions that they had with her, although some were more thoughtless than mean, and some of them defended her.

Photo: Twitter
Photo: Twitter

He ended up donating $600 after the responses got out of hand.

Photo: Twitter
Photo: Twitter

Ellen employees cite poor treatment during the coronavirus pandemic - April 2020

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Variety reported that employees of the show were “distressed and outraged” over the treatment during the global health crisis.

They said they hadn’t heard anything from producers about their pay or hours, much less their health.

Moreover, they objected to the show bringing in a non-union tech company to help Ellen film from home.

FOX PRESENTS THE IHEART LIVING ROOM CONCERT FOR AMERICA:  Ellen DeGeneres during the FOX PRESENTS THE IHEART LIVING ROOM CONCERT FOR AMERICA, a music event to provide entertainment relief and support for Americans to help fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus and to celebrate the resilience and strength of the nation during this pandemic. The one-hour benefit special will air on Sunday, March 29, from 9:00-10:00 PM ET/6:00-7:00 PM PT on FOX, on iHeartMedia radio stations nationwide and via the iHeartRadio app. The benefit special will be broadcast commercial-free.(Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
Ellen started doing her show from home amid the pandemic. Photo: Getty

Former and current Ellen employees say they’ve faced ‘racism, fear and intimidation’ - July 16, 2020

BuzzFeed’s Krystie Lee Randoli reported incidents such as a Black woman facing racist comments — a writer once told her, “I’m sorry, I only know the names of the white people who work here” and others laughed it off — and another former employee said their position had been eliminated the week they returned to work following a one-month medical leave. The person had stayed at a mental health facility following a suicide attempt. There were many more such stories.

In a statement, executive producers Ed Glavin, Mary Connelly and Andy Lassner said, in part: “We are truly heartbroken and sorry to learn that even one person in our production family has had a negative experience. It’s not who we are and not who we strive to be, and not the mission Ellen has set for us.” They vowed to do better.

Then another former staffer on The Ellen DeGeneres Show claimed all the shocking stories about the comedian that made headlines have some substance behind them in an interview with the New York Post.

Warner Bros. decides to investigate The Ellen DeGeneres Show - July 27, 2020

Variety reported WarnerMedia had launched an internal investigation, with a third party firm reportedly being hired to interview current and former staff about their experiences while working on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Ellen DeGeneres apologises to her staff - July 30, 2020

“Hey everybody — it’s Ellen,” she wrote at the top of in a letter to employees obtained by the Hollywood Reporter.

“On day one of our show, I told everyone in our first meeting that The Ellen DeGeneres Show would be a place of happiness — no one would ever raise their voice, and everyone would be treated with respect. Obviously, something changed, and I am disappointed to learn that this has not been the case. And for that, I am sorry. Anyone who knows me knows it’s the opposite of what I believe and what I hoped for our show.”

Still, celebs Brad Garrett and Lea Thompson were just two of the people who weren’t moved by the apology.

Photo: Twitter
Photo: Twitter

Ellen DeGeneres Show hit with sexual misconduct allegations - July 31, 2020

BuzzFeed News published a second story in which dozens of former Ellen employees said the set was rife with sexual misconduct.

Warner Bros. declined to comment on specific allegations, citing the internal investigation but offered a statement.

“We have identified several staffing changes, along with appropriate measures to address the issues that have been raised, and are taking the first steps to implement them,” the company said, in part.

Portia de Rossi breaks silence on Ellen DeGeneres rumours - August 2, 2020

Ellen’s Aussie wife Portia de Rossi then took to her Instagram to show her support for her wife, who she married in 2008.

“To all our fans....we see you,” the actress captioned a photo that read “I Stand By Ellen.”

She also included the hashtags #bekindtooneanother #IStandWithEllenDeGeneres, #IStandByEllen‪ and #IstandByEllenDeGeneres.

Ex-producer claims Ellen DeGeneres is a ‘kiss a**’ - August 7, 2020

Former Ellen producer Hedda Muskat told The Kyle & Jackie O Show among other media outlets that the talk show host “did not like people”.

“She was not friendly with people, that I noticed,” she added. “The only people that she was friendly with were the A-list movie stars. She’s a big kiss a**.”

With additional reporting by Raechal Shewfelt.

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