Ellen DeGeneres showcased her trademark self-effacing wit and considerable emotion when she accepted the honorary Carol Burnett Award at the 77th Golden Globe Awards on Sunday.
“I’m going to be quick, although I don’t have to because it’s a special award and they don’t play me off,” DeGeneres teased at the top of her speech before landing the second part of the gag: “I was born in New Orleans in 1958 ...”
The award is the equivalent of the Cecil B. DeMille Award, which has traditionally been awarded to film actors and directors. (This year’s DeMille Award recipient is Tom Hanks.)
Kate McKinnon of “Saturday Night Live” presented the honor to DeGeneres, saying she had greatly inspired her, including providing her “with a road map for a way to be funny that is grounded in an expression of joy.”
DeGeneres also paid light-hearted tribute to the award’s namesake, in a reference to Burnett’s trademark move to close “The Carol Burnett Show”: “Every time she pulled her ear, I knew she was saying, ‘It’s OK, I’m gay too.” DeGeneres is the second recipient of the honor, which was created in 2018 to salute excellence in television. Burnett herself was last year’s recipient.
“Television inspired and influenced everything that I am today,” DeGeneres said, citing legends like Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore, Dick Van Dyke and Bob Newhart in addition to Burnett. “There’s a little bit of all of them in me.”
DeGeneres’ career, which began in the world of stand-up comedy, eventually led her in 1994 to a starring role in the ABC sitcom “Ellen.” She became the center of both praise and controversy on that series in 1997 when her character realized she was gay and came out of the closet. That episode, “The Puppy Episode,” scored DeGeneres an Emmy for writing. “I had a successful sitcom and I came out, and then lost that sitcom, and then I got another one and I lost that sitcom too,” she said in her acceptance speech of the experience.
Since then, she has become one of daytime’s most popular personalities with her talk show, which is in its 17th season and has been renewed though 2021-22. The series has won a record 11 Daytime Emmys for daytime talk show.
In the last several years, DeGeneres has extended her reach into prime time, hosting “Ellen’s Game of Games” and producing other series, including “Little Big Shots” for NBC and “Green Eggs and Ham” for Netflix. She returned to stand-up in 2018 with her Netflix special, “Relatable.”
In his November announcement that DeGeneres would receive the honor, Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. President Lorenzo Soria praised the entertainer, calling her “a pioneer who has captivated audiences for nearly 25 years with her undeniable charm and wit. In addition to her television success, she’s an advocate and philanthropist, lending her voice to those who don’t have one and spreading kindness and joy through the power of her platform.”
The Globes honor comes on the heels of a bumpy stretch for DeGeneres.
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Roughly a month before the announcement of the award, the comedian, who proclaims herself a “gay Hollywood liberal,” was heavily criticized on social media after she was photographed sitting next to former President George W. Bush at an October NFL game between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. Some Twitter users blasted DeGeneres for being friends with a Republican whom they labeled a “war criminal.”
DeGeneres quickly fired back at her critics, telling her TV studio audience: “In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have.”
In the segment, DeGeneres wished Johnson, who turned 30 in October, a belated happy birthday — and commented pointedly that she had not been invited to Johnson’s party. Johnson replied that DeGeneres had been invited but chose not to attend, which DeGeneres confirmed with her producer, who told DeGeneres during the segment that she was “out of town.”
“Oh, yeah, I had that thing,” DeGeneres said.
Some Twitter investigators concluded that Johnson’s party was Oct. 5, the day before DeGeneres was photographed with Bush in Arlington, Texas.