Millions of people tune in to The Ellen DeGeneres Show every day to watch Ellen DeGeneres deliver hilarious monologues about current events, interview celebrities from all walks of life and play games with her studio audience. But the stand-up comedian is no stranger to controversy.
Two decades after launching her career, DeGeneres broke through in the 1990s with her ABC sitcom, Ellen. The show was a success — some critics even called it the “female Seinfeld” — but everything came crashing down at the height of its popularity. In 1997, the star came out as a lesbian, both in real life and as her character on TV. At the time, same-sex marriage was not yet legal in the U.S., so the news caused quite a stir. Ellen’s ratings plummeted soon after, and the network ultimately canceled the show in 1998.
DeGeneres climbed her way back to the top in 2003 with the launch of her daytime talk show, which went on to win numerous Emmys and other awards. However, in 2020, the host was under fire once again. After years of rumors in Hollywood, several people came forward to accuse DeGeneres of being mean to her staff and others around her. BuzzFeed News subsequently published back-to-back reports detailing former and current Ellen DeGeneres Show employees’ allegations of a toxic work environment.
The Finding Nemo star apologized to her staff in an email at the time and publicly addressed the scandal during the season 18 premiere of her show later that year.
“I learned that things happened that never should have happened. I take that very seriously,” she said on the air at the time. “I want to say I am so sorry to the people who are affected. I know that I am in a position of privilege and power, and I realize that with that comes responsibility. And I take responsibility for what happens at my show. This is The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”
In the midst of the backlash that DeGeneres faced in the press and on social media, she received support from her celebrity friends including Katy Perry and Kevin Hart.
“They know that Ellen can be tough but accept that about her and know that it takes a lot of work to run a tight ship like her show,” a source exclusively told Us Weekly in 2020. “They get it.”
The Seriously…I’m Kidding author also got some love from her wife, Portia de Rossi, who shared an “I Stand by Ellen” meme via Instagram in response to the rumors.
Scroll down to revisit some of DeGeneres’ most controversial moments over the years.