Contrary to what frothy-mouthed celebrities would have had most people believe this summer, Ellen DeGeneres is not “canceled.” Since allegations of workplace abuse and discrimination sprang up around the host early in the pandemic, she has facilitated numerous apology monologues. In September, during her first on-air appearance concluding a long hiatus after Warner Bros. wrapped up its internal investigation, DeGeneres proclaimed, “If you’re watching because you love me, thank you! If you’re watching because you don’t love me, welcome!”
On Sunday night she appeared on the People’s Choice Awards, to accept a Daytime Talk Show win from fans who voted en masse. The award was her first grab of the new television season, and her first after the detailed accounts of on-set racism and sexual harrassment appeared to threaten her television empire.
But much her like her comeback monologue in September, where she rambled about “articles in the press, and on social media, that said I am not who I appear to be on TV,” DeGeneres’ PCA speech was stilted, unfunny, and almost tragic. I have no sympathy to spare for the host, as I’ve made clear already, but there’s nothing quite as excruciating as watching a seasoned comedian and television legend like DeGeneres flounder her way through 60 seconds of thank yous, clearly desperate to shed the expectation of an apology enveloping her like a thick, toxic sludge.
She began the speech with a nod to her “amazing crew and amazing staff,” who “give 100 percent of themselves 100 percent of the time.” Degeneres then did some math, to illustrate just how long those staffers have endured the allegedly abusive working conditions first surfaced by Buzzfeed News over the summer.
DeGeneres ended the speech with noticeably more enthusiastic gratitude to fans “for supporting me, for sticking by me.” She continued: “I cannot tell you how grateful I am, and what this means to me. It’s more than I can possibly tell you. Especially right now.”
It’s that last bit I’ve mulled over the most since the ceremony wrapped up last night. “Especially right now.” It could mean plenty of things: the pandemic, growing civil unrest, a tumultuous election, or a fraught moment in Hollywood. But most obviously, it seems to reference the shadow looming over DeGeneres on the People’s Choice Award stage and back on her home turf. She’s prostrated herself in public plenty, by now, and survived the ongoing television season without much scandal to speak of, save all those employees who’ve found her comeback demeanor lacking. What else can she possibly do to redeem herself? Probably not much, and DeGeneres understands that terrifying reality more than anyone.