Comedian and actress Kate McKinnon has said that seeing Ellen DeGeneres on television in the 1990s made it “less scary” to be gay.
McKinnon made the comment while presenting DeGeneres with the Carol Burnett Award at the Golden Globes, which recognises lifetime achievement in television.
In her heartfelt speech, McKinnon said that DeGeneres gave her “a sense of self” in the 1990s through her sitcom Ellen, on which she famously came out as gay.
“In 1997, when Ellen’s sitcom was in the height of its popularity, I was in my mother’s basement lifting weights in front of the mirror and thinking, ‘Am I gay?’” McKinnon said.
Kate McKinnon at Golden Globes: Ellen DeGeneres risked career to tell the truth.
“And I was, and I still am. But that’s a very scary thing to suddenly know about yourself. It’s sort of like doing 23andMe, and discovering that you have alien DNA. And the only thing that made it less scary was seeing Ellen on TV.”
McKinnon continued: “She risked her entire life and her entire career in order to tell the truth, and she suffered greatly for it.
In 1997, when Ellen’s sitcom was in the height of its popularity, I was in my mother’s basement lifting weights in front of the mirror and thinking, ‘Am I gay?’
“Of course, attitudes change, but only because brave people like Ellen jump into the fire to make them change. And if I hadn’t seen her on TV, I would have thought, ‘I could never be on TV. They don’t let LGBT people on TV.’ And more than that, I would have gone on thinking that I was an alien and that I maybe didn’t even have a right to be here.”
She closed out her speech by thanking DeGeneres, saying she had given her “a shot at a good life.”
DeGeneres came out in 1997 and her sitcom was cancelled the following year.
DeGeneres is one of the most recognisable LGBT+ people in the world today – but her success was hard won. She famously came out in 1997 at the same time as her character in her hit sitcom Ellen. The following year, her show was cancelled and she found herself out of work for three years.
In 2018, DeGeneres told Jerry Seinfeld in an interview for Netflix’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee: “I was bitter and sad and angry. How did this change everything, just by me being honest and saying I’m gay? Why is this such a shock to people? Why is it such a big deal?”
Her luck changed when she started work on her daytime talkshow The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2003. Earlier this year, she announced that the show has been renewed for three more seasons.
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