The Devil Wears DeGeneres
With her empire crumbling under the continuing allegations of bullying, can Ellen DeGeneres pull her reputation back from the brink?
AUGUST 18th, 2020
he ends her talk show with the words “be kind to one another.” So renowned for her prosaic mantra, Ellen DeGeneres has built a formidable and lucrative queendom on top of it. She has donated thousands of dollars to invited guests, told heart wrenching stories and demonstrated impressive charitable work. Each episode features some of the world’s biggest and brightest stars. To be fortunate enough to sit in one of those iconic white chairs is as sure a sign of success in Hollywood than most.
But in recent months the drip-drip-drip feed of concerning information regarding abusive, racial and bullying behaviour behind the blue curtains at The Ellen DeGeneres Show, is beginning to seriously topple her once unwavering empire. Yesterday, Ellen announced that three of her producers had been fired from her show. Executive producers Ed Glavin and Kevin Leman, alongside co-executive producer Jonathan Norman had “parted ways” with Warner Brothers – the studio which produces The Ellen DeGeneres Show – an official statement announced.
The news was the first sign that the allegations, which stem back a number of years, are beginning to hammer through into the public consensus; so much so that Warner Brothers are forcibly taking action to solve any mismanagement. Yet, whilst those in charge are being held responsible, questions are still circling around the uber-famous host, and as more stories emerge of Ellen’s own questionable behaviour, how long can she hold on for?
The allegations facing Ellen are deeply troubling, not only for their veracity, but also continuity. Accusers, as far back as from the host’s own younger years before fame, have spoken publicly over how her bullying behaviour still affects them today.
Ben Gravolet, whose first experience with Ellen’s nasty streak began when she worked for his mother’s New Orleans recruitment agency in the late 1970s, detailed how as an 11-year-old, Ellen would bully him with cruel taunts over his weight.
“She would criticise my weight,” Grevolet describes, now a 52-year-old father of three. “I would try to do homework in the office, she’d call me stupid, she’d call me fat. She would criticise my clothes.”
Now the vice president of a New Orleans marketing agency, Grevolet discussed how one incident has stayed with him all these years later. “I was sitting beside her desk. I was drawing, and she criticised the drawings. She said, ‘I guess that would look nice if you could draw.’
“As I watched her meteoric rise to fame, people would say how great she was and all I could think was she must be an incredible actor because she was one of the most vile people I’ve ever met in my life. Who takes pleasure in giving a child pain?”
Away from the comedian’s childhood, the accusations are continuing to pileup. Staff who work on the show have spoken publicly over the increasingly toxic work environment, and how Ellen’s own behaviour and lack of support against the more serious complaints couldn’t be further from the “be kind” narrative she exudes whilst in front of the cameras.
“She’s a monster,” says one staffer. “When I arrived on my first day I was introduced to the team and was told that potentially a ‘scare prank’ could be happening, so I needed to look ‘presentable’ for the cameras. True enough Ellen appeared with one of the producers and scared me. Naturally, like any other person, I screamed when she jumped out from behind one of the office desks.”
The staffer went on to describe how the footage shown on that week’s episode cut out what happened after the prank. “We were all laughing – and it was funny, if not also scary – and Ellen offered me a hug and was sympathetic over how scared I had been, but once the cameras stopped rolling, it all changed. She literally turned around and walked away. No goodbye or thanks for taking part – nothing.
“Her entire demeanour changed in an instant. It was as if the whole prank was a performance and I had played my part. Ellen looked like the consoling, kind boss who jokes and laughs with her staff and everything was great, and that’s all that mattered for the cameras.”
But Ellen’s interaction with the staffer didn’t stop there. In the days afterwards, they received a shocking email. “It came from one of the producers, landed in my inbox and I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Ellen had been unhappy with my reaction to being scared and felt that I had been ‘over the top’ and needed to remember that she was the star and I wasn’t a comedian like she was. To say I was shocked was an understatement.”
This type of contact with the talk show host wasn’t an isolated incident. According to multiple sources Ellen barely speaks to her staff, with producers asking her employees to not talk or look at the star when on set.
“For someone who portrays a warm and inviting personality, she’s anything but,” described a former employee.
Her disdainful behaviour hasn’t solely been projected at her staff, even some members of her lively audiences have faced questionable treatment.
Dana Dimatteo, who appeared on the show in 2018 to participate in the ‘Make It Rain’ segment - where contestants are drenched in water while attempting to win cash prizes – recently spoke out over her own issues with DeGeneres.
“During commercial breaks, Ellen would break out of her “kind” character and sit moodily in silence on her couch, not acknowledging anyone”, she told The Sun Newspaper. “She didn’t say one word to the audience unless the cameras were on, she snapped out of her character the second the cameras stopped rolling.”
Before being selected to take part in the ‘Make It Rain’ segment, Dimatteo claims she was warned by producers that she and the other guests were ‘not allowed to be funnier or smarter’ than the host, and to remember ‘she [Ellen] is the star and comedian, not us.’
“We were told to act in a very specific way and to only speak if she asked us a question,” she added. “They made us scream and jump around backstage as a test, it was pretty humiliating.”
Whilst these allegations paint a very unflattering image of DeGeneres, it is the more serious accusations which have resulted in an internal investigation into the show. Sexual misconduct, harassment, assault and racism are being alleged against the show’s top executives. Dozens of former staffers have claimed ‘inappropriate behaviour’ with lower-level employees, with one allegation being made against (former) executive producer and head writer Kevin Leman requesting a hand job and oral sex from a staffer in a bathroom at a company party in 2013.
Another ex-employee described watching Leman grab the penis of a production assistant, and further employees claim to have witnessed the writer grope an assistant inside a vehicle and “kiss his neck” in May 2017.
Leman responded to the allegations forcibly before his “firing”, stating: “I started at the Ellen show as a PA more than 17 years ago and have devoted my career to work my way to the position I now hold.
“While my job as head writer is to come up with jokes – and, during that process, we can occasionally push the envelope – I'm horrified that some of my attempts at humour may have caused offence,” Leman told BuzzFeed who reported the initial allegations.
“I have always aimed to treat everyone on the staff with kindness, inclusivity and respect. In my whole time on the show, to my knowledge, I've never had a single HR or inter-personal complaint made about me, and I am devastated beyond belief that this kind of malicious and misleading article could be published.”
Racism has also played a part in the fallout over The Ellen DeGeneres Show’s treatment of staff, with one former Black employee stating she was the subject of micro-aggressions and abuse over the 18-months she worked on the show. The employee claims that a senior producer told her “I hope we don’t get confused” by the fact two Black employees have box braids.
Another complaint she makes alleges one of the main writers jokingly told her, “I’m sorry, I only know the names of the white people who work here.”
Warner Brothers have responded to all publicised allegations, saying it “hoped to determine the validity and extent of publicly reported allegations and to understand the full breadth of the show’s day-to-day culture.”
The intense and disturbing accusations of bullying and abuse at The Ellen DeGeneres Show was initially started by comedian Kevin T.Porter, whose tweet asking for stories on Ellen, whom he described as “notoriously one of the meanest people alive”, garnered 69,000 likes. The comments section ignited with claims of diva-like behaviour and cruel bullying, with thousands of responses going public in the first few hours of posting.
Since the allegations have been made public Ellen eventually responded to the many claims made against herself and the show. In a letter to her staff she wrote: “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.
“I could not have the success I've had without all of your contributions. My name is on the show and everything we do and I take responsibility for that. Alongside Warner Bros, we immediately began an internal investigation and we are taking steps, together, to correct the issues. As we've grown exponentially, I've not been able to stay on top of everything and relied on others to do their jobs as they knew I'd want them done. Clearly some didn't. That will now change and I'm committed to ensuring this does not happen again.”
The statement wasn’t received positively, with staff claiming Ellen did know what was going on and chose not to stop it.
“We’ve been saying for years how Ellen just turns a blind eye to all the problems. We don’t matter to her, and I highly doubt anything will really change,” says one current employee.
The fallout, which is still continuing, has devastatingly tarnished the once popular host’s image. Although a new season of the show is set to return in September, there are many wondering whether its time has come to an end. Rumours are swirling that Brit James Corden is being lined up to replace Ellen as a new host, though no confirmation has been made.
Whatever happens in the future, the likelihood of Ellen DeGeneres uttering her famed mantra of ‘be kind to one another’ and the public ever believing it again, is pretty much dead in the water.
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