On Monday, Ellen DeGeneres, prominent gay rights advocate and peerless comedian received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which is considered the highest U.S. award for lifetime achievement in comedy. Ellen DeGeneres is the fourth woman to receive the Mark Twain awards.
When guests at the tribute remarked upon her decision to go public with her sexual identity 15 years ago, she said, “I did it for me and it happened to help a lot of other people and cause a big ruckus.” Her decision in 1997 to publicly come out as gay had made several advertisers run away from her show.
DeGeneres had spent her youth as a comedian doing the nightclub circuit in Los Angeles until gaining the attention of television shows, and ultimately her own prime time show. Her original sitcom had featured DeGeneres in the role of a bookshop owner who lived in an eccentric neighborhood.
DeGeneres hosted the 2001 Emmy awards, which was postponed twice following 9/11 and gave her a chance to attempt to heal the national mood with her attitude. Another comedian present during the tributes, John Leguizamo, admitted, “The rest of us comics come from really messed-up, dark childhoods. She might have come from that, I don’t know. But it’s not what she puts forth … She just puts out this beautiful goodwill.”
Late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel commented, “For a lot of people, Ellen is their only homosexual friend.” DeGeneres has been using her last ten seasons on television often as a way to promote gay equality.