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“Don’t get into comedy to be famous”: Ellen DeGeneres shares her advice for aspiring female stand-ups

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Moya Crockett
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Today, Ellen DeGeneres is most famous for Ellen, her universally-adored US chat show – and for voicing forgetful blue tang fish Dory in Finding Nemo and Finding Dory

But the presenter, actress, writer and producer first found fame as a stand-up comic in the early 1980s. After years of gigging around the clubs and coffee houses of New Orleans, she was voted Showtime’s ‘Funniest Person in America’ in 1982, an accolade swiftly followed by TV specials, sitcom roles and parts in Hollywood movies. Today, she’s one of the most famous comedians in the world.

All told, fame has worked out alright for DeGeneres. But speaking exclusively to Stylist.co.uk, DeGeneres says that aspiring female stand-ups should pursue a career in comedy only if they are “really good at crafting a story” and “have a different take on things”.

She adds: “That’s what you should do it for, not to be famous.”

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Ellen DeGeneres at the American Comedy Awards, 1990

Stand-up is a notoriously brutal business, and DeGeneres has previously spoken about how, as a young comic, she struggled with her belief that “success meant getting everyone to like me."

"I became whoever I thought people wanted me to be," she said. "I’d say yes when I wanted to say no, and I even wore a few dresses.” 

Now, speaking to Stylist.co.uk, DeGeneres advises other women against going down that route. Stand-up, she says, is not the path to go down if you want to “be liked by everybody – because comedy is not the place to try that out.”

DeGeneres's own interest in comedy began when she was a child. “It came from me making my mother laugh when she was going through a hard time and going through a divorce,” she says. “That’s a very powerful thing as a kid, to make an adult laugh and change their mood and change their spirit.”

“For me, having a room full of strangers laugh at that one thought you had – it’s just magical”

She continues: “For me, having a room full of people that are mutual strangers laugh at that one thought that you had, or that one idea you wrote down – and that you got all of these different people that all have different ideas and opinions, they all like that one joke – it’s just magical.”

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Ellen Degeneres with wife Portia DeRossi at the UK premiere of Finding Dory

When Stylist.co.uk meets DeGeneres, protests against the killing of African-American man Alton Sterling are taking place in Baton Rouge, in Degeneres’s home state of Louisiana. The Orlando nightclub shootings took place just a month earlier. In such a troubling political climate, how does the famously sunny DeGeneres stay positive?

“It’s so hard for me to talk about what’s going on over there, because it’s so heart-breaking for me, and to see one particular group of people being attacked and there’s no accountability for it, it’s unspeakable,” she says.

Ultimately, she says, “all I can do is be a representative of kindness and every day on my show try to show love towards everybody, and hope that everybody realises we need to respect one another.” 

Watch the interview with Ellen DeGeneres below:

Finding Dory is out in UK cinemas on 29 July.

Images: Rex Features

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Moya Crockett

Moya is Women's Editor at stylist.co.uk, where she is currently overseeing the Visible Women campaign. Carrying a tiny bottle of hot sauce on her person at all times is one of the many traits she shares with both Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.

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