Co­me­dian paved the way for shows to break gay taboo

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - PLAY TV -

Degeneres, who broke ground in 1997 as the first lead char­ac­ter on prime-time TV to re­veal she was gay, is win­ning her na­tion’s top hu­mour prize. The Kennedy Cen­tre for the Per­form­ing Arts says Degeneres will re­ceive the 15th an­nual Mark Twain Prize for Amer­i­can Hu­mour. She will be hon­oured on Oc­to­ber 22 with a line-up of star per­form­ers in a trib­ute show that will be recorded for broad­cast at a later date. In a writ­ten state­ment, Degeneres said re­ceiv­ing the same award as past hon­ourees Bill Cosby, Tina Fey and Will Fer­rell makes her won­der, ‘‘why didn’t I get this sooner?’’. It was 15 years ago – just be­fore the hu­mour prize was cre­ated – when Degeneres came out on Time mag­a­zine’s cover and as her char­ac­ter on the sit­com Ellen to a record 46 mil­lion view­ers. But the pop­u­lar show be­gan los­ing view­ers and was can­celled a year later. Degeneres said at the time that ABC caved in to fear and aban­doned the show. The re­jec­tion was enough to send Degeneres into a deep de­pres­sion, although she bounced back and now has a hit talk show in its ninth sea­son. Ellen paved the way, though, for fu­ture shows to also break the taboo of show­ing gay char­ac­ters. Will and Grace would fol­low, along with Glee, Mod­ern Fam­ily and oth­ers. Cappy Mcgarr, an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer for the Mark Twain Prize show and a Kennedy Cen­tre board mem­ber, said Degeneres has a spe­cial style of ob­ser­va­tional hu­mour in the tra­di­tion of Twain. She also makes peo­ple laugh across po­lit­i­cal lines. ‘‘She’s not just a co­me­dian,’’ he said. ‘‘She got the pres­i­dent to dance, the first lady to do push-ups and (Re­pub­li­can) Tom De­lay to laugh.’’ The Mark Twain prize hon­ours peo­ple who have an im­pact on so­ci­ety in the tra­di­tion of Sa­muel Cle­mens, bet­ter known as Twain, as a so­cial com­men­ta­tor and satirist.

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Ellen Degeneres

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