Comedian paved the way for shows to break gay taboo
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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