By Jason Zinoman for the New York Times image by Ryan Pfluger
Dec. 12, 2018
Ellen DeGeneres got sick of dancing, and really, can you blame her?
She has to be the only 60-year-old woman in America who is expected to dance with total strangers wherever she goes. “There’s been times someone wants a picture, and while I’m doing a selfie, they’re like: ‘You’re not dancing!,’” DeGeneres said in her office on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, Calif. “Of course I’m not dancing. I’m walking down the street.”
As she prepares to release her first comedy special in 15 years, DeGeneres is considering a much bigger change, retiring from the long-running hit show that bears her name. She’s been receiving conflicting advice from her wife, the actress Portia de Rossi, and from her older brother, Vance DeGeneres, a comedian, and has changed her mind more than once.
At a transitional moment in her remarkable career, DeGeneres agreed to sit for a rare series of interviews over two days. As much as anyone possibly could, she has taken on Oprah Winfrey’s mantle as the queen of inspirational daytime talk, providing an oasis of positivity and escapist comedy in a culture short on both. But with DeGeneres’s status as a sunny stalwart come certain burdens and constrictions, like the expectation to dance, which she finally stopped doing on her show two years ago, after some agonizing over how her audience would react.
In person, she is more blunt, introspective and interesting than she is on the show, willing to express mild irritation that might seem off-key in front of a national audience. She’s also much more likely to explore dark corners of her psyche, regrets, second thoughts, anxieties that linger. And DeGeneres is appealingly open about the tensions in her career between providing a cultural safe space and delivering laughs, and says she has learned to care less about being liked.
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