The untold truth of The Ellen DeGeneres Show

Ellen DeGeneres has a sterling reputation. In 2015, she even won the top spot in an online NBC News "State of Kindness" poll, with participants finding her nicer than other well-liked celebs like Jennifer Aniston and Chris Pratt. One former production assistant claims her time working with DeGeneres taught her how to become her "most authentic self." Needless to say, plenty of celebrities think she's amazing, and she's popular among her peers. When DeGeneres turned 60 in January 2018, celebrities like Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell, and Justin Timberlake lined up to wish her a happy birthday.

Meanwhile, after well over a decade on air, The Ellen DeGeneres Show show remains as beloved and respected as its host, with her two-part birthday celebration in February 2018 drawing terrific ratings, thanks in part to appearances by the likes of Michelle Obama, Sofia Vergara, and Chance the Rapper.

But an institution as influential and long-running as The Ellen DeGeneres Show couldn't possibly dodge controversy altogether. From the many rumors that DeGeneres isn't quite as nice as she seems (The Bachelor's Corinne Olympios insists she's "aggressive") to bizarro lawsuits, disgruntled guests, and alleged backstage diva demands from Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, and Madonna, there are plenty of reasons to stop dancing for a moment to take a long, hard look at the darker side of The Ellen DeGeneres Show… even if it pains us to do so.

​Critics claim she treats her staff like 'peasants'

For years, rumors have dogged DeGeneres that a tyrant lies in wait beneath that impossibly sunny exterior. In 2017, a source told Radar Online that the "Queen of Nice" has an innate knack for cruelty. Could the cuddly public persona be an elaborate ruse devised by a cold, calculating diva? Radar's source insists that "when the cameras aren't rolling, [DeGeneres] treats staffers as if they are her peasants!" They also allege only a few lucky souls are allowed to speak to the talk show host on set — nor can they look her in the eye. Crew members are allegedly expected to turn their backs when she strides by, saying "She doesn't even brief the staff about the show anymore!"

According to the same source, DeGeneres reportedly plays favorites. To "create tension, jealousy, and hurt feelings," she reportedly invites some staff to fun events and leaves others in the dust. If this source can be believed, DeGeneres once became so upset upon finding a loose thread hanging from her slacks that she demanded a staffer bring her a brand-new pair. The bad behavior allegedly gets worse any time DeGeneres is sparring with wife Portia de Rossi. "It's like walking on eggshells," the source insists.

To be fair, Gossip Cop makes a strong case for the whole story being trumped up. The website claims to be in cahoots with "many people involved in the production of DeGeneres' show" and says they've only heard good things about DeGeneres. We're banking on you, Gossip Cop.

She allegedly made Kathy Griffin cry

In 2016, Kathy Griffin wrote a blind item about a certain someone. Honestly, the item is so stunningly obvious, it barely qualifies as nearsighted. 

In her book Kathy Griffin's Celebrity Run-Ins: My A-Z Index (via Life and Style), the inescapable redhead claims a "talk show host" with "short blonde hair" is, to paraphrase, a dyed-in-wool meanie. Griffin implies this theoretical tyrant once kicked her out of a backstage dressing room at the Emmys. "I can't prove it," she writes, "but this person …. has a mean streak that all of Hollywood knows about."

In 2017, Griffin told Access Hollywood that DeGeneres was "furious" about the item. She says they bickered on the phone and Ellen barked, "I don't have to have anyone on my show that I don't like." After the call, Griffin "literally started sobbing." Adding more layers to this tawdry tale, Griffin told US Weekly that the beef stems from a 2007 appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, during which DeGeneres basically called Griffin mean. (Is everyone mean?) Griffin recalls, "I was in the dressing room like, 'S***!' You're another woman comic, c'mon!"

That same year, DeGeneres spoke disparagingly of Griffin in a magazine profile (via US Weekly), saying "I know [Griffin] had a big thing about wanting to be on the show. … She did a whole thing that I banned her from the show. I didn't ban her from the show, because first you have to be on the show to be banned."

It's official. Everyone is mean.

She made The Bachelor's Corinne Olympios 'uncomfortable'

Paying a visit to The Morning Breath podcast in 2017, The Bachelor's Corinne Olympios was asked by disgraced former hosts Claudia Oshry Soffer and Jackie Oshry if the rumors were true — Was Ellen DeGeneres really "not so nice"? And was the comedian "diva-ey" behind the scenes? After being interviewed on The Ellen DeGeneres Show earlier that year, Olympios had to admit that, yeah, some of her experiences with DeGeneres weren't altogether positive on the day of taping. "I love Ellen so much," Olympios said, "When I was talking to her, I just felt like I was talking to Dory, and I was really excited." But instead of proving herself to be a lovably scrappy regal blue tang, Ellen just made her feel sorta rotten: "I've kept this in for so long," Olympios said, "but, to be honest, [DeGeneres] just made me a little uncomfortable."

For one thing, Olympis suspects she wasn't even supposed to see DeGeneres before taping began "because everybody got very nervous when we bumped into each other and you could tell they were like 'oh, s**t.'" For another, Olympios reveals DeGeneres was "very aggressive" and "very cold" prior to the interview. 

Actually, perhaps a case could be made that DeGeneres was a bit aggressive during the interview, no? 

​Caitlyn Jenner felt 'burnt' by Ellen

In 2015, Caitlyn Jenner made a rather damning confession on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Asked about her stance on same-sex marriage, the I Am Cait star acknowledged that "at first, I was not for it." The soundbite was subsequently picked up everywhere. Later that year, DeGeneres told Howard Stern she thought Jenner was unfairly passing "judgement about gay people and marriage". Then she quipped, "Maybe [Jenner] didn't want to dance with me [on the show] because I'm a lesbian."

In a subsequent interview with Andy Cohen on Radio Andy, Jenner touches upon the much-maligned interview. "I got burnt by Ellen on marriage equality," she says, claiming DeGeneres talked to her prior to the taping and convinced her to discuss her shifting stance on marriage equality.

To hear Jenner tell it, DeGeneres pulled a bait and switch on her. "All of a sudden, Ellen comes back and says, 'Sounds like you're really not for it.' I said, 'No I just said I was for it, but it was a progression.'" She thinks DeGeneres was unfair and deliberately "upped the ante," effectively luring Stern to say, "Yeah, I can't believe Caitlyn's not for marriage equality."

And as for that dancing joke? Jenner was outraged by it. "Why should somebody in my community say something like that?" she wondered, adding that she would have danced with Ellen "in a heartbeat" but Ellen "never asked me to dance."  

She was criticized for ogling Katy Perry's 'balloons'

Her heart was in the right place, but perhaps her eyes weren't. In 2017, DeGeneres came under fire for a birthday tweet sent out to Katy Perry that said, "Happy Birthday, @KatyPerry! It's time to bring out the big balloons." The accompanying image didn't exactly leave room for the double entendre to breathe. 

Many people were not impressed. The Twitter hordes were quick to pounce on Ellen's birthday wish with a #doublestandard hashtag. Some disgruntled members of the Twitterverse even compared Degeneres to Harvey Weinstein. Celebs were quick to jump in on the fray, with Piers Morgan tweeting, "If a man made this joke, Ellen would lead the cries of 'SEXIST PIG!'" Meanwhile, My Name is Earl actor Michael Rapaport wrote, "Imagine if Cam Newton or another man sent out this tweet and photo."

Some people thought the tweet totally contradicted her #MeToo monologue on October 19, which sharply criticized sexual harassment in all its guises. "This is not a male thing or a female thing," she said, adding, "We all want the same thing. We want respect, love, and kindness. And if I could have those three things and an iPhone X, I'd be happy."

Madonna's entourage: like a headache

In 2015, The Ellen DeGeneres Show presented "Madonna Week", and allegedly her backstage demands were neither a holiday nor a celebration for producers. A source told Radar Online that "everyone that works there is really glad that it's finally over!" Apparently a full week of Madonna is one week too many. The pop superstar allegedly brought her own entourage, and they proved "so obnoxious that it just made for a really awkward time on set." (Too much early-morning voguing, perhaps.) Madonna reportedly demanded a set of trailers, a range of pricey health foods, and her own makeup and hair squad (that the studio allegedly needed to pay for).

According to Radar, the demands only got more ridiculous. Everyone was reportedly expected to "bow down to her" and staffers were forced to "bite their tongues" all week long. Plus, the pop star/conical bra proponent reportedly wanted to personally approve all footage prior to airing, and she allegedly insisted on changing each script until the material was to her "liking." By the end of the week, Radar claims DeGeneres was way over the "Live to Tell" singer.

Said their source, "Ellen is such a control freak. To have to surrender control to someone who calls the shots in every situation was incredibly hard for her." 

​'Find Kylie Jenner two dressing rooms, stat!'

Madonna isn't the only backstage diva who reportedly makes the fur, hair product, and bobby pins fly. Reality star Kylie Jenner allegedly came to set with her own voluminous list of demands. According to Radar Online, producers were certifiably unimpressed. If the tabloid can be believed, the dramatical diva demands included Jenner using her own hair and makeup people, and getting to take over two whole dressing rooms — one for her, and one for her militia of makeup magicians. Oh, and Jenner allegedly demanded two "VIP parking spots" — no ands, ifs, or buts — since she didn't "want to walk from the parking structure to the studio," which is reportedly only a block away from the studio.

If any of this is true, perhaps Jenner learned The Way Of The Diva by her big sister's ostentatious ways. In another report, Radar claims Kim Kardashian was similarly a menace when she made her appearance on the show. She allegedly arrived late in a flurry of fabulousness, armed with roughly 20 minions. Reportedly, she also wouldn't let DeGeneres' makeup crew touch her lustrous hair — nor her pouty lips. Who could've imagined these two could prove so difficult?

Her charity led to an IRS nightmare

It could've been the perfect piece of shareable content. In 2013, an Ohio-based woman named Ry'Shonda Fields emailed Ellen DeGeneres to give a shoutout to her generous friend Diane (who she hailed as her "angel"). After losing her substitute teaching job, Fields was at her wit's end — with four children to feed — until meeting this angel. Diane helped in innumerable ways, even giving Christmas presents to Fields' children. DeGeneres took Fields' request one step further, awarding her approximately $55,000 on her show. The family broke down in tears of joy.

But Fields probably broke down again once the IRS got involved. Perhaps hoping to breathe new life into the maxim "no good deed goes unpunished," tax collectors in Xenia, Ohio inexplicably got hardcore with Fields, threatening jail time for failing to pay $1,758.61 in taxes for the "non-employee compensation" awarded to her by Ellen. According to Forbes, the court ultimately asked Fields to pay a $75 fine. She was also handed a 30-day suspended sentence. The case was ultimately overturned due to "ineffective assistance of counsel," according to Courthouse News, with the judge concluding that "Field's failure to pay was not willful due to indigence." 

Who knew a random act of kindness could turn into such a Kafkaesque kerfuffle? 

She was sued for making fun of a woman's name

In a bizarre June 2016 lawsuit, a Georgia-based real estate agent named Titi Pierce sued DeGeneres for making a joke about her name. During the "What's Wrong With These Ads… and These Signs?" segment, DeGeneres jokingly called her "Titty." In her lawsuit, Pierce took pains to point out that her name was pronounced "Tee Tee." The distraught woman claimed she faced harassment following the episode. "Prior to defendant's misdeeds, Ms. Pierce has been called only by her name 'Titi,' which, as grammar dictates, is pronounced 'TEE TEE'".

Absolutely none of this sounded like "tee-hee" to federal judge Leslie J. Abrams, who threw out the case in 2017. Judge Abrams said the title of the segment indicated there was something "entertaining" about all the featured signage, and that "the letter 'i' in the English language can be pronounced several ways." The judge argued that, under the circumstances, it wouldn't "have been defamatory to have pronounced Plaintiff's name "'tī-tī' or 'tĭ- tĭ,' or any other possible permutation."

Following the judgement, Ellen producers told TheWrap they "never intend to hurt anyone's feelings." Even if that person is named Titi.

Record labels sued the show over copyright issues

What kind of monster would be mad about DeGeneres' dancing? Well, the kind of monster who works as a copyright lawyer at one the nation's biggest record labels.

In 2009, the New York Post reported The Ellen DeGeneres Show had bopped its way into legal hot water by not clearing "well over one thousand sound recordings owned or controlled" by big-league record companies like EMI, Sony Music, Warner Music Group, and Universal Music Group." Now, all these companies were banding together to sue the show for failing to get permission for featured songs like Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and the Beach Boys' 1966 classic "Good Vibrations".

Beguilingly, the show's producers said they cleared the song's permissions with publishers but "consciously" didn't ask the record companies. Asked to explain why, producers reportedly said they didn't "roll that way." (Does that work?) A spokesperson for Warner Bros. Entertainment, the show's distributor, said "it is unfortunate that the record labels have resorted to filing a suit," particularly since Ellen producers were "willing" to resolve the dispute on "reasonable terms."

We imagine all parties have since resolved these issues, as DeGeneres continues movin' to the beat.

​She was rebuked for not supporting a writers strike

In 2007, DeGeneres received a blistering rebuke after carrying on with The Ellen DeGeneres Show in the middle of a writer's strike. She respected picket lines for one day, but returned to work the day following. At the start of the show, DeGeneres alluded to the strike, saying, "I love my writers. … and in honor of them, I'm not going to do a monologue." This evidently wasn't enough to soothe the rankled scribes at WGA East, a New York division of the Writers Guild of America.

Despite DeGeneres allegedly being "legally required" to create new episodes, the union condemned the decision to move forward, writing in a statement that DeGeneres "was not welcome" in New York, where the show was scheduled to film in a few weeks' time. WGA's statement sniped, "[It's] sad that Ellen … couldn't even stand by writers for more than one day — writers who have helped make her extremely successful." The union even implied Ellen was breaking strike rules by soldiering on with the show. That claim was shot down by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, who said in their own statement, "Ellen has not done anything in violation of the Writers Guild of America agreement, or the WGA's internal 'strike rules.'"

Karen Kilgariff, a head writer on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, sided with her boss despite going on with the strike herself. Kilgariff told Reuters that Ellen "had no choice" but to continue filming.

"She's in a very bad position," she said.

She reportedly 'hisses' at writers

Upsetting WGA East wasn't the only fallout from the decision to continue producing The Ellen DeGeneres Show during the writer's strike. As sites like Perez Hilton took relish in publishing photos of DeGeneres reportedly crossing through picket lines to get to work, disgruntled writerly types did their best to slime the comedian's reputation. One blogger, writing under the alias Surgical Strikes, claimed to be a former writer's assistant on the short-lived CBS sitcom The Ellen Show. Strikes' post claimed DeGeneres was known for being unkind to her stable of writers. "I don't know how Ellen treats her current writers," wrote Strikes in a since-deleted post (via Gawker), "but I can tell you about how she treated the previous batch: Like s**t."

Strikes claimed to regularly break fans' hearts when asked what working with Ellen was like, claiming DeGeneres "must be a very talented actress to convince America that she's nice." The blogger claimed DeGeneres would be all smiles during rehearsal, but then "the director would yell cut, [DeGeneres'] face would fall, and she'd level a glare at the writers." Allegedly she'd hiss, "Why do you keep writing these unfunny jokes?"

Again, this is a story we'd take with a pinch of salt considering the charged circumstances under which it was written. Nevertheless, the story was picked up by numerous outlets including Ad Week and Fox News, so it's doubtlessly done some damage over the years.

She defended Kevin Hart amid a homophobic Twitter controversy

Ellen DeGeneres angered many fans by interviewing comedian Kevin Hart in January 2019. According to USA Today, Hart "stepped down" from Oscar hosting duties in December 2018 — a mere two days after being announced as host — after homophobic tweets were unearthed from his past. According to Vice, one since-deleted tweet from 2011 found Hart riffing on what he'd do if he caught his son playing with a dollhouse: "[I'd] break it over his head & say… 'stop that's gay.'" Hart subsequently posted a video to Instagram, explaining that he wasn't going to apologize because he's addressed those tweets before. "I'm not going to continue to go back and tap into the days of old when I've moved on and I'm in a completely different space in my life."

The controversy took center stage during Hart's appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, an episode that found DeGeneres coming to Hart's defense. She called the people making a fuss over the tweets "haters" and "a small group of people being very, very loud." She told Hart, "You can't let them destroy you." The interview was sharply criticized, with actor Harry Cook claiming he could think of "at least 50 openly gay up and coming comedians who deserve your awesome platform" more than Hart (via Page Six). CNN's Don Lemon called the interview "insincere." 

Following the outcry, Deadline reported that Hart would not "reemerge as host of the 91st Academy Awards" because he didn't want to be a "distraction." Too late.