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The Hollywood Foreign Press Association named the three-time Golden Globe nominee as the second recipient to be honored with the award, following Burnett at the 2019 ceremony. The award is presented to “an honoree who has made outstanding contributions to the television medium on or off the screen” and is the television equivalent of the Globes’ film-centric Cecil B. DeMille Award (this year given to Tom Hanks).
Kate McKinnon introduced DeGeneres by reminiscing about all that she has received and learned from the honoree, including her “sense of self.” After McKinnon realized she was gay, she said that DeGeneres’ coming-out gave her a “shot” at making it in the entertainment industry. “The only thing that made it less scary was seeing Ellen on TV,” McKinnon said. “She really risked her entire life and her entire career in order to tell the truth, and she suffered greatly for it.”
“Of course attitudes change, but only because brave people like Ellen jump into the fire to make them change. And if I hadn’t seen her on TV, I would have thought, ‘I could never be on TV. They don’t let LGBTQ people on TV,'” continued McKinnon. “And more than that I would’ve gone on thinking that I was an alien and that maybe I didn’t even have a right to be here. So thank you, Ellen, for giving me a shot.”
DeGeneres took the stage following a montage that showcased career highlights and philanthropic endeavors. She began her speech by addressing the fires in Australia and thanked McKinnon for presenting the award to her.
“It’s a prestigious award, and what I like most about it is I knew coming in I would win,” she said. “There’s nothing worse than sitting there and, like most of you, waiting and wondering if you’re going to win.”
After joking that people tend to go “on and on and on and on and on” with their speech, she assured everyone that she would be quick, “although I don’t have to because it’s a special award and they don’t play me off.” She added, “I don’t have to end at all because it’s a special award.”
DeGeneres then shared her origin story, which began on a rainy day in New Orleans with her birth and her parents driving her home in what she is pretty sure was a Buick. “Before I knew it I had a successful sitcom, and I came out, and then I lost that sitcom, and then I got another sitcom, then I lost that sitcom, too,” she recapped. “Then I got to do something that I had never been able to do before, and that is make my own whiskey, and after that I got my own talk show, and I was able to be myself and that was 17 years ago.”
“I feel like you’ve all really gotten to know me over the past 17 years. I’m an open book and I couldn’t have done it without my husband, Mark,” she joked. “Mark, you are my rock.” She then jokingly thanked her fake kids and told them to go to bed. DeGeneres continued the joke, “That’s funny because they’re in college now.”
“The point is, you all know me and obviously you know me or you wouldn’t have laughed at that. I feel like we all think we know someone — there’s a connection when we watch someone on TV for as long as we are on TV, and that’s what it was like for me with Carol Burnett,” she said.
The comedian then reflected on Burnett’s influence on her own life. “I felt like I knew her. I felt like she showed us who she was every week. She was larger than life. We counted on her to make us feel good and she delivered every single week,” she said.
“I always felt like she was speaking to me. At the end of the show, every time she pulled her ear, I knew she was saying, ‘It’s OK. I’m gay, too,'” she said. “Television influenced everything that I am today. Lucille Ball. Mary Tyler Moore, Marlo Thomas, Dick Van Dyke, Bob Newhart, Mannix. There’s a little bit of all of them in me.”
DeGeneres concluded her speech by discussing the power of television. “All I ever wanted to do was make people feel good and laugh, and there’s no greater feeling than when someone tells me I’ve made their day better with my show or that I’ve helped them get through a sickness or a hard time with their lives,” she said. “The power of television for me is not that people watch my show, but that they watch my show and then they’re inspired to go out and do the same thing in their own lives. They make people laugh or be kind or help someone that’s less fortunate than themselves and that is the power of television and I’m so, so grateful to be a part of it.”
The comedian continued to talk about the award backstage. “This is the Carol Burnett Award and that is crazy. I have gone in and out of television and the fact that I have gotten something connected to a name that I grew up admiring is important. My life has been a crazy journey,” said DeGeneres. “I never could imagine winning any awards much less the ones we are referring to. As much as I don’t seem emotional am deeply moved by this.”
“I am really happy for every single thing that has happened in my life. I am happy for the people who didn’t support me. I am grateful for all of the hard times and all of the times for things didn’t work out the way I wanted it to work out,” she added. “I am just really grateful for my journey and, of course, my husband Mark.”
DeGeneres further spoke about accepting the award while talking to The Hollywood Reporter during the official aftershow. She said that she doesn’t “give too much importance” to how she uses her comedy to change the world. “There’s people in Australia that are losing everything. Animals are dying. Australia is on my mind right now and the troops and everything that’s going on in the world,” she said. “We’re in a really tough place.”
“The good thing is that I have a show and that I can make people happy and make people feel good and that makes me feel good that I can do that,” DeGeneres continued.
The comedian added that she told McKinnon that they both made large impacts on the lives of young men and women and that their careers prove it is possible to succeed in the entertainment industry as a member of the LGBTQ community. “To everybody out there that’s struggling with any kind of insecurity, we’re supposed to be different. We’re supposed to be unique,” she said. “Embrace that and be confident and know that you can do anything you want to do.”
The 2020 Golden Globe Awards took place at the Beverly Hilton. Ricky Gervais hosted the awards show, which aired on NBC.
Dick Clark Productions, which produces the Golden Globes, shares a parent company with The Hollywood Reporter.
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