Ellen DeGeneres is known in the industry for her generous acts of charity and extravagant giveaways from trips to college tuition to her audience and guests. Always closing out the show with her signature slogan “be kind,” its what she’s built her brand on. Now, one former employee tells Buzzfeed News, “That ‘be kind’ bullsh*t only happens when the cameras are on. It’s all for show. I know they give money to people and help them out, but it’s for show.” Others say they faced racism, fear, and intimidation.
BuzzFeed talked to one current and 10 former employees of ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show”, where one detailed being fired after returning to work from a hospitalization for a suicide attempt. Another said they were fired for taking time off after a car accident and then later bereavement time for two separate family funerals, and a third was given a warning for starting a GoFundMe for medical expenses not covered by their company health insurance. However, they were eventually told to remove the fundraiser over concerns that it would “hurt DeGeneres’s image.” Some even say they were instructed by their direct managers not to speak to DeGeneres if they saw her around the office.
A former Black female employee said in the year and a half she worked on the show, she dealt with racist microaggressions, actions, and comments in the workplace. When she was first hired, she said a senior-level producer told her and another Black employee, “Oh wow, you both have box braids; I hope we don’t get you confused.” Then at a work party, one main writer said, “I’m sorry, I only know the names of the white people who work here.” When she spoke to producers about race and representation issues on the show and asked them to refrain from usage of offensive terms like “spirit animal,” they called her “the PC police” and laughed. “Whenever I brought up an issue to my white male boss, he would bring up some random story about some random Black friend that he had and how they managed to get over stuff,” she explained. “He would use his Black friend as some way to say, ‘I understand your struggle.’ But it was all performative bullsh*t.”
After working at the show for a year, she asked for a raise when she learned a new hire was making double what she was for doing the same job, despite her working in the industry for over a decade. Her manager said, “they’d see what they could do,” and never got back to her. She was then called into a meeting with executive producer Ed Glavin, and reprimanded for asking for a raise, suggesting employees receive diversity and inclusion training and speaking out on the use of the term “spirit animal.” She said she left work after the meeting and never came back. She felt “a fear of speaking out” and planned to find a new career path, but said was inspired by recent conversations about racism in Hollywood and other workplaces, following the death of George Floyd and BLM protests. “I feel like I’m not alone in this,” she said. “We all feel this. We’ve been feeling this way, but I’ve been too afraid to say anything because everyone knows what happens when you say something as a Black person. You’re blacklisted.”
There have long been rumors about what it’s like to work on the show, but they were never taken seriously. Then, in March, comedian Kevin T. Porter started a thread on Twitter, stating, “Right now we all need a little kindness. You know, like Ellen DeGeneres always talks about! She’s also notoriously one of the meanest people alive. Respond to this with the most insane stories you’ve heard about Ellen being mean & I’ll match every one w/ $2 to the LA Food Bank.” So far, the tweet has garnered more than 2,600 replies. In April, Variety reported that the show’s employees were “distressed and outraged” that producers failed to communicate details about the jobs and pay at the start of the Pandemic.
Another former employee said, “People focus on rumors about how Ellen is mean and everything like that, but that’s not the problem. The issue is these three executive producers running the show who are in charge of all these people [and] who make the culture and are putting out this feeling of bullying and being mean. They feel that everybody who works at ‘The Ellen Show’ is lucky to work there — ‘So if you have a problem, you should leave because we’ll hire someone else because everybody wants to work here.'”
Executive producers Ed Glavin, Mary Connelly, and Andy Lassner have since released a joint statement to BuzzFeed claiming they take the employee’s stories “very seriously.”
“Over the course of nearly two decades, 3,000 episodes, and employing over 1000 staff members, we have strived to create an open, safe, and inclusive work environment,” they said. “We are truly heartbroken and sorry to learn that even one person in our production family has had a negative experience. It’s not who we are and not who we strive to be, and not the mission Ellen has set for us. For the record, the day to day responsibility of the Ellen show is completely on us. We take all of this very seriously, and we realize, as many in the world are learning, that we need to do better, are committed to do better, and we will do better.”
Despite the cleanup attempt, one of the employees said ultimately; the responsibility falls on DeGeneres. “If [Ellen] wants to have her own show and have her name on the show title, she needs to be more involved to see what’s going on.” DeGeneres has yet to respond to the Buzzfeed article.