June 27, 2019

The Trap of Trying to Be Relatable

“The term “successful comedian” has always been something of an oxymoron—there’s nothing funny about a rich entertainment icon. This is the premise of Ellen DeGeneres’s new, decorous Netflix special, “Relatable.” It’s DeGeneres’s first taped standup set in fifteen years, a period during which she’s been the host of one of the most-viewed daytime television shows in history—a savvy, cheerful jester tasked with surveying the fast-paced world of celebrity culture and translating it for a mass audience. Along with success, of course, comes wealth, perhaps the unfunniest subject of all. DeGeneres knows this. At the beginning of the set, she recounts a conversation that she had with a friend about returning to standup. “Your life has changed so much,” he told her. “I know, but I still think I’m relatable,” DeGeneres replied. “Anyway, just then, two of my butlers stepped into the library and announced that my breakfast was ready. And I said, ‘We’ll continue this conversation another time.’ ”

Wealth is not the only force that has threatened to undermine DeGeneres’s comedy. There’s also the treacly sensibility of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” which she acknowledges has turned into a trap—particularly her tendency to dance on air, which, over the years, went from a gimmick to a prison of her own making. “There’s been times someone wants a picture, and while I’m doing a selfie, they’re, like: ‘You’re not dancing!,’ ” DeGeneres told the Times recently, in an article titled “Ellen DeGeneres Is Not as Nice as You Think.” “Of course I’m not dancing. I’m walking down the street,” she said. Two years ago, she decided to axe the dancing segment from her show altogether, a move that presented a real risk to her relationship with her fun-loving, all-ages audience.

Theoretically, “Relatable” is meant to offer a course correction, or at least an alternative, to DeGeneres’s reputation as a family-friendly gimmick queen. But, if DeGeneres has seemed to lose her edge over the years, she also struggles to relocate it in the special. Once the well of jokes about how rich she is has run dry—and it happens quickly—there is only a thin layer of material, most of it extremely breezy, to use. DeGeneres recalls the familiar ritual that she and her wife, Portia de Rossi, have of sitting on the couch, each sucked into her respective Internet hole, exchanging cute videos and memes rather than speaking. She brings up a video of a yellow bird dancing to Kendrick Lamar’s “humble.” and envisions a geriatric woman hearing Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up” sometime in the distant future. And then she dances, seeming jubilant and defeated at once. This is DeGeneres falling back onto the shtick that has defined her career for the past fifteen years. And it’s not for a lack of material—she’s a woman working in the relative ghetto of daytime television, where she’s taken less seriously than the men doing the same routines on late-night TV. That’s a tension that I would have loved to hear DeGeneres explore.”

Read more

JJ Editor's Daily Picks

"On June 23, Erdogan and his party suffered a historic debacle in the rerun of the mayoral race in Istanbul. Binali Yildirim, an AKP heavyweight who ran as the candidate of the People’s Alliance between the AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party..."

"Former Vice President Joe Biden will enter the first Democratic presidential debates with 19 rivals taking aim at him — nine on the night he will be onstage, 10 the night he won't be there to defend himself. He is the clear-cut frontrunner and..."

"The latest round of attacks and counterattacks in Israel and Gaza demonstrates the respective governments’ inability to extricate their people from an awful situation, decades in the making. Palestinians and Israelis live in the same land, share..."

"Yesterday, a new musical dramedy debuting this Friday, conjures up a world we can’t begin to imagine: one in which the Beatles never existed. Somehow, after a global blackout, no one on Earth has ever heard of the band, except for the protagonist.."

"“America will never be a socialist country,” President Trump said as he launched his bid for re-election last week. That declaration was an effort to frighten Americans and undermine growing support for expanding Medicare and Social Security..."

"SpaceX launched 60 satellites last month that now swarm around our planet like bees around a hive. It’s the first phase of Elon Musk’s ambitious Starlink project that will eventually send thousands of satellites into orbit to create a worldwide..."

""At the end of May, TIAA, the financial services and investing giant, rolled out new gender-identity awareness guidelines for its client-facing consultants. The guidance included: “Never assume someone’s gender identity” and “Be aware that a..."

"Nobody knows who threw the first brick at Stonewall. It might not even have been a brick. Legend has it a woman in the crowd yelled, “Aren’t you going to do something?” as she was dragged away by cops. We don’t know who she was."

"Secular studies were an afterthought in my all-male yeshiva high school, offered in the late afternoon after eight hours of religious subjects. After “English,” we often returned for a few more hours of Torah study. The person who was supposed,,,"

"Meat is dead. Carnivores are going the way of cigarette smokers and, by 2050, there’s a good chance that it will be socially unacceptable to eat meat. In the same way that we’re now horrified people used to smoke in offices and airplanes, we’ll..."

"In order to embody the philosophy of elegant simplicity, we need to address the relationship between science and spirituality. Some people think that science and spirituality are polar opposites, but are they? Science is about things which can..."

"Labels are a necessary evil when talking about Judaism. Orthodox, Conservative, Reform denote different religious streams, but they are simply primary colours which hardly do justice to the kaleidoscopic variety of the modern Jewish landscape..."