There’s something fun about judging a multi-millionaire superstar artist from the discomfort of my unfurnished apartment while smoking subpar weed in the midst of a depressive episode. I feel powerful, for it is I that watches the Watchmen, and stuff. Then I dig into my third scrambled egg based meal of the day and I’m just as quickly brought back down to Earth. I thought I was a Dr. Manhattan, but I’m just a Rorschach.
My first thoughts upon watching the new Ellen DeGeneres Netflix special were, in order: “Ooh, I love that fit.” and “Nice, she can still command a stage.” And of course she can, Ellen’s been on TV addressing audiences directly and daily since I was in middle school. There’s one question on every viewer’s mind, however: Is Ellen relatable enough to return to stand up? And it’s one she addresses pretty much off the bat, more or less confirming her cultural status as White demi-Oprah. (“So I’m sitting in the solarium eating my breakfast… on my third or fourth bite of pineapple that Bhatu is feeding me…”)
It’s necessary and kind of perfect. Ellen needs to confront the fact that since the last time she’s done stand-up she’s become… incredibly wealthy. It goes on for about ten minutes, and at a certain point, the bit does come off a bit braggy (she genuinely lists all of the awards she’s won to thunderous applause) but hey, Ellen’s earned it. It’d be disingenuous if she tried to act like one of us, and ultimately that’s the thesis statement of this special. We’re all human—she’s just a way richer, much more comfortable human. ( She does end the special with some sort of “We’re all the same; relatable, because we’re human” cop-out sentiment, but I don’t know if I buy that.)
Then she starts playing footage from a wildlife documentary about meerkats to which I immediately exclaimed “Oh! Video!” It’s an effective trick. We all like funny little internet videos, and we love hearing comedians talk about them. This leads into some material about her sexuality, including a fake commercial endorsing the Gay Agenda that was so simple it really got me.
I’ll say it. This special is damn delightful. I loved Ellen’s HBO One Night Stand as kid; I watched it dozens of times—it was ALWAYS on. While she’s a lot lower energy nowadays, it’s just pleasant to see her show how actually funny she is again. Yeah she’s charismatic, excitable, and great at talking to Sofia Vergara or Max Greenfield, but she’s also an incredibly adept comedic performer, and it’s kind of cool that a lot of America’s Moms are finally going to get a more concentrated dose of that. Sure, this isn’t some cultural takedown a la Bill Burr or Dave Chappelle, but honestly? Thank God. Comedy being “harmless” has become this bad thing, and while I do love the irreverent, twisted, and fucked-up, sometimes it’s just nice to see the Seinfelds of the world talk about Ubers they’ve clearly never taken.
That’s not to say she doesn’t occasionally explore deeper topics. Some bits about her childhood as a member of the Christian Scientist church really tug at you. (“My parents got divorced, so I went through kind of a bad girl phase… I was popping one, two aspirin a day.”) Towards the middle, the special takes a darker turn than one would expect, with Ellen beautifully detailing how what was objectively the lowest point of her life eventually blossomed into the career she has today, complete with footage. I won’t get into too much detail, because it’s a really poignant chunk that I want people to experience fully.
DeGeneres even makes fun of her goofy dancing. (“The dancing… that was a mistake… Whenever they see me anywhere they’re like ‘Dance, Ellen, dance!’”) What’s even better is that at a certain point later in the special… SHE DOES DANCE! Ellen gives the people what they want, but I think she wants you to know how much she hates it. That’s definitely me projecting, but goddamn, the idea of a nihilistic Ellen DeGeneres tortuously shimmying her way across the stage solely to satisfy the needs of the masses is hilarious to me. That’s what I find actually funny, I guess—a woman falling victim to an unending curse of her own making. (“I am 60 years old and I’m dancing to ‘Back Dat Ass Up.”)
I do think this special is a bit long. Maybe it’s a personal preference—I’ve said before no one should realllly be on stage more than 30 minutes, I don’t care who you are. It seems like a lot of the less punchy bits could’ve been cut out to better fit into 45 minutes or so, rather than the hour it takes. (Plus a ten minute Q+A that I skipped, for a total of an hour sixteen.) Still, the special, while innocuous, is personal, charming, and most of all, worth a few solid laughs. If you like Ellen, you’ll love this. If you don’t, this will be, for the most part, an average special poking at the absurdity of the daily life of the 1%.
Yusef Roach is Paste’s Assistant Comedy Editor and the cohost of the podcast Death is Imminent. He’s on Twitter @yusefroach.