Out comedian, actress and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor by The Kennedy Center on Monday night. The show will be broadcast on PBS next Tuesday, October 30 at 8:00 pm.
DeGeneres got her start as a comedy club emcee in her hometown, New Orleans, before landing her sitcom Ellen which aired from 1994 to 1998 on ABC. Her character became the first lead on primetime TV to come out as a lesbian in the April 1997 episode “The Puppy Episode.” The episode aired shortly after DeGeneres herself came out on the cover of Time. She was then one of the very first celebrities to be out in Hollywood.
“I did it because it was the right thing for me to do,” DeGeneres said Monday night about coming out on TV fifteen years ago. “It was the right thing for me to do to not live with shame. I happened to help a lot of people, and it happened to create a ruckus.”
Jimmy Kimmel recognized her coming out as a milestone, “For a lot of people, Ellen is their only [gay] friend. She’s there in their living room every single day.”
Sean Hayes went on to say DeGeneres made his show Will and Grace possible and paved the road for other shows that include out LGBT characters. “We didn’t have a voice, until there was you,” he said before launching into the song “Till There was You.”
A sentiment the Will & Grace cast shared with the press at the 10th Annual GLAAD Media Awards.
Glee star Jane Lynch also thanked her for paving the way. “I’m pretty darn sure I could not have the career I have, that I could not live as openly as I’ve lived, if it hadn’t been for you.”
The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor honors comedians who follow in Twain’s tradition of satire and social commentary. Past recipients include Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin and Whoopi Goldberg.
Watch Ellen DeGeneres: The Mark Twain Prize on PBS Tuesday, October 30 at 8:00pm.