24 Oct My Night With Ellen Degeneres – Rogers Place in Vancouver
This was me during the light and sound check. I was nervous again. I’m always nervous before I walk out on stage. But this time was even more intense. Because that’s a lot of seats. But mostly because of the questions. Or more, because of THE Question.
“What is Ellen like?”
I’ve gotten that question so many times about celebrities I’ve interviewed – but this time people weren’t just curious – they WANTED TO KNOW THAT ELLEN REALLY IS AWESOME.
They really really want Ellen to be as good as they imagine. So I was nervous – because expectations were so high. This is no everyday celebrity. People love Ellen because she has helped them through rough times, because she has inspired them to live out loud, because she made them laugh, and made them feel.
When the sound check ended I went back to my dressing room as the arena began to fill with excited people. Hearing the crowd start to grow I got nervous again.
I had one thing in my back pocket. I knew she was great. I just needed to stay out of the way. So I put on my suit, went over my questions, relaxed… and then they called me to sidestage. It’s a long walk down the hall and I went to the bottom of the stairs to the stage. I waited for some speeches, trying to stay calm. (For a second I realized I was standing to the right of where the hockey net would be if the ice was in – right where Iginla was when he passed the puck to Crosby to score the Golden Goal – but back to the story).
This is me waiting. Ellen was to my right and down the hall a bit. Waiting. Just like me. Except her name was Ellen. You can’t see it in this picture but I’m holding two microphones. One for me – and one for Ellen. All I was thinking was, “Don’t forget her mic. She can’t shout that loud.”
Then I heard:
“Please welcome your host, Dave Kelly.” And I walked on. And the crowd went wild.
Let’s be clear. I knew they weren’t going wild for me. They were going wild because they knew there was only one person left to introduce.
We played a video talking about Ellen’s life, her successes, her setbacks, her shows and awards, her wedding… and then it ended… and I turned to the audience and said,
“Please welcome Ellen Degeneres.”
And the crowd lost their collective minds.
And she walked out. They were standing and screaming.
She waved. The crowd went wild.
She smiled. The crowd went wilder.
She danced. The crowd danced with her.
I can’t really describe what that much noise, that much love, that much YES feels like. It’s so big and so warm.
And then we sat down and started talking.
When you’ve seen someone famous on TV or movie and you get to see them in real life – there’s a moment when you look at them and go, “Wow – that’s really them.” You could feel the audience doing that. “That’s really her!…” And now and then I’d do the same thing. That’s really her.
She was smart, funny, and everything the audience wanted her to be.
We talked about her life, her ups and downs, her recent trip to Rwanda to see The Ellen Fund at work. I asked her about this picture:
She talked about how amazing the trip was. Seeing gorillas. Seeing where Dian Fossey worked. But then she said, “I realized something in Rwanda. I realized that I picked the right job – because climbing those muddy, steep mountains in the wet and cold mist wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be. It’s hard.”
(That’s my recollection – imagine her saying that line, but a lot funnier and without as many words.)
She has been through a lot in her life. She did not have an easy childhood, she did not have an easy time as a teenager. She felt different and ashamed of being different. But somehow in all of that, she found funny. And it fit her. And she figured out the kind of funny she was good at. And it fit her even better.
And then she figured out that what made her different wasn’t shameful at all. And she tried to tell the world – and she lost her job, her dream job as a tv star.
So she went back to funny. And wrote and performed.
And she could have been bitter and vindictive. But she remembered her Dad telling her that kindness mattered. And she knew that it was a big part of her.
So she stuck with funny and kind. And we all know how that turned out for her.
And then she went on a trip to the wilds of Rwanda and she realized not only was The Ellen Fund a good thing – but that she had chosen the right life.
She loves making people laugh, making people feel good, and her show and her life is the way she does that. Now and then she might climb a mountain in the wet muddy interior of Africa. But she’s best when she’s on TV, doing what she does so well.
More than anything for me, that was the most inspiring. That it’s worth it to work hard to find the life that fits. Even when people and things get in the way. It’s worth it.
I only told one story – and it was at the end. I told her the story of my daughter Tess – and how Tess loves laughing with Dory. Tess almost falls off the couch when she laughs with Dory. I wanted to say thank you from Tess, but really, from a Dad who loves nothing more than the sound of his kids laughing.
And we were done.
The audience stood up, cheered for her, she gave them a few waves – and we all went home.
When I got to our place from the airport, Tess drew a picture of us. I think she nailed it.
Thanks Ellen. For everything.