Ellen DeGeneres's fourth TBS variety showcase is set to air on Sunday, June 27th
On Wednesday, June 16th, Ellen DeGeneres returns to Chicago for the 'A Very Funny Festival: Just for Laughs' event, where she will tape her fourth annual variety showcase Ellen's Somewhat Special Special. This once-a-year spectacular will feature live music, specialty acts and Ellen's unique brand of comedy. The show is set to air on TBS beginning Sunday, June 27th, at 9/8 central.
We recently tracked down Ellen to find out more about this exciting event. Here is what she had to say:
Have you been to Chicago before?
Ellen DeGeneres: I have, I love Chicago.
What Chicago stuff will you incorporate into the show and also what do you like to do on your own in Chicago?
Ellen DeGeneres: Well, I don't get a chance to do too much because they keep me pretty busy getting, you know, getting this thing together. I can't reveal where but I will be breaking into a major building in Chicago after hours and shooting a taped piece that will air on the special. So there's a place that - that's my Chicago-esque bit there.
Breaking into a major building?
Ellen DeGeneres: A major building after hours and shooting a taped piece.
It's not the Tribune Tower is it?
Ellen DeGeneres: I'm not going to tell you. Because then they'll be ready for me and they won't let me in.
Yes, all right. But you're going to keep that secret, huh? What else are you're going to have happening on the show?
Ellen DeGeneres: We have some - I think, personally, I think, this is the best one so far as far as interesting acts to you know it is a jam-packed show and some really cool, the Kabuki act is really cool. The flagman is great, the magician is incredible, he was on my show and I was just blown away by - I don't know, I have no idea how he does that trick, that's called (King Street). Lady Antebellum, there's more comedy than I've done before because I'll be just kind of in between each act and then trying to do probably whatever just happened, I'll try to reenact some of that. So you know because it's hard to keep it fresh but being able to do just one a year, I'm able to really focus and do as many unique things as possible.
Variety shows used to be a TV staple, now they are very rare. Do you see yourself as sort of a champion for the format?
Ellen DeGeneres: Yes. I've loved, I mean, I grew up watching Carol Burnett and you know The Smothers Brothers Show and you know Donny and Marie. All those - that was sort of the TV show that everybody had when I was growing up. So I've always loved it and I've tried to do it before I did my second sitcom. I did a pilot for CBS, that was a variety show and it was sort of a The Larry Sanders Show. It was me as a host of a variety show. It was the behind the scenes and then it also on onstage. So I've been wanting to do a variety show for a long, long time and this is just so much fun that I get to do this when I have my spare time and you know I don't know. I think there's more you know America's Got Talent and a lot of people are enjoying this and people are looking on the Internet for all kinds of interesting things that you don't normally find. So yes, I'm a huge champion for this kind of show.
When you were coming up in the comedy business, what's one of your most memorable gigs in Chicago doing standup?
Ellen DeGeneres: It's actually - it's not a pleasant one, it wasn't on stage but it was when I was doing a "Women of the Night" and it was, I think, Judy Tenuta and Paula Poundstone, and Rita Rudner and myself, and it was kind of my first big time on stage with HBO Special, I've never even had my own. And the woman doing my hair got - it was like a curling iron/brush that she got tangled up, up against my scalp and the more she tried to undo it, the more my hair tangled in that curling iron slash - and she was burning my scalp and they thought they're going to have cut my hair and I was supposed to be on stage in 45 minutes. And I'll never forget that night behind - waiting to go on stage in Chicago, my big break and my hair almost being burned, singed off. That's my most memorable moment in standup.
Is doing this kind of show a nice break or just a different muscle than you use in your many other jobs?
Ellen DeGeneres: Well, yes, I always like using different muscles, you can take that however you want. But I - doing something once a year is fantastic, I highly recommended it if you can do it. It's a wonderful thing, it's very freeing and I can put a lot of energy and attention onto it and it's something I love doing. So and yes, I mean, it sort of why I took on Idol and when I have a full-time gig of my own with the talk show, I like stretching myself, I like challenging myself and I think it is important to - as you say use another muscle. It's just, you can get very complacent if you do the same thing all the time and especially the comedian, it gives me you know different things to react to and respond to, and it stimulates me, and I love - I love Chicago. So that's always you know I don't really get to travel unless I'm working. So this is a - it's a fun excuse to go to Chicago and it's a fun job that I have.
One of the staples in your variety show is the segment with the question and answer session with the audience. What excites you most above doing that segment every time you do a variety show?
Ellen DeGeneres: I do it occasionally also at the, you know, on the talk show and I do it sometimes before or after and sometimes it ends up in. But I just - I mean, I always did it when I did standup, if anybody went to see me when I was on tour doing standup, that was what I always ended the show when I came back. It's just, I don't know, it just - it gives us a chance to really talk to one another instead of me talking at them and I get to hear what's on their minds, and they get to know me a little bit more and hopefully get some answers whether some are honestly answered or some are just funny. I think it's important to do, I think it's important to have that connection which is why I start out in standup in the first place is to have that connection with the audience and it's live and it's immediate and it's unpredictable and it's everything that I loved about standup. And I think the more famous you get, the more detached and isolated you can become and you're just pulled further and further away from your fans. And I don't like that separation, I really like to have - besides the wall around my estate, of course, that's important. But I like to have that, that camaraderie with the audience.
Can you tell us a little bit about what goes into preparing for some of these specials and what your life is like leading up to it?
Ellen DeGeneres: Well, I'll have a smoothie in the morning and then I'll do some jumping jacks. And I don't you know it's kind of the same as doing my show. I have - I have a group of people that you know scout, like some people went to Chicago to look at the best place for us to shoot our tape piece and we had about five different ideas, we have meetings about what we want to do and we come up with some really good ideas. And, once they get their returns out, some are as good as others. So it's lots of meetings and conversations about what will make it different this time and once we narrow down the acts we start it with looking at just about every act we can find that seems interesting and we just keep whittling it down until we get to the strongest - that can fit in that time frame and then we're writing you know materials or between each one and then puts some - you know it's like this - it's like doing my show but it's a lot more time, it's a lot easier for us because it's just this one time and we have more days to do it. So this is - this is an easy gig as I have it.
Can you just talk about how filming in Chicago is different than filming your normal show. And also you said a couple of times you love it in Chicago, why do you like it so much?
Ellen DeGeneres: Well, what's not to like? I mean, it's a great city, it's - I don't, what's different about it, well, I don't know. That you can't - you can't really answer that without alienating other people and other cities, but Chicago really is a very special city and the people are nice, and I have found - every time I've done standup there, they're smart and they're polite, and for the most part, sober which is important to me. And what different about it is windier, it's Windy City. I don't know, it's - I just - I just love, I love the architecture, I love the art, I love everything. I just - I just really enjoy that city. Really, and I've said it before, it's just the winters would get to me. I couldn't live there because of the winters, but I do love - I love the city very much.
I know you've been so busy with Idol and your talk show and all that, but are there like upcoming - are there up and coming comics - standup comics that you've been excited about the last couple of years? People that say, "Wow, they could be the next generation."
Ellen DeGeneres: You know I think - I think this kid that we have on the show, this John Mulaney, have you seen him? Oh, you can't answer me; you've been cut-off, haven't you? John Mulaney is a standup that we have on the show this year who's also a writer for Saturday Live and he is really, really funny. And I'm always looking for you know I mean I'm looking for writers too for my show, but I do want to have more standup comedy on my show next season and I said it - I said it in the last season but we never somehow got around to it. But I would like to find some really funny, smart, clean comedy out there to showcase because I think that's getting more and more rare, and people that make you think instead of just hitting you over the head with an easy joke. And so, but I think you're going to like this guy, John Mulaney, a whole lot.
What is the possibility that we will see Greyson Michael Chance on the show, and if it's not, why?
Ellen DeGeneres: We are - he's getting ready for whatever's going to happen to him. There's a lot that's about to happen and we're trying to do it the right way. And the most important thing is what's best for him, I mean, if it was just - what's best for me, yes, you'd see him on the show. But I just want him to be ready. A lot have happened to him and he's about to go into the studio and start recording, and there's some other things that we're thinking about. But yes, that's all I can say about that. I mean, yes, everybody is expecting that I would just put him on anything that I do, but I want to do what's best for him and set him up in the right - in the right way and prepare him.
What do you look for in a variety act that is going to mesh well with this particular kind of show?
Ellen DeGeneres: Well, you want something that is really good live. Some things are really impressive but there are - they may not be as good live. We want exciting and which these acrobats are very exciting. The flagman is very exciting, the Kabuki is really cool to watch and very funny. You know and you're trying to find something that there - that you're not going to see anywhere else, that's our hope anyway. And I don't know, just entertaining and fresh, and fresh and clean; so fresh and so clean, clean.
We see you doing standup on your TV show everyday and you know somehow you find a way to keep it fresh even though we're seeing it happen every single day. Is it some kind of challenge coming up with longer length, totally new material for this kind of special?
Ellen DeGeneres: It's actually - it's actually refreshing for me to do something that I have more time and focusing on - you know when you're doing the talk show, it really is about showcasing, there's a reason someone's on the show, if it's to promote a movie or to promote their new show or the season finale. And so, it's more about them and this is more about hosting and keeping something going, and having fun and being, and because it's not live we can really play with it and go longer in some parts and respond to the acts without being disrespectful but at the same time, playing more with it. So it's just a whole different animal and that's what I like about it. I like that it's - that I get to play more and it's a little closer to doing standup for me than doing my show.
What's the chances of Crystal and Lee appearing on the show, to sing a duet.
Ellen DeGeneres: What a good idea, why - where were you before that you would suggest that now? I'm going to - when we hang up I'm making a phone call to see if they can come and perform. I bet they're both very, very busy. I bet they already are, are off doing their own things. But I think it's a really good idea.
Last year, you briefly talked about an experience you had traveling with your parents to the Warner Brothers Studio to see the set of Gilligan's Island. And I want to know how did that and other early experiences affect your interest in working with live audiences but specifically in a variety show format?
Ellen DeGeneres: Well, actually, it made me want to live on an island and call someone, Skipper. So that's what, it influenced me in a totally different way. I didn't think that was going to be the direction I'd go in as a talk show. I think that everything that we're all exposed to is, what start setting up you know I mean my parents were clearly very impressed with show business and this whole, everything about show business was important to them. So when I saw that, obviously as a kid, I think, well, that's what I'm going to do, I just didn't have any talent, so I didn't know - I didn't know how that was going to happen. I didn't let you know I didn't really want to be an actor and I didn't really - I didn't know until I became a standup comedian that you could make a living just making someone laugh. So and I didn't even know I was funny when I was younger. So I just - I'm sure that it was, that seed was planted early on that I would be in this business and somehow end up doing what I'm doing. But yes, that was our only vacation as going to the set of Gilligan's Island and then, I guess, whenever they saw anybody that came into New Orleans, I think - I think my dad put me on his shoulders so that Charlton Heston could see me when I was like 5. And that was very impressionable too that my dad wanted Charlton Heston to see me. He never did call though. And that's the - so, yes. So I guess, that was a big influence for me. I feel like I'm talking to no one because no one responds to me, everybody is just - so I'm just talking and I can't hear anybody. But hopefully, this is still on.
Ellen's Somewhat Special Special airs on TBS Sunday, June 27th, at 9/8 central.