Published Apr 11, 2019Are stars "just like us"? Does fame and fortune rob someone of the ability to be "normal"? Can a celebrated, award-winning, wealthy comic, talk show host, actress, humanitarian and globally-recognized personality really be relatable? That's the question at the centre of Ellen DeGeneres's first standup special in more than 15 years. To borrow from the esteemed Reverend Lovejoy, "Short answer, 'Yes' with an 'if'; long answer, 'no' with a 'but.'"
Acknowledging the obvious right up front, DeGeneres begins her funny, if uneven, hour recounting how she came up with idea of her current special after a friend questioned whether she was relatable enough to return to standup, and an incensed DeGeneres kicked the friend out of her mansion and had her butler draw her a bath.
She talks about the celebration (and backlash) of her coming out publicly more than 20 years ago, about the initial resistance and eventual success of her daytime talk show, a trip to Rwanda to open a gorilla sanctuary. You know, as one does.
But she also discusses pulling up to the wrong side of the gas pump only to turn around and pull back in on the wrong side of the gas pump. She mentions the lengthy list of side effects in commercials for every new medication. She talks about (and demonstrates) the weird ways we try out new shoes before buying them. But unlike shoes, these bits don't feel brand new. Surely this material has been tried out before.
That's the trouble with Relatable. DeGeneres's truly relatable stuff is good, but not new or particularly interesting. Content from the special that is unique to her as Ellen (dancing on television, the expectations of fame, breaking Hollywood barriers) is truly insightful and interesting, but not very funny (sections of the hour veer towards motivational speech).
Ellen DeGeneres has contributed indelibly to comedy, television, and the culture at large, and surely faces unfair expectations as she returns to standup. There is solid material throughout, but nothing comparable to earlier efforts like Here & Now (2003) and The Beginning (2000). No one can begrudge an entertainer who has spent more than 25 years in the public consciousness a victory lap, and Relatable may be catnip to a diehard fan, but casual Netflix viewers won't necessarily find much to laugh about. (Netflix)