It’s hard to imagine taking a 15-year break from anything and coming back as strong as Ellen DeGeneres comes back to stand-up in her new Netflix special Relatable. That’s not to say the hour is perfect. It has its dips (a video portion where she just shows funny animal clips that she and Portia share with each other on Instagram), obvious filler (a dance break, because I guess that’s what the people want), and lachrymose soft spots (a heartfelt closing statement about how we’re all … Relatable).
But when DeGeneres is telling jokes, the core tools of comedy are still there and showing virtually no rust. Her shorter jokes have perfect structure. Her longer chunks follow the classic arc, with key points and absurdist details highlighted in equal measure, all on their way to punch lines that wrap each bit up in a nice bow. Like any good comic, DeGeneres spends a lot of time turning the mirror on herself, lampooning her celebrity status, and playfully lamenting the pains of being famous. The behind-the-scenes comedic distillation of her coming-out process and how it affected her career is particularly engaging and a nice reminder that even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes, we have definitely made some progress in the last few decades. Because of DeGeneres’s daytime star power, this very well could be the most viewed comedy special on Netflix, or at the very least bring a large audience of people who don’t usually watch stand-up to the category.
Here are seven of the funniest moments from Relatable.
Despite the fact that DeGeneres dances during her special, she wants to set the record straight that she never intended for dancing to be a part of her brand. What started as a goof has ballooned into an obligatory burden, the “Play Free Bird!” to her everyday life:
The dancing, that was a mistake, too. I’m not a dancer. I just danced as a joke. Then I danced the second day, and the third day, and I was locked in. I was the dancer. Baryshnikov doesn’t get asked to dance as much as I get asked to dance. Whenever people see me anywhere they’re like, “Dance, Ellen, dance!” I’m like, “I’m getting a mammogram. I can’t move right now.”
Ellen closes out a solid section on the ridiculousness of drug marketing (“The side effects are so long that the people in the commercial are running out of activities”) with a wonderfully simple joke that paints a perfect picture of the overprescribed culture we live in:
I saw an ad for a pill that stops headaches and migraines before they start. That’s some good marketing right there.
“Are you in any pain?”
“No, not at all.”
“I’m going to give you something for that.”
Looking for Signs
Even though she truly believes in connectedness, purpose, and the power of positive energy, DeGeneres is pretty grounded when it comes to assigning meaning to every little thing in life. She isn’t saying that we shouldn’t pay attention when the universe gives us clues. In fact, she herself found the courage to come out via a dream about a caged bird. Her point is that while some things are actually signs, most things are just random occurrences with no real significance:
For a while, every time I looked at the clock it was 11:11. I started wondering, What does this mean? For me, it was a dead battery. We all have people we know that look into signs way, way too much. They’ll be like, “Eh, I don’t know if I should be in this relationship. Oh, there’s a squirrel. Squirrels live in trees. Trees have leaves. I should leave him!”
The Titular Bit
Early on in the special, DeGeneres addresses the obvious: She’s very rich and very famous. Everyone knows this, but it’s what she does with these facts that makes the bit work. Donning the persona of a delusional version of herself, she argues that she’s a down-to-earth everyperson with an accessible life, just like you and me:
When I decided to do this special, a friend of mine was at my house and I told him, “I’m going to do stand-up again.”
He said, “Really?”
I said, “Yeah. I was hoping for more of a ‘Really?!!’” But it was, “Really?” I said, “Why?”
He said, “Well, do you think you’re still relatable?”
I said, “Yes, I do think I’m still relatable. I’m a human being.”
He said, “Well, your life has changed so much.”
I said, “I know, but I still think I’m relatable.” Anyway, just then Betu, my butler, stepped into the library and announced that my breakfast was ready. I said, “We’ll continue this conversation another time. This is ridiculous.”
So, I’m sitting in the solarium eating my breakfast. I was on my third or fourth bite of cubed pineapple that Betu was feeding me. I said, “Betu, I’m not hungry. I’ve lost my appetite. My friend has really upset me by what he’s said.”
He said, “Then I shall draw you a bath, ma’am.”
I said, “You don’t have to announce it all the time. Just draw the bath.” So I’m sitting in the tub, looking out the window at the rose garden. Tatiana was tending to the roses. I knocked.
Anyway, I get out of the tub and Betu had forgotten to put the towel next to the tub, again. So I had to do that bath-mat scoot all the way across the bathroom to get to the towel. It’s a big … you can imagine how big the bathroom is. I’m doing the bath-mat scoot and then I stopped and was like, “Oh my God, this is relatable.”
Much like the whole dancing thing, DeGeneres also has qualms about her “Be Kind to One Another” mantra. It’s something she stands by and cares deeply about, but it also robs her of the opportunity to show any negative emotion toward the people and things that irritate her on the regular. When you’re as recognizable as she is, you always have to be on your best behavior. So she takes time in the special to vent about things that irritate her, like slow drivers, but still feels a bit guilty for passing judgment:
I don’t want to judge. You have no idea why someone is going slow. Maybe they’re transporting a bowl of soup. I don’t like to judge, except for people who say, “Libary.” Then I do. “Libary.” Really? The place with all the words? Okay. You know what word’s not in there? Libary.
After an inspiring story about achieving her goals of getting on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and being the first female stand-up ever invited to sit on the couch, DeGeneres spends a little time making fun of her voice and appearance:
That was before I got my new voice. That was the first voice I had. Sinbad dressed me for that, by the way. I wish that was a joke, but it’s not. He did.
Public Figures Raising Awareness
DeGeneres opens up about how rough things got when she decided to come out. There was an initial pop of celebration and support, but that faded quickly and led to a dry spell career-wise and a deep personal depression. She was warned about what might happen if she came out of the closet, (“Anyone making money off of me said, ‘Don’t do it,’”) but she felt a responsibility to herself and other closeted folks, especially young people. She proposes that the more public figures that come out, the less stigma there will be toward queer people.
I think when something is talked about and you see representatives of whatever the subject is, it demystifies it. People aren’t afraid of it any more. Like dandruff. People weren’t talking about dandruff. Everybody was all nervous about dandruff. Then Sofia Vergara does this Head & Shoulders commercial. Her son has dandruff. He’s a handsome boy. We don’t care. He’s got dandruff. Nobody’s worried about talking about dandruff any more.
Jen Aniston has dry eye. We know that now. She’s your friend, she’s my friend, she has dry eye, and that’s okay.
If more gay people would endorse, well, not in a commercial, but although … could you imagine? “Hi, I’m Ellen DeGeneres and I’d like to talk to you about Gay. Do you find yourself in love with, attracted to, or just curious about the same sex? Maybe it’s time you try Gay. You’ll notice a difference in as little as 48 hours. I should know. I’m not just the spokesperson, I’m a Gay. Side affects may include loss of family, loss of friends, and unemployment.”