Ellen DeGeneres knows about bullying from first-hand experience, having been on the receiving end of it for much of her life, she told Anderson Cooper when she appeared on CNN’s ‘Anderson Cooper 360‘ Tuesday night.
DeGeneres, a comedian herself (who happens to host a daytime talk show), even decried comics who traffic in “insult” comedy, calling that a form of bullying too.
DeGeneres – who’s lived openly as a lesbian (with partner Portia De Rossi) since famously coming out on the cover of Time magazine in 1997 – has been speaking out about the bullying of gays since last month’s suicide by Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, 18, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge in New York after classmates streamed video of Clementi and another man on the Internet.
“Every single time that I hear about a 13-year-old kid or a 15-year-old kid, or this 18-year-old kid Tyler, it seems like it just doesn’t seem to stop,” Degeneres told Cooper. “When these things happen, it feels like a direct assault on me because I am that person that they are bullying. I am that person that feels like committing suicide. They’re talking about me. I’m gay and I have been ostracized my whole life in society. I’m sent that message on a daily basis by the media. And it hurts.”
Watch a clip of their exchange here:
“Why is this issue so important to you?” Cooper asked her.
“First of all, I just don’t understand bullying, period,” Ellen answered. “I started out as a comedian and long before I was a target of any jokes, any one-liners on television, I just never believed in making fun of other people. And a lot of comedy is that kind of mean-spirited [joking] and that is a form of bullying, of getting a laugh at somebody else’s expense. And so I’ve never really liked it, and then when I came out, I was definitely the target of lots of jokes and it… felt horrible.”
The two talked about the prevalence of jokes about gays on television and in the movies. Cooper noted that he’s still stunned by the casual use of the six-letter “f-word” that is derogatory slang referring to a gay man. He said he was shocked to hear the word used in a movie trailer he saw over the weekend for an upcoming Vince Vaughn movie (probably ‘The Dilemma‘) due out next year from director Ron Howard and co-starring Kevin James.
“Do you find it surprising that people still tell gay jokes… use the f-word… use that term, ‘That’s so gay’?” Anderson asked Ellen.
“That message has been going on for so long and no one has stood up to it,” she replied. “It’s just subconscious… and I think that is when it’s dangerous because… when you hear it, you’re just like, That’s acceptable.”
For Ellen, the tragedy of gay teens committing suicide has its roots in society’s continuing classification of gay Americans as second-class citizens. Said she, “It’s movies, it’s television, its politicians, it’s society saying you can’t be openly gay and be in the military, you can’t marry the person you love because you’re not equal to other people.”
Cooper said his show would focus on the gay bullying issue all this week long, while on Wednesday he will be a guest on Ellen’s daytime talker.