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Staff from ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show’ have made a number of claims against the 62-year-old comedian, who issued an apology earlier this month. She expressed sadness that her US chat show, which aired in the UK on ITV2, was not a “place of happiness”, as she hoped. Since the allegations came to light, additional former employees have spoken out too – some claimed to have experienced racism, fear and intimidation. A number of A-list celebrities have leaped to the defence of DeGeneres, whose ratings have continued to dip and Australia’s Channel 9 network have refused to air her show. While many speculate over whether the star had prior knowledge of the conditions on her show, a former comedy writer claims hostile treatment is nothing new. He told Express.co.uk about DeGeneres’ furious remarks about jokes not being “funny enough”, whose friends claimed he knew the star “was a jerk before it was cool”.
Dan Tobin, now 44, spent eight months working in the writers room of DeGeneres’ second sitcom ‘The Ellen Show’ – which aired for a year from 2001 – where the team were exposed to duality of her personality.
On-set he recalled her “smiling and winning us over with her charm and comedic timing” until the cameras stopped rolling.
He told Express.co.uk: “We all used to say it was a testimony to what a great actress she was, that she could convince everyone of how lovely she was – we saw it all the time.
“She could be an incredibly likeable actress onstage and was so warm.
“She is very talented and very funny, she would give it her all and everyone would fall in love with her.
“But once they had yelled ‘Cut’, her face would fall and she would would turn on us, she would shout ‘These jokes are terrible!’”
Mr Tobin felt she was “not nearly as pleasant” in real life and that there was a “pretty wide chasm between her public persona and what she is really like”.
The craft of writing comedy is no easy feat – notoriously difficult due to the need for constant revision, rewriting and sometimes scrapping a joke all together.
But DeGeneres was especially difficult to work with because her “default position was to dislike” all of their material and “push back”, Mr Tobin claimed.
He said: “Ellen would get kind of angry if the joke wasn’t good and would blame us, she would yell ‘Why are you writing these unfunny jokes?’
“It was not a failed attempt at humour so much as a personal insult to her. She let us know this is how she felt. Daily.”
This fostered a “bad dynamic” in the workplace, where writers on more difficult days would get home at around 5am and return to work hours later.
Mr Tobin said: “The fact that Ellen’s default position was to dislike what we had written meant we had to rewrite a lot, usually they were very long rewrites and… very late nights.
“There were several nights where I got home and the newspaper had already been delivered.
“I would come home, get into bed and half an hour later my future wife would get up and go to work – shortly after I got home.”
Mr Tobin was 25 years old when he worked on the show as a writers assistant in 2001 and recalled the thrill of his first joke receiving praise from DeGeneres – and even making it into the sitcom.
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He said: “I was pretty excited about it, there was a sort of design philosophy of ‘shabby chic’ on the set and I pitched my joke.
“They went right over and told her my line that ‘it was crappy chic’ and I got a little laugh, privately I was like ‘Wow, that made Ellen laugh!’ and was excited.”
But the glamour of the job slowly wore-off and now Mr Tobin works as a teacher in Boston, Massachusetts.
He published a blog post about his experiences in 2007 but did not want to speak out about his experiences out of fear that it might tarnish the positive work DeGeneres has done to advance LGBTQ+ rights.
He said: “I was way out in front on this one, I knew that Ellen was not the model of perfection that sometimes she had seemed.
“As my friends used to say, I was saying Ellen’s a jerk before it was cool.
“Ellen wasn’t nice but she really has done a lot of good – especially to promote the right of the LGBTQ+ community, where she is a wonderful ambassador and this has been in the back of my mind.”
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Mr Tobin compared viewers’ recent change in perception about DeGenerees to being similar to “showing how a sausage gets made”.
He felt that the controversy pointed to the need for change to the “culture of television writing” as a whole, which he claimed was a “non-inclusive environment”.
Mr Tobin said: “It’s pretty isolating and at times can be pretty offensive, it would blow my mind if Ellen has just learned this.
“She’s been around this for a long time – she was a veteran when I knew her in 2001 – and many in the past have turned a blind eye.”
Mr Tobin questioned the motives of DeGeneres’ recent video to staff, which he felt was a “way to weasel out with a ‘non-apology’ apology”.
He found it surprising that she could “feign such incredible ignorance” about working conditions but admitted that it “was possible” that she might not know.
He continued: “I know how separate writers can be from the production side of things and maybe she didn’t really know all about it – but I don’t know, it seems hard to believe.
“She falls back on the fact that America loves her that she’s such a likeable host and people don’t want to believe something bad about her.”
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