Kate McKinnon presented the 61-year-old comedian with the award by thanking her for paving the way for lesbian women in the entertainment industry — including for the Saturday Night Live star, 36. DeGeneres began her acceptance speech by acknowledging the catastrophic Australian wildfires and McKinnon’s heartfelt speech before diving straight into a joke.
“It’s a prestigious award what I like most about it is I knew coming in that I would win,” DeGeneres said. “I mean, there’s nothing worse than sitting there like most of you waiting and wondering if you’re going to win and politely acting like, ‘I’m going to listen to everyone’s speeches and it’s nice,’ because it’s not. People go on and on and you’re like, ‘Eh.’ I’m not going to do that, I’m going to be quick.'”
She also recalled how Carol Burnett was an inspiration for DeGeneres growing up. “I felt like I knew her I felt like she showed us who she was every week she was larger than life,” she explained. “At the end of the show, every time she pulled her ear, I knew she was saying, ‘It’s okay, I’m gay too.'”
DeGeneres concluded her speech explaining how the power of television makes her feel connected to other people.
“But the real power of television for me is that — not that people watch my show, but people watch my show and then they’re inspired to go out and do the same thing in their own lives,” she said. “Make people laugh or be kind or help someone less fortunate than themselves that is the power of television. I’m so, so grateful to be a part of it.”
The Carol Burnett Award is given by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) to a candidate with “outstanding contributions to television on or off the screen.” The comedian is only the second-ever recipient of the award, which originated in 2019 and was given to its namesake, Burnett.
“The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is delighted to honor Ellen DeGeneres with the Carol Burnett Award,” Lorenzo Soria, President of the HFPA, said in a statement after the announcement in November. “From her sitcoms to stand-up, to becoming a household staple on daytime television, she is a pioneer who has captivated audiences for nearly 25 years with her undeniable charm and wit. In addition to her television success, she’s an advocate and philanthropist, lending her voice to those who don’t have one and spreading kindness and joy through the power of her platform. We look forward to celebrating her achievements at this year’s ceremony.”
DeGeneres started her career as a stand-up comedian in the 1980s before becoming the star of her self-titled sitcom, Ellen, from 1994 until it’s cancellation in 1998. The actress’ character, Ellen, made history in April 1997 when she became the first sitcom lead character to come out as gay. DeGeneres opened up about her sexuality to the public when she came out in real life on the cover of Time magazine days before the episode aired.
The star shifted her focus to daytime television in 2003 when she premiered her talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, which led her to win 63 Daytime Emmy Awards and 19 People’s Choice Awards. DeGeneres topped off her long list of accomplishments in 2016 when Barack Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
DeGeneres has not only been successful in her career but is lucky in love. She’s been married to Portia de Rossi since 2008 following relationships with Anne Heche from 1997 to 2000 and Alexandra Hedison from 2001 to 2004.