Ellen DeGeneres‘ return to stand-up nearly didn’t happen.
The comedian, 60, is back with her first stand-up special in 15 years, Relatable. But before getting back in front of the mic, DeGeneres admits she thought she’d left that life behind for good.
“I didn’t think I’d ever do it again,” she told Today’s Savannah Guthrie, in an interview that aired on Tuesday. “I did it for so long, I did it for probably 20 years and it’s a lonely life — especially as a woman by yourself on the road.”
“This is a great gig,” she added, of her Emmy-winning talk show. “I get to go home every night, and this is fun. But stand-up is different than this. I just wanted to see if I could do it again after 15 years.”
To prepare, DeGeneres popped into a small club in Los Angeles and surprised the audience with a set. She told Guthrie she wasn’t nervous at all. “It was like I had just done it last week,” she said.
Relatable is a bit of a homecoming for DeGeneres. She got her start in the business, finally getting her big break during a 1986 appearance on The Tonight Show when she became the first female comedian Johnny Carson ever invited to sit on his coveted couch.
DeGeneres had long hoped to be the one who made that historic moment. “Believe me, every time I saw a female comedian on Carson, I was praying they wouldn’t get called over,” she told Today.
To turn her hopes into a reality, DeGeneres set her intention out loud.
“You can’t just sit there and have an intention. You have to take steps towards that,” she explained. “At that time when I made that, I was living in a basement apartment that was infested with fleas. I started writing, ‘If you could phone up God and ask why fleas were here.’ That’s how it started, me writing a phone call to God. And I said, ‘Well this is going to land me on Carson.’ I knew it. It was like, ‘Oh my god, Johnny Carson would love this.’ ”
So what’s changed since then? Well for one, DeGeneres has learned not to sweat the small stuff.
She revealed to Guthrie that 15 years of doing her daytime talk show has taught her that not everything is going to be perfect, though she’s still hard on herself when they don’t go right.
“These people wait for a long, long time to come here and I want them to have the best show they can possibly have,” DeGeneres said.
“When I started out in stand-up, every single night you want it to be amazing and perfect all the time. But to do a show every single day, sometimes you just have to — if it’s a bad show and something happens where you mess up — there’s another one the next day,” she said. “I tried to make every single show my favorite show.”
DeGeneres’ sit-down with Today comes days after she told the New York Times that she was considering leaving Ellen.
In a chat with the publication, she detailed the conflicting advice she’s getting from her wife Portia de Rossi and her brother Vance DeGeneres — with de Rossi encouraging her to explore more outlets outside of comedy and Vance urging his sister to continue the show because she plays a positive, unifying role in today’s socio-political climate.
“[De Rossi] gets mad when my brother tells me I can’t stop,” DeGeneres said.
No matter what the future holds (Ellen has DeGeneres under contract until the summer of 2020, the Times reported), DeGeneres just wants to spread joy for her fans. “I try to promote kindness and promote compassion,” she said on Today. “I hope that it’s an escape for people.”
Ellen DeGeneres‘ Relatable is now streaming on Netflix.
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