“I’m so moved to get to be here with all of you,” says Laura Dern when she appeared with Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres on the April 28 episode of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” What a difference two decades makes — this time in 1997 Dern and Winfrey were guest stars on the classic “Ellen” episode titled “The Puppy Episode,” in which DeGeneres came out of the closet both on-screen and in real life. Watch them above.
Winfrey played Ellen’s therapist in the episode, and Dern earned an Emmy nomination for Best Comedy Guest Actress for playing Susan, a lesbian who connects with Ellen and inspires her self-discovery and revelation. DeGeeneres remembers her birthday party that year and asking Dern to play that role — Dern said yes immediately. Dern explained, “I remember the same bliss of getting to be part of supporting you, and what a privilege and honor it felt like. I didn’t think twice … It was only after I said yes that I started getting calls, which were so shocking to me, from friends and colleagues — even gay friends and colleagues — saying, ‘Are you sure you want to do that?'” Amid the fallout from the episode, Dern didn’t work again for a year.
“For you straight people out there, gay people don’t just go around saying ‘I’m gay.’ You don’t need to for the people who know you’re gay, so no one says it,” DeGeneres explained. “For those words to come out of my mouth for the very first time — even rehearsing it I would burst into tears every single time.” DeGeneres and her co-writers ended up winning Best Comedy Writing at the Emmys, but she paid a heavy price for coming out. Her show was cancelled a year after the classic episode and DeGeneres became tabloid fodder until she became the star of “Finding Nemo” and her own self-titled daytime talk show, for which she has won literally dozens more Emmys. And in 2016 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama.
So yes, she’s still here and she’s still queer — and thanks to DeGeneres, America has gotten used to it.
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