Ellen DeGeneres joked about not wanting to pay her staff overtime in an Australian TV interview from 2013 – seven years before her employees went public with allegations of racism, bullying and a ‘toxic environment’ behind the scenes of her daytime talk show.
The 62-year-old, who hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing herself but apologised in a letter to staff on Thursday, told Today show entertainment reporter Richard Wilkins that she wanted ‘everybody to work really, really hard… but not too hard that I have to pay them overtime.’
She made the comments during a sit-down chat in Melbourne that was reportedly fraught by disruptions and tension, according to Today’s then-executive producer.
When the American TV personality joked about having to pay overtime, her staff could be heard laughing loudly in the background.
Telling: Ellen DeGeneres joked about not wanting to pay her staff overtime in an Australian TV interview from 2013 – seven years before her employees went public with allegations of racism, bullying and a ‘toxic environment’ behind the scenes of her daytime talk show
Ellen made the remark after being thrown a softball question by Wilkins, who said: ‘Your TV show is a smash; we love it. How hard do you have to work to make it look that easy?’
She replied: ‘Um, we work heard. I mean, we, you know, I won’t fool you, we work… I want everybody to work really, really hard. Hard enough that I know they’re doing all they can, but not too hard that I have to pay them overtime.
‘I mean, I draw the line at like, “Okay, go home. That’s good… good enough!” So, you know, we all work very hard because we’re really proud of what we do.
‘And I’ve always said from the very beginning: I want the show to be a great show whether it’s on in the middle of the day or when they come home at night and people have [recorded] it and it’s just as good as a late-night show.’
She continued: ‘I want it to be an entertaining show with celebrities, which is great, but I want regular people, I want to help people, I want to play games… We really constantly try to improve every single day. We want the show tomorrow to be a better show than the show we did today.’
Joke: The 62-year-old, who hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing herself but apologised in a letter to staff on Thursday, told Today show reporter Richard Wilkins (above) that she wanted ‘everybody to work really, really hard… but not too hard that I have to pay them overtime’
Later in the interview, Wilkins said: ‘I don’t think you’d change very much at all if you could, would you?
‘Um, no, because if I wanted to change I would. I can do anything I want. I’m Ellen,’ she replied, as her crew burst into laughter once again.
It comes after Today’s former executive producer Neil Breen revealed he had been told not to look at or speak to Ellen when she appeared on his program back in 2013.
Breen, who now presents his own radio show, said Ellen’s staff were the only ones who were allowed to interact with her – and they ‘walked on eggshells’, laughing so loudly at her jokes during the interview that he had to tell them to be quiet.
He added that Ellen’s people dictated everything – from seating, to lighting, to how the interview would work – adding that he found the whole situation ‘bizarre’.
‘The people who worked with her walked on eggshells’: She made the comments during a sit-down chat in Melbourne that was reportedly fraught by disruptions and tension, according to Today’s then-executive producer, Neil Breen
Breen told 4BC, the radio station where he is now a host, that Ellen was initially supposed to co-host the Today show during her tour of Australia seven years ago, but the plan was continually changed and watered down by her team.
Eventually, it was agreed that Ellen would do a sit-down interview with Wilkins in Melbourne – meaning production had to be moved there from Sydney at the show’s expense, Breen said.
Breen said that he and Wilkins arrived at ‘one of the plush hotels in Melbourne’ on the day of the interview to find ‘a lot of people’ from Ellen’s team waiting for them.
‘The producer called us aside and said, “Now Neil, no one is to talk to Ellen. You don’t talk to her, you don’t approach her, you don’t look at her,”‘ he said.
‘”She’ll come in, she’ll sit down, she’ll talk to Richard and then Ellen will leave.” And I sort of said, “Are you fair dinkum? I can’t look at her?” I found the whole thing bizarre,’ he added.
During the interview itself, Breen had to ask Ellen’s staff to stop laughing at her jokes because it was interrupting the recording.
Breen said he had no idea whether Ellen knew what was happening around her, ‘because I never got to talk to her’.
‘I have no idea whether she’s a nice person or not, I wouldn’t have a clue,’ he added. ‘But I can tell you the people who work with her walked on eggshells the whole time.
‘We’re there to do an interview to promote what she’s doing, but you can’t look at her? Someone get real.’
‘Don’t look at her’: Before the interview, one of Ellen’s producers had apparently warned Breen (pictured) not to acknowledge the Emmy-winning host at all when she entered the room
It comes as The Ellen DeGeneres Show faces an internal investigation following numerous allegations there is a ‘toxic’ and ‘bullying’ workplace culture.
The host herself apologised to staff in a letter released on Thursday, saying that she takes overall responsibility for her namesake show and that there are steps being taken to ‘correct the issues’.
‘As we’ve grown exponentially, I’ve not been able to stay on top of everything and relied on others to do their jobs as they knew I’d want them done,’ Ellen wrote, hinting that senior staffers would be held accountable.
‘Clearly some didn’t. That will now change and I’m committed to ensuring this does not happen again.’
Internal investigation: It comes as The Ellen DeGeneres Show faces an internal investigation following numerous allegations there is a ‘toxic’ and ‘bullying’ workplace culture. Ellen herself apologised to staff in a letter released on Thursday, saying that she takes overall responsibility for her namesake show and that there are steps being taken to ‘correct the issues’
Sacked: Ed Glavin (pictured), one of three executive producers at Ellen, is going to be fired by Warner Bros., the studio in charge of the U.S. talk show, sources told The Hollywood Reporter
Ed Glavin, one of three executive producers at Ellen, is going to be fired by Warner Bros., the studio in charge of the popular daytime talk show, sources told The Hollywood Reporter.
Meanwhile, Ellen and her show are now subject to a probe by WarnerMedia, which will look into ‘staff experiences on set’.
An internal memo sent last week explained that current and former staff will be interviewed about claims of ‘mistreatment, racism and intimidation’ behind the scenes.
Ellen hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing herself.
The memo insisted that producers Telepictures and Warner Bros. Television are committed ‘to providing an environment where employees can flourish’.
‘I AM SORRY’: FULL TEXT OF ELLEN DEGENERES’ LETTER TO STAFF
Ellen is pictured attending The Ellen DeGeneres Show season 13 bi-coastal premiere at Rockefeller Center in New York City on September 8, 2015
Hey everybody – it’s Ellen.
On day one of our show, I told everyone in our first meeting that The Ellen DeGeneres Show would be a place of happiness – no one would ever raise their voice, and everyone would be treated with respect.
Obviously, something changed, and I am disappointed to learn that this has not been the case. And for that, I am sorry.
Anyone who knows me knows it’s the opposite of what I believe and what I hoped for our show.
I could not have the success I’ve had without all of your contributions.
My name is on the show and everything we do and I take responsibility for that.
Alongside Warner Bros, we immediately began an internal investigation and we are taking steps, together, to correct the issues.
As we’ve grown exponentially, I’ve not been able to stay on top of everything and relied on others to do their jobs as they knew I’d want them done.
Clearly some didn’t. That will now change and I’m committed to ensuring this does not happen again.
I’m also learning that people who work with me and for me are speaking on my behalf and misrepresenting who I am and that has to stop.
As someone who was judged and nearly lost everything for just being who I am, I truly understand and have deep compassion for those being looked at differently, or treated unfairly, not equal, or – worse – disregarded.
To think that any one of you felt that way is awful to me.
It’s been way too long, but we’re finally having conversations about fairness and justice.
We all have to be more mindful about the way our words and actions affect others, and I’m glad the issues at our show were brought to my attention.
I promise to do my part in continuing to push myself and everyone around me to learn and grow.
It’s important to me and to Warner Bros. that everyone who has something to say can speak up and feels safe doing so.
I am so proud of the work we do and the fun and joy we all help put out in the world.
I want everyone at home to love our show and I want everyone who makes it to love working on it.
Again, I’m so sorry to anyone who didn’t have that experience.
If not for COVID, I’d have done this in person, and I can’t wait to be back on our stage and see you all then.
Stay safe and healthy.
Claims: Earlier this month, a number of employees of The Ellen DeGeneres Show accused the three executive producers, Ed Glavin, Mary Connelly and Andy Lassner, of ‘bullying’. Pictured: Ellen with pop star Justin Bieber
Earlier this month, a number of employees of The Ellen DeGeneres Show described it as a ‘toxic work environment’.
One current and 10 former employees of the daytime chat show accused the three executive producers, Ed Glavin, Mary Connelly and Andy Lassner, of ‘bullying’.
A source told Buzzfeed: ‘The issue is these three executive producers running the show who are in charge of all these people [and] who make the culture and are putting out this feeling of bullying and being mean.
‘They feel that everybody who works at The Ellen Show is lucky to work there: “So if you have a problem, you should leave because we’ll hire someone else because everybody wants to work here.”‘
Although DeGeneres has not been accused of any wrongdoing, employees have claimed they were instructed not to talk to her if they saw her in the building.
Statement from Ellen show executive producers
‘Over the course of nearly two decades, 3,000 episodes, and employing over 1,000 staff members, we have strived to create an open, safe, and inclusive work environment.
‘We are truly heartbroken and sorry to learn that even one person in our production family has had a negative experience. It’s not who we are and not who we strive to be, and not the mission Ellen has set for us.
‘For the record, the day-to-day responsibility of the Ellen show is completely on us. We take all of this very seriously and we realise, as many in the world are learning, that we need to do better, are committed to do better, and we will do better.’
By executive producers Ed Glavin, Mary Connelly and Andy Lassner
One former employee said: ‘If she wants to have her own show and have her name on the show title, she needs to be more involved to see what’s going on. I think the executive producers surround her and tell her, “Things are going great, everybody’s happy,” and she just believes that, but it’s her responsibility to go beyond that.’
A black woman claims she suffered a number of ‘microaggressions’, her request for a raise was ignored and she was accused of ‘walking around looking resentful and angry’ after asking for staff members to undergo diversity and inclusion training.
Another former employee alleges they were fired after taking medical leave for one month following a suicide attempt.
They said: ‘You’d think that if someone just tried to kill themselves, you don’t want to add any more stress to their lives.’
Executive producers Glavin, Connelly and Lassner have released a statement in light of the investigation.
‘Over the course of nearly two decades, 3,000 episodes, and employing over 1,000 staff members, we have strived to create an open, safe, and inclusive work environment,’ they said.
‘We are truly heartbroken and sorry to learn that even one person in our production family has had a negative experience. It’s not who we are and not who we strive to be, and not the mission Ellen has set for us.’
They continued: ‘For the record, the day-to-day responsibility of the Ellen show is completely on us. We take all of this very seriously and we realise, as many in the world are learning, that we need to do better, are committed to do better, and we will do better.’
In April, it was reported that the Ellen crew was angry over the lack of communication and transparency from bosses after being forced to take pay cuts when production first shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak.
A group of about 30 staffers were upset that Ellen had hired an external non-union company called Key Code Media to film the show while quarantined at home.
Viral: The backlash against Ellen gained momentum on March 20, when comedian Kevin T. Porter asked his Twitter followers to post their ‘insane’ tales of ‘Ellen being mean’
Don’t talk to her: Social media users chimed in with their experiences, often with similar themes
Queen of social distancing! Ellen has been accused of being unapproachable, with some crew asked not to speak to her
‘Higher-ups in production would occasionally answer phone calls but reveal little’ to the crew members, who had their pay slashed by 40 per cent amid changes brought about by the virus, insiders told Variety.
Sources told the outlet that this was not the case with all the shows, as crews for John Oliver, Desus & Mero, and Samantha Bee were paid their full rates, while Jimmy Kimmel dipped into his own pocket for a time to keep his staff on their regular rates.
Producers responded that ‘our executive producers and Telepictures are committed to taking care of our staff and crew and have made decisions first and foremost with them in mind’.
Shocking accusations: Ellen was accused of being downright rude to some people
Earlier this year, numerous reports from previous employees emerged claiming that Ellen had been unfriendly on set and that crew members were warned not to talk to the host or make eye contact.
The backlash against Ellen gained momentum on March 20, when comedian Kevin T. Porter asked his Twitter followers to post their ‘insane’ tales of ‘Ellen being mean’. (Porter’s effort was linked to a charity drive for the Los Angeles Food Bank.)
Writer Ben Simeon responded that ‘a new staff member was told, “Every day [Ellen] picks someone different to really hate. It’s not your fault, just suck it up for the day and she’ll be mean to someone else the next day.” They didn’t believe it, but it ended up being entirely true.’
Say what? Benjamin Siemon tweeted about a staffer who was told to expect Ellen to be mean
Sensitive noise: The writer also said the host was very particular about personal hygiene
‘Everyone must chew gum from a bowl outside her office before talking to her and if she thinks you smell that day you have to go home and shower,’ Simeon added in another tweet.
Ellen – who is reportedly worth $330million – has also caught flak for tone deafness after joking that locking down in her opulent mansion was ‘like being in jail.’
It comes after reps for the show were forced to deny reports earlier this month that the program was on the verge of being cancelled.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Ellen has continued to broadcast her daytime show from the living room of the Montecito, California, mansion she shares with her wife, Australian actress Portia De Rossi, 47.
BULLYING, RACISM AND A ‘TOXIC WORK ENVIRONMENT’: THE ALLEGATIONS AGAINST ELLEN
Claims of a ‘toxic’ workplace at the Ellen DeGeneres show emerged in April, as staff claimed they were being mistreated amid the coronavirus shutdown.
Employees said they had received almost no support from producers of the show after the studio shut down DeGeneres began taping remotely from her Santa Barbara mansion.
Staff said an outside, non-union company was contracted to do the remote filming, while they received almost no communication about their own jobs, pay packets, or inquiries about their physical or mental health.
When executives did eventually get in touch, it was to tell the team that they would have to take 60 per cent pay cut, Variety reported.
Particularly jarring for staff was Ellen’s own message as her show went back on the air in April 7, which she dedicated to her staff and crew.
‘I love them, I miss them, the best thing I can do to support them is to keep the show on the air,’ she said.
Those claims were followed by a Buzzfeed report which detailed claims of a ‘toxic’ work environment.
Ten former and one current member of Ellen’s staff alleged they were bullied, fired for attending family funerals or taking sick leave, while one woman claimed to have walked off the job after facing comments about her race.
‘That “be kind” bulls*** only happens when the cameras are on. It’s all for show,’ one anonymous staff member said.
Staff said they were told not to talk to DeGeneres herself while she was on set, and that the day-to-day running of the show was left to producers.
The employees said they did not have first-hand experience of DeGeneres being unpleasant, but said she needs to take more responsibility for how her employees are treated.
However, allegations have mounted from other sources against the host herself – sparked by a Twitter thread from comedian Kevin T. Porter
Calling DeGeneres ‘notoriously one of the meanest people alive’, he asked people for ‘the most insane stories you’ve heard about Ellen being mean’.
The tweet received 2,600 replies and saw Porter give $600 to an LA foodbank, after promising to donate $2 for every legitimate mean story.
Claims included that staff are required to chew gum before speaking to her because of her ‘sensitive nose’, and that she polices staff lunch orders and bans anyone from eating fish or meat.
Separately, security worker Tom Majercak – who was assigned to be Ellen’s bodyguard at the 2014 Oscars – said she was ‘sly’ and ‘demeaning’ to him.
‘Ellen is the one person that I’ve been assigned to – and I’ve been assigned to quite a few celebrities – that has never taken the time to say hi to me,’ he said.
‘She’s not the person she portrays to be that she’s playing off of society.’