When you think of Ellen DeGeneres, the word “moxie” may not come to mind.
She’s arguably the nicest person on television. Her trademark humor is self-effacing to a fault. She shies away from controversy and showers guests with gifts.
That’s where moxie comes in.
Ellen endured painful public rejection at the height of her career not because of any terrible misdeed, but because of who she was. It takes moxie to get through something like that and come out the other side radiating love and gratitude.
People with moxie are honest, even if it costs them.
In the late 90s, Ellen was at the top of her game. She’d introduced herself to the world as a stand up comedian, and had most notably been the first woman to be invited to take a seat and chat with the legendary Johnny Carson after her set on The Tonight Show. She’d starred in a handful of movies, and was the title character on her own TV show.
On The Ellen Show, she was the delightful girl-next-door, a character not too far from her own self. Ellen was quietly out to those closest to her, but her sexuality wasn’t discussed on the show or off. Ellen came to the conclusion that not addressing her sexuality carried an element of shame to it, and she wasn’t ashamed of who she was, and she didn’t want to act like she was carrying around a big secret anymore. So, she decided that both she and her character would come out.
What followed was historic. She landed on the cover of Time magazine (with the title “Yep, I’m Gay”) and a record 44 million people watched Ellen Morgan voice her truth in her typical awkward, endearing fashion.
While many lauded her decision, many others protested it. Within a year, her award-winning show was cancelled, as was an attempt to revive it several seasons later.
“I had everything I’d hoped for, but I wasn’t being myself. So I decided to be honest about who I was. It was strange: The people who loved me for being funny suddenly didn’t like me for being… me,” she said.
It takes moxie to take a risk of that magnitude. It might have been easier for Ellen to simply stay quiet and “get a puppy” as some studio execs advised. But she chose to tell the truth, and blaze a trail instead.
People with moxie just keep swimming.
Life post-coming out was anything but smooth for Ellen. Her sitcom tanked, her first “out” relationship took a horrifically rocky turn and she suffered very public heartbreak. She found herself in the deep, deep depths of depression.
Then a little blue fish happened along to help her find her way out.
Writer/director Andrew Stanton heard Ellen’s voice, and her halting, meandering storytelling became the inspiration for the sidekick in a little animated movie he was working on called Finding Nemo. He wrote the character of Dory, a bright blue clownfish with short-term memory loss, with Ellen in mind. Finding Nemo went on to become one of the biggest animated movies of all time, and Ellen rode the wave of that success back into the hearts of Americans.
She reintroduced herself to the world with a new book, a new stand-up special, and most importantly, a new day time talk show. Now thirteen years on, she’s the undisputed queen of daytime talk television.
It takes moxie to find your voice and your way out of depression, and Ellen had it.
People with moxie lead with kindness.
I recently spotted a poster that said, “The same boiling water that softens the potato hardens the egg.” Circumstances have a way of revealing what you are made of.
Everything that that Ellen endured could have left her hard and cold. Instead, she radiates warmth and gentleness, just as she has from her earliest days as a stand up comedian. Circumstances revealed the true Ellen.
“I learned compassion from being discriminated against. Everything bad that’s ever happened to me has taught me compassion,” she explains.
Her signature phrase on every show is “Be kind to one another.” It takes moxie to be kind in this world, especially when you’ve been shown great unkindness.
If I had a chance to turn the tables and interview Ellen, what should I ask?