Ellen DeGeneres facing backlash for comparing self-quarantine to "being in jail"
On Monday, "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" returned to the airwaves after a coronavirus-related hiatus with a new, more intimate look that is becoming increasingly familiar to American talk show viewers. The Emmy Award-winning comedian sat cross-legged in a chair in her living room, and her wife, actress Portia de Rossi, acted as camerawoman.
Like Stephen Colbert, she shouted out her dog. Like Wendy Williams, she shared the screen with her right-hand man. And like Jimmy Fallon, she delivered a comedic monologue.
Where she diverged from her fellow comedians, however, was in the decision to make a joke comparing self-quarantining at home to being in jail.
"One thing that I've learned from being in quarantine is that people — this is like being in jail, is what it is," DeGeneres said. "It's mostly because I've been wearing the same clothes for 10 days and everyone in here is gay."
She then claps and doubles over laughing, adding, "The jokes that I have."
Now, the comedian is facing some fierce backlash on social media from viewers who consider the comparison insensitive and tone-deaf.
"Oh the jokes that you have.... my son is in prison facing a chance of Coronavirus infecting him," tweeted Audrey Maxam from Ohio. "Yep it's such a joke."
"Hey @TheEllenShow, prisoners across this country are trapped in 24-hour quarantine in cells that are probably about the size of one of your showers & others are sleeping 3 feet away from sick inmates. And they're dying. You aren't experiencing anything close to prison," wrote Caleb Grossman from Omaha, Nebraska.
"Being a privileged super wealthy white lady "stuck" in a mansion is not "like jail", this comparison is not funny it is disgusting," tweeted @SalivaGlance.
As of Tuesday, 287 inmates and 406 staffers in New York City jails had tested positive for coronavirus, according to the city's Department of Corrections. Seven members of the department had died, as well as the first inmate at Rikers Island.
Chicago's Cook's County Jail, which has become one of the nation's major COVID-19 hotspots, also suffered its first coronavirus death on Tuesday.
In late March, jails in Los Angeles County released approximately 1,700 inmates early due to fears of a catastrophic coronavirus spread among incarcerated people. Inmates are one of the most vulnerable populations in the United States — and because of that, it seems DeGeneres' quip touched a nerve.
"What a great look for Ellen as thousands of people sit in actual jail cells just hoping for the best without soap and basic protections," tweeted Caroline Darya Framke.
"'Quarantine is like being in jail' says a sociopathic multimillionaire from her Beverly Hills castle," wrote David Dubois.
DeGeneres began her show by profusely thanking health care workers and first responders, in addition to truck drivers and supermarket employees, adopting a more serious tone as she expressed gratitude to all of the Americans keeping the country going. However, even for frontline workers, that measure of goodwill was undercut by her quip about jail.
"Sorry that your mansion is such a jail. So terrible to be locked up in a mansion," tweeted @PeteTheCop. "Please feel free to walk in my shoes, or my wife's, who's a nurse. Neither of us are complaining. Tone deaf much?"
It's a sentiment that's been reverberating throughout social media for weeks as well-meaning celebrities post videos from their homes, singing and telling their followers "we're all in this together." For many who have lost their jobs, their incomes or their loved ones, it is simply not sitting well. And Ellen DeGeneres may have just learned that the hard way.
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