The comedian’s daytime talk show returned to the air on Monday after suspending production due to the coronavirus outbreak, with DeGeneres hosting the show from home. In her first monologue from quarantine, DeGeneres thanked health care workers, first responders, and other employees continuing to risk their health by working during the pandemic. She then went on to compare her situation to prison, saying, “This is like being in jail. It’s mostly because I’ve been wearing the same clothes for 10 days and everyone in here is gay.” (DeGeneres lives with her wife, actress Portia de Rossi.)
The joke quickly sparked backlash online, with many users slamming DeGeneres as insensitive and privileged. “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,” Variety‘s Caroline Framke tweeted. “Being a privileged super wealthy white lady ‘stuck’ in a mansion is not ‘like jail’, this comparison is not funny it is disgusting,” another user wrote.
Several people pointed out that prisoners are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 due to their close proximity to each other. On Sunday, New York’s Rikers Island saw its first inmate death from the virus, and the New York Times reported that Chicago’s Cook County jail is “the largest-known source of U.S. coronavirus infections,” with 272 inmates and 115 staff members having tested positive.
“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,” one Twitter user wrote.
A representative for The Ellen DeGeneres Show did not immediately respond to EW’s request for comment. However, the clip containing the controversial joke has since been made private on YouTube and removed from Twitter and the show’s website.
For the latest information on coronavirus (COVID-19), including how to protect yourself and what to do if you think you are sick, please visit coronavirus.gov.
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