DeGeneres got her comedy start as the emcee at a standup club in in New Orleans. Videotapes of her performance led her to receive Showtime's "Funniest Person in America" title in 1982. By 1986, she made her "Tonight Show" debut and was asked to join Johnny Carson on his couch afterward -- the first such honor for a female comedian and the moment that she says "catapulted" her career.
DeGeneres received massive acclaim with her sitcom "Ellen," which ran from 1994 to 1998. Despite the show's success and DeGeneres' consecutive Best Actress Emmy nominations, her career took a significant turn on April 30, 1997, when the famous "Puppy Episode" aired, featuring DeGeneres' character Ellen Morgan confessing she is a lesbian. The show was suddenly met with intense backlash. It was renewed for one more season, with each episode containing a "parental advisory" warning, and was canceled thereafter.
In conjunction with "The Puppy Episode," DeGeneres revealed her own sexuality with a now-famous TIME magazine cover that said "Yep, I'm gay" as well as an announcement on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." In addition to her sitcom's subsequent cancellation, DeGeneres could not find work for three years as a result of the backlash to her revelation. The comedian has since said she spent much of that time steeped in depression.
In 2001, DeGeneres attempted to revive her career with another sitcom. "The Ellen Show" saw her portraying another lesbian, but this time without her character's sexuality becoming the central focus of the show as it did on "Ellen." The show failed to gain any momentum and was cancelled after only one season.
It can be argued that DeGeneres's career resurgence began when she hosted the 2001 Primetime Emmy Awards less than two months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The ceremony had been pushed back twice in response to the nation's somber mood, leaving DeGeneres with a big task on her hands. "What would bug the Taliban more than seeing a gay woman in a suit surrounded by Jews?" she asked during the monologue. Relying on her usual upbeat comedy, she received widespread acclaim for her funny but delicate hosting job and inspired a new legion of fans to embrace her.
But if the Emmys and "SNL" weren't enough, it was 2003 that provided the comedian's official welcome mat back into America's hearts. Her uproarious turn in "Finding Nemo," as the forgetful Dory, earned her universal praise and cemented her comeback. It was the year's second highest-grossing film, earning $340 million domestically. One month after the movie's release, the standup special "Ellen DeGeneres: Here and Now" aired on HBO.
"The Ellen DeGeneres Show" premiered Sept. 8, 2003, to instant success. DeGeneres' mix of high-profile celebrity guests and wacky segments, including her signature dance moves, earned her ratings that hover around 4 million per day. The show's first season took home the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk Show, an honor it would receive again for three additional consecutive years. To date, the show has won 32 Emmys.