(Interview with W Magazine, Feb 07)
W Magazine: Talk about that first monologue, how it came out of a tragedy.
Ellen: My girlfriend was killed in a car accident when I was 21.
W Magazine: What happened?
Ellen: We had a fight. I left to go stay with friends to try to teach her a lesson…. My brother's band was performing. She went looking for me. It was really, really loud, and she was there and she kept saying, "When are you coming back home?" And I kept going, "I can't…I can't hear you. What?" I was being really aloof. She kept saying, "Come back home," and then she left. I left a few minutes later, and we passed an accident. The car was split in two.
W Magazine: Did you recognize the car immediately?
Ellen: I had no idea…. The next morning her sister came and said, "Kat died last night." And I realized that I had passed it. So I was devastated but just trying to make sense of it. They said she was alive for three hours. Could I have saved her? And why didn't I stop? She was this beautiful girl…. At that age I thought, Wow, she's just gone, in an instant. I was just talking to her, and if I had said, "Yes, I'll go home with you," she wouldn't have been in that car.
W Magazine: Did you feel responsible?
Ellen: I felt all kinds of things. I felt responsible. I felt how fragile life is, all that stuff.
W Magazine: Do you consider yourself a spiritual person?
Ellen: I think that's all we are, if we tap into it…. The praying starts when you're faced with something, obviously. I just make a point of being aware of it every single day, all day if I can.
W Magazine: Do you believe in God?
Ellen: I believe that's a label for something.
W Magazine: The accident moved you to write your first piece.
Ellen: That's why I wrote "A Phone Call to God." I couldn't afford to live where we were living together, so I moved into this tiny apartment. It was infested with fleas, and I was laying on this mattress on the floor and she was gone, and I didn't have any money…. And I just thought, Wouldn't it be great if you literally had a phone number for God? You could just call God and ask God questions that you wanted answers to…. I just wrote exactly what it would be like to try to call God…. It would ring forever 'cause it's such a big place…Him not knowing who I am at first, and then making fun of my name…God sneezing and me saying, "God bless you"…. It just poured out. And then I decided that I'm going to go on Johnny Carson and do this, so I just started finding a place to do comedy. And out of nowhere a comedy club opened in New Orleans. I got a job as an MC, and I started writing more and more and more.
W Magazine: Did it freak you out that it all started with the death of someone close?
Ellen: It's hard to say what I felt like at the time. I mean, yes, I was very aware that basically her death kind of put me on a better path…. I just think that things happen the way they're supposed to happen. I don't think that there are accidents. That made me very introspective; it made me start thinking about a lot. I could have just gone out and gotten drunk every night, and spiraled out and just felt sorry for myself, and become a rebel. I went the other way. I decided I wanted to figure things out. I wanted to find out what all this is about.
W Magazine: How did you reconcile that introspection with your orderly, goal-oriented side—I want to be famous; I want to have money?
Ellen: The first step is the desire and saying it out loud. I don't think I knew that at the time…. It's too weird that I would just write something that fast and then my first response is thinking and saying, I'm going to be on Johnny Carson and be the first woman to be invited over to the couch.
W Magazine: And seven years later you were.
Ellen: I remember watching Roseanne [Barr] on Johnny Carson and she was killing. It was her first appearance, and I just watched, and I thought, He's going to call her over for sure. And he didn't. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe that he didn't call her over, and for whatever reason, it happened [to me].
W Magazine: The call to the desk was a huge deal.
Ellen: The fact that he wanted me to sit down and talk to him, it catapulted my career. [But] that's not why I wanted to do it. I wanted to do it because I knew he would appreciate it, I knew it was smart, I knew it was different, and I knew that nobody was doing what I was doing…. That's all I wanted. I wanted people to get me.