Today in which celebrity embarrasses themselves in quarantine: Ellen DeGeneres would like your attention.
The daytime talk show host relaunched her eponymous talk show after a three-week hiatus amid the coronavirus pandemic and offered up the expected platitudes (“I want to set you free”) and some celebrity guests (John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, of course).
But she also managed to spark some backlash for joking, from her palatial mansion in Southern California, that “One thing I’ve learned from being in quarantine is that … this is like being in jail.”
“Mostly because I’ve been wearing the same clothes for 10 days and everyone in here is gay,” she quipped in a YouTube video that’s racked up hundreds of thousands of views.
While making the underfunded and crumbling criminal justice system the punchline of a joke isn’t the best move in any climate, the incarcerated population is particularly in jeopardy during the ongoing public health crisis, as coronavirus sweeps through prisons across the country at an alarming rate.
Amid calls for nonviolent offenders to be released on bail during the pandemic, steadily increasing numbers of inmates have tested positive for the respiratory virus. The Rikers Island jail complex in New York has been one of the hardest-hit facilities, with confirmed cases for 167 inmates and 137 staff members, as social distancing is a near impossibility due to overcrowding.
On Sunday, an inmate at the Rikers became the first in a city jail to die after contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
So, naturally, DeGeneres’ joke didn’t sit well with many on social media.
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 https://t.co/RBytt0Kl4B
— Caroline Darya Framke (@carolineframke) April 7, 2020
People are literally dying in jail from COVID-19 while Ellen is out here making jokes about it. https://t.co/Z8cdnMDF5b
— Rebecca Kavanagh (@DrRJKavanagh) April 8, 2020
People so far from being impacted by the criminal justice system love to use it as free labor and punch lines. Fuck you Ellen. Quarantine isn’t jail. Fame isn’t jail. Jail is jail. https://t.co/sgea84nk0q
— gia onomatopoeia (@missgiagiagia) April 7, 2020
My 19 year old daughter is considered an “essential employee”. She’s a fast food worker. She’s exposed EVERY DAY.
No one GAF about Ellen’s privilege pampers a$$ stuck in her mansion.
Show me @ellen working the lines @ the grocery store. NO mask, NO gloves. Then I might care.
— Share the Realness🌹🦺✊🏽#Bernie2020 (@opnmindtexas) April 7, 2020
Her prison crack notwithstanding, DeGeneres offered her gratitude toward essential workers and others on the frontlines during the coronavirus crisis.
“Usually I walk out and people applaud me, but today I’m applauding you — nurses, doctors, hospital staff, first responders, supermarket employees, truck drivers, everyone who keeps us going, thank you so much,” she said.
DeGeneres has yet to respond to the backlash, but she’s not exactly a stranger to the internet turning against her.
She courted a fair bit of controversy last year stemming from photos of herself palling around with former President George W. Bush despite his poor track record on LGBTQ rights, among other issues.
Most recently, she was accused of being “one of the meanest people alive” in a viral Twitter thread that asked people to submit their own stories about her alleged behavior.