Ellen DeGeneres: Despite zealous crowd, she plays it safe in stand-up show
This wasn’t a social or political rally. DeGeneres’ private life may be public, but it’s not part of her stand-up act. That’s unfortunate.

Ellen DeGeneres’ sexuality? Yep, she’s gay – and she doesn’t want to talk about it. Nary a word.

But, oh, you could sense that Tuesday’s audience at the Madison Civic Center was so eager to support her and wanted to hear about her much-publicized coming out. They were ready to erupt when DeGeneres brought it up.

And she didn’t. This wasn’t a social or political rally. DeGeneres’ private life may be public, but it’s not part of her stand-up act. That’s unfortunate.

Still, DeGeneres, smiling and seeming quite content, performed a reliable, if somewhat bland, show in Madison.

DeGeneres, 44, faces one of the most unique circumstances in entertainment. Her popular TV series forced her into the uncomfortable position to be mainstream America’s most prominent lesbian comic. When Time magazine “outed” her with its silly cover headline, “Yep, she’s gay,” you know she faced a bumpy ride.

Performing live, however, DeGeneres keeps her material straightforward: tight plane seats, lots of cable channels, toothpaste brands and procrastination. Yawn. Yet, these were the subjects she stuck to in a generally well-received 95-minute show Tuesday.

A PG-rated comic, DeGeneres chooses to keep her humor almost as clean as, say, Steven Wright. That’s not bad. Profane comics are becoming too common.

For DeGeneres to avoid commenting on her personal life, though, is a mistake. There’s so much material that her devoted audience, largely female, would love to hear her discuss. She doesn’t have to become as political as Kate Clinton or as edgy as Suzanne Westenhoefer.

And, hey, if DeGeneres wants to skip talking about Anne Heche, that’s understandable. But she could jab at her critics (Jerry Falwell, anyone?) or develop routines to summarize her personal trials.

Instead, with about 1,600 in attendance, DeGeneres mixed new and old bits. She’s a stellar physical comic, sharply handling impressions of a goldfish in a bowl and a cat in heat.

She closed a pre-encore set with a rambling routine about insipid pop-song lyrics, digging deep – way too deep – to the point of mocking the group America’s 30-year-old “Horse With No Name.” There were jokes about the Bee Gees, too.

Wrong decade, Ellen.

Granted Salt-N-Pepa’s goofy rap hit “Shoop” offered plenty of fodder during Tuesday’s show, but she lacked much pop-culture sensibility. This seems unusual from someone who did a terrific job hosting the most recent Grammy Awards.

Too bad she didn’t lead us backstage to the most interesting parts of her public life. A question-and-answer session would have been a fitting encore rather than rehash “best of” routines requested by audience members.

Yep, she’s private.

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