It’s mean, it’s going to cause a heart attack, and it’s the most purely entertaining thing we can’t stop watching. Ellen Degeneres has taken to torturing her guests, including her close friends, by scaring them when they least expect it: in the middle of interviews, during games, in their dressing rooms. No where in the world of Ellen is off-limits for the host. Jennifer Lopez, Will Smith, Carrie Underwood, Sarah Paulson, and most recently and epically, Sean Diddy Combs have all fallen victim to her pranking.
But is the best or worst thing that’s ever happened to us as a human race? There are arguments to be made for both sides of this conflicting yet comedic tactic, sides I bounce back and forth between, from feeling bad to laughing uncontrollably.
IT’S THE WORST
Does anyone really like to be scared? Sure, lots of people indulge in scary movies and haunted houses and enjoy the thrills from that, but they’re expected thrills, not out of nowhere, in your face, piercing scream-inducing scares. What Ellen puts her guests through is just plain mean. She’s lucky they like her, but someday there could be someone who will not stand for being embarrassed in that way, or worse: hurt. A startle that big could send someone toppling off the chair or falling down. Or, if the celebrity’s not getting hurt, they could be inflicting the pain. What if someday they just instinctually unleash on that perpetrator hiding on the talk show set?
I’m not saying Ellen is setting her staff up for getting punched in the face, I’m just saying it’s a possibility that could turn a simple scare into a bloody mess. In fact, maybe the biggest surprise is that this hasn’t happened yet. Hell, Jake Gyllenhaal sure seemed like he wanted revenge.
The other thing to look out for happens right after the scare, and it’s the cackle that comes out of Ellen’s mouth. This sweet woman who has donated money and goods and time to helping people and the world as a whole! Yet she lets out a noise that expresses her pure delight in the prank she’s just pulled off. It’s a specific noise that would have any actress that’s ever played a witch completely and totally jealous.
Logically, I can’t help but believe this could get old someday too, but then again, that hasn’t happened yet…
IT’S THE BEST
If we learned anything from the early 2000’s MTV series Punk’d, it’s that we like to see celebrities when they are vulnerable. Ellen knows this, so when her guests are in the middle of promoting their new film picking up awards season buzz or telling an anecdote about their highly rated TV show or explaining how they recorded their latest album, she takes them down just a tiny notch closer to Earth. She’s obviously not trying to hurt anyone or scar them for life or even pay for their therapy bills. She’s simply showing us normal folk what it looks like when the beautiful people get the shock of their lives. And ultimately, it’s super relatable. We’ve all jumped out of our skin before. Who wouldn’t want to see Captain America pee in his pants a little bit?
What is particularly interesting about each of these scares is their uniqueness. Diddy perhaps demonstrated this best by busting out his dance moves to shake off the scare, while others simply take to the fetal position on the ground to recover. The immediate reaction, the swear words, the time it takes for them to bounce back, finding out who really has a sense of humor about themselves; they’re all different except for the one thing they have in common: vanity is not present in the moment.
Watching these moments causes an involuntary laugh: maybe it’s a nervous giggle or a straight up LOL at how silly the celebrity’s reaction is to that moment. But there’s something inherently funny about what we’re watching. Also, interrupting a smooth, harmless interview to make someone fall out of their chair certainly does mix up the format.
So is Ellen scaring celebrities good or bad? It’s a true mixture of both. It’s harmless pranking (for now, until the inevitable punching) that gives viewers a good chuckle and Ellen that signature cackle. As for the celebs, well they might laugh once they catch their breath…when they’re far, far away from the Ellen set.
Where to stream The Ellen Degeneres Show