JFL Chicago: Behind the scenes of Ellen’s Bigger Longer & Wider Show (TBS)

Ellen DeGeneres taped her third TBS variety special last night as part of the inaugural Just For Laughs Chicago comedy festivalEllen's Bigger Longer & Wider Show will air at 9 p.m. Saturday, June 27, on TBS, but I can share some insight with you already.

Ellenportiakanye During a post-show question-and-answer session with the audience, Ellen's wife, Portia de Rossi, emerged from the wings to wave hello when a fan asked, "Where's Portia?!" Here is a backstage pic of Ellen and Portia with Chicago's own Kanye West, who performed his hits "Stronger" and "Heartless" to end the show. On the best part of being married, Ellen quipped: "Well, I'm finally off the pill!" And on a more serious note, when a gay man from the audience couldn't contain himself demonstrating his support for Ellen and wondering what the gay and lesbian community could do in the wake of California's Prop 8, DeGeneres offered that "we shouldn't be separate" in terms of the law. "Just remember the Golden Rule: Do unto others."

Everyone really does love Ellen these days. Gay men, lesbians, young women, middle-aged women, and other straights went crazy for her last night in Chicago. After a 40-minute warmup session (did it have to be that long?) of dance contests and karaoke contests that hyped up the crowd in a mini version of America's Got Talent, it only made sense to introduce celebrity guest DJ Nick Cannon, who is hosting this summer's version of the NBC talent show. Cannon had no qualms hyping his stint on the show, telling Ellen during the taping: "We're going to get our American Susan Boyle! Boyle and beyond!" OK.

But what about Cannon as a DJ? In a tux with his black tie undone, Cannon (sans wife Mariah Carey) did spin a tease of Mariah's upcoming single, "Obsessed" during the TV taping. During the warmup session, Cannon started his set mixing the Beastie Boys "Brass Monkey" with Journey's "Don't Stop Believing," easily getting the crowd to singalong. He then went into Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" to "Superfreak," before cutting the sound to ask if he had targeted the right audience demo. "I didn't grow up with this, but Barry Manilow is kind of gangster!" Cannon exclaimed before launching into "Copacabana." Um, ok. He mixed that into a two-fer from The Sugarhill Gang, "Apache" (Jump on it!) to "Rapper's Delight," challenging anyone in the audience to sing all of the lyrics for $1,000. Really, though, it was just a chance for Cannon to indulge himself by proving he could do it. Some Michael ("Don't Stop Til You Get Enough") Whitney ("I Wanna Dance With Somebody") and Salt N Pepa's "Push It" mixed with Fergie's "My Humps" and we were finally ready to start the show itself.

Ellen's third variety show begins with a taped montage of Ellen (her parkour stunt double that she found on YouTube) scampering through, up and down the streets of Chicago.

In her opening monologue, Ellen noted that she had performed several times before at The Chicago Theatre, beginning with her first big HBO special, 1988's "Women of the Night" with Paula Poundstone, Rita Rudner and Judy Tenuta — "It was a long time ago, back when we only had white presidents," she quipped.

DeGeneres promised that her acts in this third TV special would grab the audience in a variety of ways and blow you away. "You'll be blown and grabbed! There's your promo, TBS!" she joked.

The show itself will include the insanely flexible woman who can shoot an arrow through a balloon with her feet while balancing herself upside-down, a couple that uses a toaster to help a guy swallow and bend a coat hanger, a karate champ breaking lots of boards in under seven seconds. There's a taped bit doing street magic with David Blaine.

Boston stand-up comedian Joe Wong performed a five-minute set got several applause breaks — it's fairly similar to his recent TV debut on Letterman, but here's a good line I don't remember him saying on that show, about becoming a father: "Two wrongs don't make a right, but two illegals can make a legal." DeGeneres asked Wong about the differences between comedy in China versus America. Wong said he didn't start comedy until immigrating here 15 years ago, but that usually, Chinese audiences prefer two-person acts. Also: "In China, I can't do the thing I do best here." DeGeneres: "What's that?" Wong: "Be ethnic."

DeGeneres said Kanye West had slept all day battling a migraine before being a trooper to perform two songs for her show. Backed by a full band in tuxes and three backup singers, West stormed through "Stronger," then after a short break, came back to mostly sing "Heartless," though he did allow the backup singers and backing track to pick up some of the slack. He still broke a mean sweat, though, and looked and sounded good, giving DeGeneres a big hug afterward.

I have a little bit of video that I may try to share later, if possible.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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