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Ellen is talking

Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen DeGeneres

HOLLYWOOD — Ellen DeGeneres is over it. And she's hoping TV viewers are over it.

One thing is for certain, though. People who interview her aren't over the whole Ellen-is-a-lesbian thing that made so many headlines when she came out on her ABC sitcom and in her real life a few years ago.

"The Ellen DeGeneres Show," a nationally syndicated talk show, begins airing today. (It will be seen weeknights at 8 p.m. on Ch. 14 in Utah.) And she has no intention of making her personal life an issue.

"I mean, people know I'm gay. There's nothing to talk about," she said. "It's part of who I am. And they know that. I don't know how that would ever come up in a conversation. And the show is not a political show. And my comedy has never been political. Ever."

She addressed the issue for what she hoped would be the last time in opening moments of a well-received stand-up comedy special on HBO last year. And then she went on to do a lot of really funny material that had nothing to do with sexual preference.

And yet, not surprisingly, the first question asked when she appeared in front of a room full of TV critics was . . . well, you know what it was.

"I hope really that is the last time," DeGeneres said. "Every time I say it's the last time, there seems to be a question like this following up that last thing.

"I just want to get back to doing what I always have. I just want to be the person I was before this kind of overshadowed my life."

And what DeGeneres was was a very, very funny person. Only time will tell, but she does seem perfectly suited to hosting a talk show — she's bright, charming, engaging, spontaneous and has the sort of charisma that makes people like her.

She's at her best when she's interacting with people. Interviewing her has always been entertaining. Now the trick is for her to make doing the interviews equally entertaining.

"I think that it just seems like the natural progression for me. . . . I've always done Q&A after every one of my stand-up specials. If anyone has ever seen me live, I always talk to the audience afterward," DeGeneres said. "I'm genuinely curious about people. And I really do listen. And I think you have to listen."

And viewers can expect lots of interaction between DeGeneres and her studio audience.

"Whenever I filmed my sitcoms, I would always talk to the audience for about a half hour before we started the show. And everybody always said to me that we should film those things because I love talking to the audience," she said.

For years, DeGeneres has been a great guest on other people's talk shows. Some of her appearances with David Letterman have been nothing short of classic, and she's even managed to make stiff Jay Leno loosen up.

"I think that does give me an advantage because I've done a lot of these shows. And it really does matter when people listen to you and are genuinely not tired of being there. . . . That makes you feel good," DeGeneres said. "And I think that I'm going to be that way with everybody because that's really how I feel. I really am interested in people. Even boring people fascinate me because there's just something — how can people possibly be boring?

"I'll have animals. I'll have kids. I'll have plants. I'll talk to anything. I really will."

There's been talk of DeGeneres doing a talk show for years. But after "Ellen" was canceled, she spent a couple of years trying to develop a prime-time variety show that never took off. And then there was a short-lived second sitcom on CBS.

But now she thinks the timing is right.

"I don't think this would have worked a few years ago," DeGeneres said. "I'm in a different place. I think people are in a different place with me. And things have, I think, settled down. . . . I think that I really am back to really allowing myself to focus on the things that got me here. And the audience as well is able to focus on that with me. So I think I'm in the right place for it right now.

"I'm optimistic. I'm confident. I love what I do. And I love making people happy. I love making people laugh. I hope it works. I can only go into it knowing that I'm going to love doing this. And I think people will feel that I love doing it. I want to make people happy. I think there's a very big need for that in the world today — that people just need to be entertained and laugh really hard. So, hopefully, that's enough."

E-MAIL: pierce@desnews.com