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Dave Kelly ready for his Calgary conversation with Ellen DeGeneres

During his years hosting Breakfast Television and now with his monthly live talk show, Dave Kelly has interviewed some pretty big names — Jann Arden, Paul Brandt, Bret The Hitman Hart, to name but a few.

But there is arguably none larger than the one he’ll sit down with onstage this Saturday, April  21 at the Saddledome for what should be a lively and engaging chat.

Ellen.

You probably don’t need a last name, but if you do it’s in the title of her long-running daytime talk staple, The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Yes, Mr. Kelly gets the opportunity to spend an hour or so asking questions to one of North America’s most beloved celebrities in front of an audience of 17,000 rabid Ellen fans.

Nervous?

Well, let’s put it this way: he once emceed a show for the Queen in the very same Dome, and his only brief interaction with her was her saying something he couldn’t decipher and his response being, “Mmm hmm.”

So, one-on-one for a substantially greater amount of time with Ellen?

Of course he’s a little nervous.

But the pro that is Dave Kelly will undoubtedly come through on Saturday.

Prior to his sit-down with the superstar, he chatted with theYYSCENE.

Q: How did it come about?

A: It’s a Canadian company — the producers are the same ones who brought (Bill) Clinton and (George W.) Bush on their tours, but also brought Oprah (Winfrey) and Michelle Obama and now Ellen. They had seen Dave Kelly Live a few times and were fans of the show, so when they booked Ellen we mutually reached out to each other and said, “Hey that would be a fun interview.” So they sent some videos down to Ellen’s people of a few different possible hosts, but the dream was to get somebody local and somebody not from Toronto. Not that there’s anything wrong with Toronto, but why fly someone in if you have someone here? So we put together some clips of Dave Kelly Live and they saw that and they said, “Let’s do that.” So that’s how the gig happened.

Q: So a lot of prep must go into this, doesn’t it?

A: Yeah. It does. And … you spend literally hours and days preparing for something that winds up being a very short amount of time and you end up knowing more things than you’ll ever talk about, but you have to. A lot of times I’ll go online to research someone I’m going to interview — like Ian Tyson, he’s going to be on (Dave Kelly Live) on the Wednesday after this (at Theatre Junction GRAND), and there’s a lot on Ian Tyson online, as you can imagine — but you go to YouTube and I’m pretty sure all of YouTube is Ellen clips, from what I can tell. So it’s impossible to say, “Well, what about that?” because there’s not a name you can possibly pull out that she has not done something with — had on the show, done some goofy prank on, something. It’s ridiculous how many people have come through that show.

Q: Was there any guidance — don’t ask her this, do ask her this — or is it just pretty much wide open to explore?

A: It was much more wide open then I expected and I did have a conversation with two of her folks about — not so much questions, as much as, “Here’s a general area that I think would be fun to talk about.” Some times you deal with an agent, manager, assistant, whoever, people who kind of feel like their job is to be the big heavy and, “You can talk about this, don’t you dare bring this up, if you do this” … (but) it was like talking to two friendly, funny, really smart neighbours. They were like, “Well, what do you think would be fun? What do you want to do?” And any suggestions they had were not about, “Don’t talk about this,” as much as to say, “Well, you can ask about this, but she just won’t have much to say. This isn’t something she’s really passionate about, however if you go down this road, wherever you want to go there, she has lots to talk about.”

I was a bit aware that even her coming out on her TV show (the sitcom Ellen) story, it’s been 20 years of telling that story and she’s (probably) sick of talking about it, and they said, “No, if you want to ask something just ask it. The whole coming out was such a big deal for the world but also a big deal for her so she has no problem talking about it.” So it was easily the most encouraged, positive conversation with somebody’s people that I’ve ever had.

Q: Are you nervous? Do you think you’re going to be nervous?

A: Yes. I think so. I think so. I am now for sure, only because I just really want it to be interesting for the people who paid good money to be there and who have said, “This is somebody I’ve loved forever.” I’m just aware that the relationship with this person, with Ellen, for people that are going is so intense that it’s like, “How can I not let them down? How can I possibly give them everything they’re hoping this night is?” I feel that pressure. I think I started feeling pressure about Ellen herself, like, “What if she hates it? What if she thinks my questions are dumb?” all of that typical insecure interviewer stuff, but after talking with her people, I switched my nerves to, “I just hope I can give the (audience) what they want.”

Q: Are you a huge Ellen fan?

A: I am. I wasn’t really aware of her sitcom, but I remember when her (talk) show came out because I was still doing Breakfast Television … Wayne Brady had a talk show, Drew Carey had a talk show, Sharon Osbourne had a talk show, and Ellen and a few others, so in a three- or four-year period there was a lot of daytime talks shows that came out, and being a TV guy I watched them all — it was interesting to see who would do (what). I remember everybody saying, “Ellen? Ahhh, I don’t know. It’s just going to be a militant show about lesbians” or, “It’s a show for housewives, what does she have in common with housewives,” or that kind of thing. And she came out strong, but it was just like watching a race horse just beat everyone else — just lap them.

So I was a huge fan and it wasn’t until doing the research until I realized why. And I’m going to tell you why, Mike.

Q: Please tell me why.

A: I know you’re dying to know. (Laughs) I realized that in this research, the things people talk about a lot about Ellen — like she is kind, like the woman next door and generous and not in your face and not angry — all of those things are true, but above everything else she is really, really funny. I just wasn’t aware until I really looked at it, but Sharon Osbourne had her thing that you were kind of interested in, Drew Carey had his thing you were interested in, they had something you were kind of interested in, but her show it was … wildly entertaining and really funny. And I think that’s at the heart of everything about her.

Q: Are you going to dance?

A: Great question. And you know what’s funny? Her people, the only thing her people said was, “Please don’t ask her to dance,” and they gave an awesome reason for it. They said, “She might dance and if she does that’s great, but you have to know that (if) Ellen goes to the bathroom in a public setting, people are banging on the stall hoping that they can dance with her … If she goes to a grocery store or is walking down the street, that’s what everyone asks her to do.” They’re like, “Obviously once she’s onstage whatever happens happens, but if you want to not be like every other person that sees her, don’t start with, ‘Can we dance?’ ”

And in the same vein, I was like, “Well, what if we show this clip and what if we show this clip? And then we can put up these pictures, and then I can get audience questions, and then maybe can point out people in the audience that have been on her show because there are Calgarians that have been on her show” and all of this stuff. And they were like, “Just remember that Ellen is spectacular, so the more time you spend doing things other than just talking to Ellen will be not as good as just talking to Ellen.” It was really helpful. They were like, “Do what you want, but the truth is the more time you have to spend introducing someone who she might remember that maybe did the thing … Ellen going to be so fun, just do that,” which is interesting and I thought helpful advice.

A Conversation with Ellen DeGeneres takes place Saturday, April 21 at 6 p.m. at the Scotiabank Saddledome. For tickets please click here

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