Ellen DeGeneres, whose on-air joke earlier this year spurred a lawsuit from a Georgia real estate agent who says the comic bit made fun of her name and subjected her to ridicule and hurtful comments, says her humor is never meant to cause harm.
“I never want to hurt anybody. I want to make people laugh,” she says in a Parade interview promoting her new movie, “Finding Dory.” “I didn’t think it was ever funny to make fun of people.”
The interview, pegged to the movie’s June 17 opening date touched on a number of topics, including Ellen’s sense of humor, but was not conducted in connection with the lawsuit. (It likely was conducted well in advance of the recent news of the lawsuit, and meant only to promote the movie).
Ellen’s comments regarding humor were in general and not pegged to the lawsuit, yet they seem relevant: “There’s so much to laugh at without it being at someone else’s expense,” she said.
The suit filed by Titi Pierce on June 2 in U.S. District Court in Macon against Warner Bros., parent company of the show, alleges a comic bit did just that.
“Just before showing Ms. Pierce’s real estate sign, Defendant displayed a sign reading ‘Nipple Convalescent Home’ to orient the audience toward thoughts of breasts,” the suit states. “While displaying the real estate sign, Ms. DeGeneres paused and said, ‘Titty Pierce, sounds like she might have spent some time in that nipple home, I don’t know.’”
Pierce was traveling to a family funeral she she got word her name – and cell number, which was on the sign – had been broadcast.
“While driving to Tampa, during the wake, and at the funeral itself, Ms. Pierce’s personal cell phone rang constantly with out-of-state numbers she did not recognize,” the suit says. “She answered several of the telephone calls and when she did, she was met with cruel voices laughing uncontrollably, asking if she was a real person, and repeatedly shouting ‘Titty Pierce.’”
“One caller mockingly told Ms. Pierce in a voice mail message that her ‘size DD, 37 bra is ready,’” the suit says.
As a result of the bit, the suit says, “Ms. Pierce and her family have faced repeated ridicule on the streets of her hometown (Warner Robins).”
The segment also made the social media rounds.
“Ms. Pierce does not have a Facebook account so she asked her niece to show her the post, which linked to the show’s Facebook page and a video of the segment,” the suit says. “The comments were mostly vile and very hurtful to read. One of Ms. Pierce’s friends had commented directly to the show’s Facebook post that it had Ms. Pierce’s name wrong and that Ms. Pierce was a ‘real person with real feelings.’ Yet the show was not deterred from continuing to promote the segment.”
The suit says Pierce reached out to the show without response, and in fact the segment aired again, in April.
“Defendant knew that it wrongfully displayed Ms. Pierce’s personal cell phone number to a national television audience prior to airing the segment on Feb. 22, 2016,” the suit says. “Despite this direct knowledge, on April 15, 2016, Defendant again aired the offending segment without making any changes. The portion of the segment displaying Ms. Pierce’s real estate sign, including her personal cell phone number, and calling Ms. Pierce a derogatory term, remained.”
The real estate agent’s first name is pronounced “Tee-Tee” and it has special meaning to her.
“’Titi’ is a Nigerian name that means ‘flower.’ Ms. Pierce’s mother selected this name with care after consulting with a Nigerian book of names that her good friend shared with her. Ms. Pierce has strong, positive feelings toward her name for this reason,” the suit says. “In her entire 35 years of life, no one has ever referred to her as ‘titty.’ That all changed after Defendant invaded Ms. Pierce’s privacy by airing a false, defamatory, and personally hurtful segment about her on Feb. 22, 2016.”
The suit seeks at least $75,000. No comment yet from Warner Bros.