NEW YORK – Bet you don't know how talented Ellen Degeneres (search) really is.
That's the problem with sitcoms. The people who star in them have risen to that level of their careers because they have enormous talent.
And then, all a sitcom requires them to do is basically read lines.
That's why you might not know it from watching Ellen on her sitcoms, but from what I've seen of her, she can do it all.
I first discovered this in 1997 when I saw her host the Grammys at Madison Square Garden (search).
In addition to the usual wisecracks, she sang and danced and held an arena-sized audience in the palm of her hand.
Tomorrow night on HBO, another one of Ellen's talents gets a TV showcase for the first time in years -- standup comedy.
Unlike most other comedy showcases on adult-oriented HBO, Ellen works so clean that this special could have been aired on a commercial broadcast network -- which wouldn't have been such a terrible idea as a summer prime-time special.
In the show -- titled Ellen Degeneres: Here and Now -- Ellen signals her intention to position herself as a mass-appeal entertainer.
It's a shrewd move as she prepares to enter the daytime talk show arena this fall.
She's as famous for coming out as a lesbian on her old ABC sitcom as she is for her standup comedy -- but her standup act has little to do with being gay.
She cleverly acknowledges her orientation and that of most of the people sitting in the audience at the outset of Here and Now, but quickly moves on to more important and mundane, topics.
These include the vexations of opening CDs and pickle jars, the embarrassment of tripping on sidewalk cracks and walking into glass doors, the trouble with cellphones and widespread laziness.
"We're lazy!" Ellen declares in exasperation. "We used to have breath mints, now we have breath strips. They just dissolve on our tongue for us. How lazy! Can we not suck anymore?"
Like other comics her age (she's 45), Ellen is obsessed with how complex our world has become.
"What's with the sudden choice of disorders we've got now?" she asks, citing ADD, OCD and other acronyms. "When I was a kid, we just had crazy people!"
She punctuates her act with bits of songs (all on key), mime and facial expressions worthy of Chaplin. (search)
She even dances across the stage and sings "Shoop" by Salt-N-Pepa as the final credits roll.
I'm convinced more than ever that Ellen Degeneres can do anything she wants to do in show business. Now let's see if she can host a talk show.