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Ellen Degeneres stands up in the Springs

Like Rosa Parks refusing to go to the back of the bus, comedienne Ellen Degeneres will probably always be best remembered for breaking the rules. In 1997, in front of an estimated 46 million viewers, Degeneres cast a bright light on the prime-time media blackout of homosexuality by becoming the first openly gay character on television. Not bad as far as civil rights go.

But before she became "that lesbian who came out on television," Degeneres had long-since established her stage legs and funny-bone reputation on the stand-up circuit. In 1982, Degeneres won Showtime's "Funniest Person in America" competition. In 1986 her reputation was further bolstered when she became the first comedienne to be invited to sit down with Johnny Carson after her first performance on The Tonight Show.

Though her series Ellen was canned not long after the hotly debated coming-out episode, the ground she broke for openly gay characters on commercial television is more than evident on pretty much any (and all) new sitcoms, with their all-but-requisite gay characters.

Since the demise of Ellen, Degeneres has faded some from the spotlight, but has been steadily plugging away at the bread-and-butter of a comedienne's career -- touring the stand-up circuit, writing books (My Point -- And I Do Have One was a best seller), hosting awards ceremonies and doing voice-overs for animated features.

Now, in 2003, Degeneres seems to be making another run for center stage. Aside from the national tour that will bring her to the Pikes Peak Center on Monday, she's also got another book forthcoming in the fall from Simon & Schuster and she will be trying to fill the brazen Rosie O'Donnell's vacant shoes with a talk show that's also set to debut in the fall.

While most of the seats for Ellen's performance at the Pikes Peak Center are general admission, you can go to

www.ellendegeneres.com to bid on five pairs of front row seats. The proceeds from the auction will go to Greenpeace and the International World Wildlife Fund.

--Noel Black

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