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12/29/2015 10:31 am ET

The 'Stupid' Routine That Helped Ellen DeGeneres Get Her Start In Comedy

"People enjoyed me eating on stage and not talking."

Ellen DeGeneres took on a lot of odd jobs when she was in her 20s living in New Orleans. She painted houses, worked as a bartender and even sold vacuum cleaners to pay the bills. But regardless of what the future comedian was doing to make money, there was always one consistent element she brought into everything she did: humor.

No matter what job Ellen had at the moment, her friends already saw her as a fun comedian. So, when Ellen and her friends attended a casual fundraiser together one day, they encouraged her to get on the stage and "do something funny." As Ellen tells "Oprah's Master Class," she had barely started writing but figured she might as well take the opportunity to flex her comedic muscle.

However, instead of stepping on stage armed with jokes, Ellen was armed with food.

"I had brought a Whopper and fries and a shake. And I went on stage, and I said, 'This is my first time being on stage and I have to admit, I'm a little nervous. I didn't know what I was going to say, and I realized I hadn't eaten all day, so I hope you don't mind -- I stopped and grabbed something to eat on the way,'" Ellen says.

It was an unorthodox opening, but the crowd stayed with her and Ellen pressed on.

"Then I would say, 'But what I wanted to talk about was...' and then I would take a bite. While I was chewing, I'd put a finger up and then just go, 'Oh, that is good. That's better.' And then I would start the sentence again," Ellen says. "I ate the entire meal and didn't finish the sentence."

She then told the crowd her time was up and hopped off stage. The audience was thoroughly amused.

"People enjoyed me eating on stage and not talking," Ellen jokes.

Someone in the audience then invited the young comedian to perform at a local university coffee house. Ellen agreed, but knew she had to come up with a new bit that didn't include a burger and fries.

"I couldn't eat every time," she says. "So, then I played a song on piano that I said I wrote when I was in the hospital. And it was just me screaming and hitting some chords."

Ellen even opted for a few puns during her first few acts.

"I would say things like, 'I just want to try out some new material,' and I'd hold up a piece of fabric," she says.

As she got comfortable on stage and further developed her writing, Ellen's career began to take off. Those early performances, however, are ones she looks back on with humble appreciation for what they were at the time.

"That's what I did for the first few times on stage," Ellen says, with a shrug. "I just did stupid things."

"Oprah's Master Class" airs on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network.

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