'Ellen' Show's Original DJ Says He 'Did Experience and Feel the Toxicity' in the Workplace
By Zach Seemayer
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As the drama surrounding Ellen DeGeneres and her daytime talk show grows, one former employee is adding his voice to the conversation. Tony Okungbowa, who served as the DJ for The Ellen DeGeneres Show for several years, is speaking out about the "toxicity" he claims to have witnessed firsthand.
Okungbowa, who currently stars as Kofo on the CBS sitcom Bob Hearts Abishola, took to Instagram on Tuesday to address the recent allegations of workplace harassment being leveled against the show -- including several of the show's producers and its eponymous star -- by numerous past and current employees.
"Hey Guys, I hope you are all keeping safe out there during these trying times. I have been getting calls asking me about the Ellen Degeneres Show and I would like to address the time I spent there," Okungbowa began in his caption, alongside a photo of himself on the set of the daytime talk show.
"I was on air talent from 2003-2006 and from 2007-2013," continued Okungbowa, who was replaced by Stephen "tWitch" Boss in 2014. "While I am grateful for the opportunity it afforded me, I did experience and feel the toxicity of the environment and I stand with my former colleagues in their quest to create a healthier and more inclusive workplace as the show moves forward."
Late last month, Warner Bros. Television sent an internal memo informing staffers that WarnerMedia would be seeking the services of an independent third-party firm to interview current and former employees about their experiences behind the scenes on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, after one current and 10 former employees anonymously spoke with BuzzFeed News about their negative experiences on the show.
In an internal letter sent to show staff, obtained by ET last week, DeGeneres apologized and affirmed that she was committed to "having conversations about fairness and justice."
On Monday, Tommy Riles, who served as a warm-up comic for DeGeneres on the show, took to Facebook to share his support and shared a post declaring "I stand by Ellen."
"After my wife's mom passed 11 years ago, Ellen was waiting on stage to hug me after I returned to work," Riles wrote. "When my daughter needed open heart surgery at birth 10 years ago, Ellen wanted minute-by-minute updates. When my wife and I lost our sweet son Scotland, Ellen gave me a warm hug, and whispered 'I love you' into my ear as I almost broke down in front of the audience."
"Because of COVID, I can't see Ellen right now," he continued. "But Ellen know that I'm giving you a hug, and whispering 'I love you' into your ear right now."
While the allegations of the show's toxic workplace have been largely directed toward producers and not DeGeneres herself, one former producer, Hedda Muskat, recently spoke with The Wrap and claimed there was a "culture of fear" on the set during her time there, from 2003 to 2004.
Muskat claimed that, in once incident, executive producer Ed Galvin allegedly screamed at a crew member in front of everyone on set, and DeGeneres allegedly "giggled" at the behavior.
"She crossed her legs up on the chair and she said, 'Well, I guess every production needs their dog,'" Muskat claimed. "You could just see everybody’s faces go stiff. We’re professionals, we’re adults. We don't need a dog to get us to do our jobs … She was the only one giggling."
ET has been told there are staff who feel hopeful there will be positive change at the production and more involvement from DeGeneres herself. The host and staff plan to start shooting new episodes in September for the new season.
A source told ET that DeGeneres "has been really tuned out in the past few years," noting "possible fatigue" from doing the show for so long.
"She can't be expected to hand-hold everyone," the source explained. "That being said, her name is on the door, and that means everything. Leadership comes from the top. Sure, sometimes people walk on eggshells around her, but she's the boss."
As for those who have come out in her defense (celebrities and some employees), the source adds, "If she loves you, she will work very hard to make you feel comfortable."
For more on the ongoing drama, see the video below.