Ellen DeGeneres on the tragic loss that changed her life

ABC/Randy Holmes(LOS ANGELES) — Ellen DeGeneres has opened up about the tragic event that led to her big break in comedy.

“My girlfriend was killed in a car accident when I was, like, 20 years old,” the 60-year-old comedian and talk host told Dax Shepard on his podcast Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard on Tuesday.

“And I wasn’t doing comedy, I think I was probably waitressing someplace at the time. I was living with her when she was killed.”

Unable to afford their apartment on her own, DeGeneres said she then moved into a “tiny little basement apartment.”

“I was sleeping on a mattress on a floor and it was infested with fleas. And I used to write all the time, I wrote poetry and songs and stuff, and I thought, ‘Why is this beautiful 21-year-old girl just gone and fleas are here?’” the Emmy-winning star told Shepard.

But Ellen managed to turn her grief into material for her first stand-up routine, which launched her career.

“I just thought it would be amazing if we could just pick up the phone and call up God and ask questions and get an answer,” DeGeneres recalled about her now-famous “Phone Call to God” routine.

“It just unfolded, I just wrote the entire thing and when I finished, I read it and I thought, ‘Oh my God, that’s hilarious. I’m going to do this on Johnny Carson,'” she continued.

DeGeneres’ prediction came true. She performed the bit on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in November 1986 and became the first female comedian invited to sit down on his couch afterward.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.