Presenting her with the prestigious honor was Kate McKinnon, who choked up as she handed her TV idol the trophy.
"The Carol Burnett Award is given to someone who — like its namesake, Carol Burnett — has given us decades of laughter, tears, and a new sense of what's possible," the SNL star explained. "So I would like to read a list of things that tonight's recipient Ellen DeGeneres has personally given me."
"Some of these are spiritual, and some of these are pieces of clothing I'd like to keep after doing impressions of her on her talk show."
Removing a list from her pocket, she read off: "A road map for a way to be funny that is grounded in an expression of joy; two pairs of Stan Smith sneakers; a desire to bring everyone together by laughing at the things we have in common; my best collared shirts; and a sense of self."
"I have to explain that one," she interjected. "In 1997 when Ellen's sitcom was at the height of its popularity, I was in my mother's basement lifting weights in front of the mirror and thinking: "Am I gay?"
"And I was. Still am," she said. "But that's a very scary thing to suddenly know about yourself. It's sort of like doing 23 & Me and discovering that you have alien DNA."
"And the only thing that made it less scary was seeing Ellen on TV. She risked her entire life, and her entire career in order to tell the truth, and she suffered greatly for it. Of course, attitudes change, but only because brave people like Ellen jump into the fire to make them change."
Becoming emotional, she continued: "And if I hadn't seen her on TV I would have thought 'Oh I could never be on TV, they don't let LGBTQ people on TV.' And more than that, I would have gone on thinking that I was an alien and that I maybe didn't even have a right to be here."
"So thank you Ellen for giving me a shot at a good life," she said, as a genuinely moved Ellen stared back from the crowd. "And thank you also for the sweater with the picture of the baby goat on it."
After a constricting hug on stage, Ellen reciprocated in kind.
"Kate you are incredible; and thank you so much," she said. "I know how hard... I hate being asked to do things like this. So thank you for doing this. Thank you for flying here, thank you for writing something, thank you for the amazing words that you said, thank you so much. I love you... I love you."