Joe Dombrowski never expected to end up on Ellen after his fourth-grade students at Oakland Elementary in Royal Oak, Mich., hilariously attempted to spell made-up words — and a queen’s name from RuPaul’s Drag Race — as an April Fools’ joke. But then again, Dombrowski never expected the legendary prank, which he orchestrated, filmed and posted to his social media, to seize the attention of admirers from around the world… including Ellen DeGeneres.
Just days after the video went viral, the 28-year-old teacher was a guest on the comedian’s talk show. But it wasn’t attention he was after. In addition to receiving a generous $10,000 check from Shutterfly made out to Oakland Elementary (and $10,000 for him personally) — the school largely educates children from low-income families — the teacher and now-famous trickster says he was elated that “Ellen really gave me a platform to put such a positive light on education, which is where my heart is.”
That crazy, surreal day, his heart was in the right place, but his head? Not so much. Instant internet fame will do that to you.
“Once Ellen called, it truly hit me how big this whole thing had gone,” Dombrowski tells me, still reeling from the experience. “When I watched the interview, it all started coming back, and I just realized that I blacked out completely during it.”
This is how he remembers it: Ellen kissed him, he made her — major daytime talk-show host, Glamour Woman of the Year honoree, Emmy winner, Dory — laugh, and then the two shared a special behind-the-scenes moment. During a commercial break, Dombrowski expressed to her how her confidence as an out lesbian — and the fact that “she’s such a strong role model for all people, especially the LGBT community” — helped transform him into a confident, out gay man, both privately and professionally.