A funny thing happened on the way to Sunday afternoon’s NFL NFC Championship game between the (losing) San Francisco 49ers and the (way victorious, on their way to the Super Bowl) Philadelphia Eagles: Roseanne Barr surprisingly re-launched her return to stand-up comedy in a big way.
Using Fox TV’s gametime airwaves for a 15 second advert for Cancel This! – her first stand-up special since 2006’s Blonde and Bitchin’ on HBO – Barr casually walked up to a microphone on stage, and joked “Has anybody else been fired recently?”
Bang. Like it or not, a new game is on for Roseanne Barr.
Of course, that stand-up special’s title, Cancel This!, alludes to the fact that in 2018 – not long after the successful revival of her 90s hit ABC Television series, Rosanne, was welcomed by a new audience and renewed success – Barr blew it all by showing her deeply red, Right wing side, and making messy, wrongheaded racist tweets about ex-President Barack Obama’s aided Valerie Jarrett. ABC got rid of Barr and dumped her Rosanne series, only to bring the show back again as The Conners, without Barr, and killing off the mom character.
Killed off or fired, Barr became persona non grata on the show of her own making, a second life at Roseanne featuring showrunner Whitney Cummings as one of the women behind the dashboard until Barr knocked the wheels off her own vehicle. “Roseanne was a hero of mine, and everyone had an attachment to that show, doing it justice and honoring the legacy,” Cummings told me last year during a conversation about her own stand-up comedy specials. “There would be no me without Roseanne… Roseanne meant so much to so many people, myself included. I was oddly more possessive of it, especially due to how delicate the subject matter was, and the country at the time was. It all felt so flammable.”
Flammable is a great way at looking at the Roseanne Barr legacy, both personally and professionally.
The eternally put-upon wife and mother began making that “domestic goddess” schtick into an act at stand-up gigs Denver comedy clubs before making her way onto The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1985, and more famously in 1986, one of the late Rodney Dangerfield’s highly regarded HBO stand-up specials. Dangerfield’s HBO specials of the 1980s broke many a comic giant – Richard Belzer, Jerry Seinfeld, Sam Kinison – and set them of a path towards film and sitcom television. And while Barr did her beleaguered, bitchy housewife thing to great success on her own HBO stand-up special, The Roseanne Barr Show, it was as Roseanne Connor – a character created by Barr with Cosby Show executive producers Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner, based around the comedian’s “actual life and my kids” – where the comedian would blossom.
And crash. And burn (little good, ultimately, grows from anything having to do with Bill Cosby).
Before the explosion, Roseanne ran for nine wildly successful seasons, made a household name out of beloved character actor John Goodman, gave debut joke making jobs to soon-to-be-famous writer-directors such as Amy Sherman-Palladino and Joss Whedon, and created what she called a “fierce working-class domestic goddess…who was not a victim of patriarchal consumerism.”
Barr’s matriarchal consumerism, for its final two seasons, found Barr earning $40 million, making her the second-highest-paid woman in show business at the time, after talk show host and producer Oprah Winfrey.
Barr also fought with everyone on the Roseanne set, especially after she hired wildman turned boyfriend turned husband turned ex-husband Tom Arnold. And even if you thought her Roseanne series was funny (I did not, despite loving her mid-1980s stand=up routines), Barr, the persona behind the character, was not.
I’m not a flag-waving zealot, but trashing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and singing it off-key before a baseball game in 1990 like Barr did didn’t help her image. Neither did dressing like Adolf Hitler in a photo shoot for a 2009 feature for the satirical Jewish magazine Heeb. Barr is Jewish and said she was “making fun of Hitler, not his victims”. Oddly enough, it was Fox News TV and its O’Reilly Factor” host Bill O’Reilly who gave Barr the most shit for her antisemitic outlook.
And for all of her support of the Green Part in the early-to-mid 2000s, when it came to the 2016 Presidential election, Barr prominently showed her support for then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. “I think we would be so lucky if Trump won,“ Barr told the Hollywood Reporter at the time. “Because then it wouldn’t be Hillary.”
Bringing us up to the present day – racist tweets and cancelled shows in the mix – I can’t imagine that Barr got any funnier than she was during her last stand-up special. And Fox, despite being the home of top-rated comic talk show host Greg Gutfeld, still doesn’t see like a fun house of comedy, no matter who’s ratings he beats.
If Roseanne Barr’s stand-up comedy special, Cancel This!, Is going to have any effect on its potential viewership beyond offending/distancing some and towing the line/preaching to the choir for others, the only thing we can hope is that it goes beyond social-political culture clashing rhetoric and be one thing and one thing only: funny.