Roseanne Barr is back, just as feisty but ‘nicer’
LOS ANGELES—Roseanne Barr is as feisty, outspoken as ever, but she claimed in our recent interview, “I’m actually nicer. Less moody.” The star candidly explained, “I am older. I’ve been through menopause. I will let that sink in.” And being the standup comedian that she is, Roseanne paused after that last sentence for impact.
She is back with the revival of “Roseanne,” the decade-defining sitcom lauded for its realistic portrayal of a working-class American family—the Conners, from 1988 to 1997. What’s also different is that Roseanne Conner is “nicer.” The comedienne quickly clarified, “I said my character is nicer than me.”
The reboot premiered on ABC last March 27 with everyone back—Roseanne and the Conners—John Goodman (Dan), Alicia Goranson (Becky), Sara Gilbert (Darlene) and Michael Fishman (DJ) plus Laurie Metcalf (Jackie Harris), Johnny Galecki (David Healy), Sarah Chalke (back but as a new character, Andrea) and new additions to the Conner family, Emma Kenney (Harris), Ames McNamara (Mark) and Jayden Rey (Mary).
The comic, noted for her cackling laugh, was subdued and tentative in the beginning of our interview.
She guested on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” the night before this talk. Told that she was quieter in this Four Seasons LA Hotel meeting room than when she was gabbing with Jimmy, Roseanne cracked, “Well, there are no cameras. It’s just a performance level thing.”
But eventually, Roseanne warmed up and was her usual no-nonsense self.
Wearing a black bead necklace with a large pendant of a female figure carved in ivory (a gift from costar Sara Gilbert), Roseanne—whose sitcom addressed the concerns of regular women—revealed that she plans to tackle menopause in future episodes of the series.
“Menopause affected me in a big way,” she candidly admitted. “That’s another thing that I’d like to do some shows about. It’s a big change in a woman’s life. I feel more in control and calmer.”
The 65-year-old claimed that she has become a better listener, too. “I wasn’t such a good listener back in the old days because I was fighting so hard to go, why don’t you see this?”
ABC only asked her once if she wanted to revive the show, according to Roseanne. She said yes with the prime condition that Sara Gilbert, who’s also the show’s executive producer, would “do all the fancy pants talking with powers that be.” So Roseanne can concentrate on the other creative aspects of the reboot.
“They had to guarantee some things, which they did—that there would be less fighting for me and it would be a more receptive place for what I want to do for my vision.”
“Roseanne,” ranked by TV Guide as among the best series of all time, is one of a number of TV shows that highlighted actresses and their iconic characters, including Lucille Ball, Betty White, Mary Tyler Moore, Diahann Carroll and Candice Bergen.
Why TV is better
Asked why the medium of television is better at focusing on strong women characters, Roseanne answered, “It’s hard to capsulize it. But I’m glad there were lots of women on TV before me. Both Lucy and Mary Tyler Moore ended up to be allies of mine. And Carol Burnett.”
As in the groundbreaking original series, this revival depicts the everyday struggles of working people trying to pay their bills. The 1990s “Roseanne,” a departure from the safe, middle-class comedies of that era, tackled subjects from debt and illness to dysfunction. On how she continues to realistically portray regular folks, Roseanne replied, “Because I live with them. I have a farm in Hawaii. I live in a farmers’ community. All you have to do is listen. I had empathy for that because I grew up like that.”
Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Roseanne moved to Denver at age 17 and worked as a waitress and window dresser. Encouraged by her customers, Roseanne tried the Denver standup comedy scene and succeeded. That led her to Los Angeles, where her wickedly funny riffs on being a housewife and mom, delivered in her dry, drawling style, made her a hit at the legendary Comedy Store and paved the way for more breaks, including landing her own TV series.
“Roseanne,” considered one of America’s greatest sitcoms and yet it was not nominated at all in Emmy Awards’ best comedy series, was and is political, according to its star and creator. “The show was always political,” she stressed. “I idolize Norman Lear, and I am sort of his spiritual child on television.”
The opinionated performer —her controversial tweets animate the social media—shared what this season will tackle. “The biggest thing that we will talk about is health care, which we gave a hint of in the first episode. We have some surprises.
“Stuff that happens to regular people, like a lot of my friends had their parents move back in with them, as well as their children and their children’s children. I always like to do the thing that nobody else is doing. And I saw a niche reopen for me.”
She’s hands-on in the writers’ room. “They’re all my ideas. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have signed back on. I’m coming back to make people laugh and entertain them. I wouldn’t come back unless I was confident that I could do it this time without fighting.
“A lot of us comics think you have to suffer to be funny, and that’s why we have such bad lives (laughs). But I am finding that isn’t true and it’s a relief. I feel like I am doing the best work that I’ve ever done.”
Among the writers Roseanne handpicked is fellow actress Wanda Sykes. “I was lucky enough to surround myself with people I respect in the writers’ room. I feel they are my peers. Hell yeah, sometimes their ideas are a lot better than mine.”
In the first episode, Roseanne Conner, a President Trump supporter and her sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) verbally joust about Potus. But the sisters make up later—sort of. The actress herself admitted that she voted for Trump. She ran for the US presidency in 2012 and got 67,326 votes.
Of her support for Trump, she said, “I met him a while back, several years ago. He has always been very nice to me. He’s a closet progressive thinker. So let’s wait another two years and see. I might be wrong.”
“I do hope it’s an olive branch between people because we’re too divided, [even] in my own family,” Roseanne said about the intense polarization that the Trump presidency is creating and cited how the Conner sisters deal with their conflict over the controversial White House resident. “I have three daughters in their 40s, and they don’t think like I do. It’s sad because why wouldn’t you guys try to see why these people feel the way they do? I tell my daughters that, and they tell me to f**k myself. Whatever.”
“I wonder where my daughters learned that behavior,” Roseanna quipped with a laugh when asked about her plucky attitude, and if she ever wants to not fight with someone. “I don’t back down because I’m a comic, and comics don’t back down. I am not an actor. Actors back down.”
As for her onscreen children, Roseanne said, “Their talent is deeper. It’s so nice to be with them again. They’re all functional human beings, so I’m happy about that.” Asked if she stayed in touch with these actors after the original show ended in 1997, Roseanne said, “Yes, because I like to stick my nose in people’s business (laughs).”
Being feisty with people has made her have thick skin, she claimed. “And I hate them for it. No, I’m kidding,” she dished with her famous cackling guffaw.
Back on her 46-acre farm on the Big Island, Roseanne doesn’t have to grow thick skin. Instead, she grows potatoes, pineapple and trees (including papaya, macadamia and jackfruit), and raises goats.
“I spend all my time there as [often as] I can,” she said. “Doing this show took 12 weeks, so I was gone for a while.”
Who works on all these crops? “I make my grandkids do it,” said the standup comic without missing a beat. “And their parents. Plus, we have about five hired men.”
Roseanne has five children. When she was 17, she had a child, Brandi Brown, whom she placed for adoption. They reunited 18 years later. She had three children—Jessica, Jennifer and Jake—with Bill Pentland, whom she divorced in 1990. Her two other marriages were to comedian Tom Arnold and Ben Thomas, with whom she has a son, Buck.
She has been in a relationship with Johnny Argent since 2003. “It’s my longest relationship … 17 years,” she commented. “I found the right person who keeps me on my toes, infuriates me, and makes me calm. I found a good life partner.”
Hearing Roseanne talk about cooking dinner for her brood in Hawaii sounded like it’s straight from one of her standup monologues. “Nobody does any damned work but me, let’s start there,” she began. “I ask the kids, ‘Can you help me do this or peel that?’ They’re like, ‘No, I’m playing a video game.’ And my daughters, they don’t show up until the food is on the table.
“But I like doing it. Every time I’m there on Friday, I cook for 10 people. I’m really good at cooking. I like it best when no one is in the kitchen with me.
“When it’s time to eat, everybody is sitting there and everybody starts fighting. There’s about five calm minutes. But it always goes into a big fight.”
How does she chill? “Yelling at my kids relaxes me,” she quipped. “No, I like to read and swim. I like cutting trails and tearing up things—it relaxes me.”
With a sly grin, she said, “I like to take people on a ride when they come to visit me, then they’re really scared. I like dangerous speed.”
When Roseanne is out on her farm, she doesn’t pine for Hollywood and its trappings. “I don’t miss any of it. But, today I realized I did miss cutting to the front of lines (laughs), like in restaurants. That is the thing that I miss the most.”
She basks in just being Aunt Granny, farm owner. “I enjoy anonymity quite a bit. All my neighbors in Hawaii, they already saw me 100 times, so they aren’t thrilled with me. But they’re very nice and sweet to me. Everyone over there calls me ‘Aunt Granny.’ It’s just nice to be one of the herd.”
Despite the demands of the series reboot and managing a vast farm, Roseanne is set to go on a standup tour. “I’m going on tour for two weeks through Canada, then I’ll be at The Orleans in Las Vegas on May 5th. Then, I’ll take a break.”
What makes Roseanne break into her famous laugh? “A lot of standup comics make me laugh like that,” she said. “Some television shows make me laugh, too. I like ‘Orange Is the New Black.’ It has the most hilarious, ridiculous and absurd moments.”
In parting, Roseanne pointed out what ultimately matters to her. “It’s the feeling that I’m helping someone to get out of a state of misery. So, laughing, making people laugh and communicating with an audience. That’s what I like to do. I like to perform and show off.”
On this particular afternoon, Roseanne Barr did very well.
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