‘It was a witch-burning’: Roseanne may forgive Hollywood, but she’ll never forget
Almost five years have passed since Roseanne Barr fired off a late-night tweet that changed her life, bringing about her fall from grace and the cancellation of the groundbreaking show that made her into one of TV’s most electric personalities.
The years since that controversy have been relatively quiet. But that calm is ebbing as Barr plots her comeback.
“What a privilege it is for you to have me here this evening, ladies and gentlemen,” Barr said, flashing a mischievous smile, as she greeted a capacity audience last month inside the Cullen Theater in Houston. “And of course I mean that from the bottom of my heart.” Then she added a pointed question:
“Has anyone else here been fired recently?”
Those moments kick off “Roseanne Barr: Cancel This!,” a new stand-up special premiering Monday on Fox Nation. Debuting the same day on the streaming service is “Who Is Roseanne Barr?,” a documentary examining her stormy career.
Racism is never funny. Making fun of racists often is.
The special is the latest chapter in the saga of the former “domestic goddess” whose acid-tipped humor and volcanic personality have been a lightning rod since 1988, when “Roseanne,” about a blue-collar family facing harsh economic times, debuted on ABC, becoming an instant hit and lasting nine seasons.
Dressed in western-flavored attire and ripped jeans, Barr wastes little time in the special before revisiting the firestorm that erupted following her tweet referring to former Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett as the offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood and the “Planet of the Apes” film franchise. Ignoring her pleas to go on “The View” or another show to apologize, executives abruptly axed the top-rated reboot of “Roseanne” and fired her.
The series was later revived as “The Conners,” and Barr’s lead character, Roseanne Conner, was killed off. “The Conners” has since become a staple of the network’s prime-time lineup.
Aside from a 2019 tour with fellow provocateur Andrew Dice Clay, Barr has stayed mostly below the radar. She has curtailed much of her social media activity: “I’m not on Twitter,” she says. “That’s been a great thing for me, to be off that.”
But those who expected the outspoken entertainer to mellow after being kicked off the air will abandon that notion just minutes into the special. Snarky references to “Hillary donors” and allusions to conspiracy theories about the “baby blood-drinking Democrat committee” are sure to make liberals grit their teeth.
Most of all, she says, “Cancel This!” is a signal of her refusal to remain defeated: “I’m not going to let rich, privileged a— win!”
There’s a lot to get to, but first I want to know how you are doing.
I’ve survived. I’ve come out on the other side of it, finally. But it was a witch-burning. And it was terrifying.
What goes through your mind when you look back on what happened? How did it affect you emotionally and personally? I can imagine it was devastating.
It was. I would die many times. I guess you would call it the dark night of the soul. I felt like the devil himself was coming against me to try to tear me apart, to punish me for believing in God.
It must have been horrible.
And they denied me the right to apologize. Oh my God, they just hated me so badly. I had never known that they hated me like that. They hate me because I have talent, because I have an opinion. Even though “Roseanne” became their No. 1 show, they’d rather not have a No. 1 show.
What were those conversations like when executives first called you to tell you how upset everyone was?
During the initial call, I told them I thought [Jarrett] was white. I said I would go on my show and explain it. They wouldn’t let me. They decided I was a liar in my apology.
When ABC fired Roseanne Barr and canceled her top-rated sitcom “Roseanne” after she posted a racist tweet, it looked as if the Conner family couch was going back to the prop warehouse for good.
I remember being stunned when they canceled the show. I couldn’t imagine they would ax such a huge hit.
They didn’t do it to anyone else in Hollywood, although they always throw in Dave Chappelle and Louis C.K. Well, Louis C.K. did lose everything, but he committed an actual [offense]. [C.K. admitted in 2017 that he repeatedly masturbated in front of women associates, and his FX show “Louie” was canceled.] And Dave Chappelle was protected by Netflix. [Chappelle has sparked criticism and protest for his jokes aimed at transgender people, most recently in his special “The Closer.”]
I’m the only person who’s lost everything, whose life’s work was stolen, stolen by people who I thought loved me. And there was silence. There was no one in Hollywood really defending me publicly, except for Mo’nique, who is a brave, close, dear friend.
Do you feel betrayed by the cast and the people you worked with on “Roseanne”?
I can’t know what they think or feel. I don’t know why they did what they did. I’m not like them. I realized that. I can’t believe what they did, with all the pain that I went through to bring the show back. And it didn’t faze them to murder my character, either. They s— on my contribution to television and the show itself. But I forgive everybody. I started thinking that God took me out of there to save me. And once I started thinking that way, I was, like, a lot better off.
Do you ever watch “The Conners?”
No. I just can’t bear it, so I don’t. When they killed my character off, that was a message to me, knowing that I’m mentally ill or have mental health issues, that they did want me to commit suicide. They killed my character, and my character. And all of that was to say thank you for bringing 28 million viewers, which they never had before and will never see again. Because they can kiss my a—.
What helped you to come out on the other side?
It had been very gratifying. I had always wanted a 10th season of the show to tie up everything, to tell the full story of this family as I wanted to tell it. I came back after 20 years and was No. 1 again. That’s unprecedented. So I started thinking about all the positives of it, my work and the contribution I made to pop culture and television, its portrayal of a woman and her working-class family. They can’t take that away from me. They’ll probably try.
So now you’re returning to your stand-up comedy roots.
And I’m so happy that this is the most offensive in my stand-up that I’ve ever had the balls to be.
How did it feel to return to performing?
At first it was terrifying. I was really afraid because I didn’t know how people were going to respond. I was afraid to even go outside for a while. So I would go to comedy clubs around the West here, and these friends of mine would call me up on stage to do five or 10 minutes. That helped. Joe Rogan helped me a lot. And it got easier and easier. People showed me so much love. I was kind of overwhelmed by that.
It’s very clear that the audience missed you and loved you.
It was home. I just was so happy that when I looked out in the audience there, the bond between myself and them was not broken. I have a large African American and people of color fan base. I always felt horrible and wondered whether that would go away. That was always so important to me, because my whole career had started in jazz clubs and in neighborhoods where working-class people lived and where I lived. I was afraid that this horrible experience would poison all that. But there it was in all its majesty and beauty. I was performing to a beautiful, diverse audience. And that made me so happy.
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So now that you’ve done this special, what about the future? More shows, another tour?
I already want to do another special. I want to go further in depth than the first one. Once I started back writing comedy, I couldn’t stop it. I wrote about four hours of material. Now I’ve got so much material it’s hard to carve down. I want to talk about what it’s like to work in the creative arts in Hollywood, how crazy it is.
You once ran for president of the United States. Any thoughts about running for political office again?
Some people are saying, “Why don’t you run for president again?” That made me really happy. I did run in 2012 and everything I was saying in my speeches then is exactly what’s happening now. I have already declared myself president for life of the Republic of the United States of America. I don’t really need to run again since I am president for life of the working people. I ran as a socialist, and I still am a socialist.
It seems like you are in a good place now.
I don’t think they’ll ever stop trying to come after me, particularly now that I am getting the last laugh on their a—. That’s why I’m coming back. I never would have that last laugh unless I’m strong enough to stand on two feet, and although I do have to wear adult diapers while doing it, I am not ever going to stop making fun of power and its arrogance, and I don’t give a f— what color it is. I’ll be there. Make the most f— fun of it that I can before I croak.
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