Roseanne Barr reflects on motherhood ahead of ‘Momsters’ second season
“I have nothing in common with other humans, really, just breathing and eating,” Roseanne Barr says, only half-kidding. “I have so many weird angles it’s not normal.”
She is sitting in her El Segundo studio, her hair a short shock of platinum blond that stands to attention when she rumples it. Barr looks thin and a bit spaced out, as if all the air has been squeezed out of her. But then she bursts out with the same boisterous laugh that punctuated the opening sequence of her show for a decade, a reminder of the real, raucous Roseanne.
Barr must be the only woman in America who began her stand-up comedy career in a radical feminist bookstore and ended up with a No. 1 sitcom about a working-class family. A genuine wildcard, she inspired both admiration and disgust for her blunt outspokenness and unpredictable ways.
“Roseanne” carved a space in mainstream TV for an overworked and overweight woman with a sharp tongue and a subversively combative approach to domestic duties. She was not so much an anti-heroine as a gloriously imperfect one. But Barr herself never found a niche in Hollywood after the series ended. Various attempts at sitcoms and reality series fell flat or (in the case of “Downwardly Mobile,” a 2012 comedy pilot that reunited Barr and John Goodman) never even aired.
We were raised that all moms want the best for their kids, and we are never prepared that some moms are a bunch of freaking psychos.
— Rosanne Barr says with a chuckle
So now, at 63, she spends part of the year doing standup, serving as a judge on “Last Comic Standing” and hosting the Investigation Discovery series “Momsters: When Moms Go Bad,” which begins its second season Nov. 27. The rest of the time, she says, she prefers to hang out on her farm in Hawaii.
“I plant and chase pigs and stuff,” Barr says. “Animal husbandry and all that really interesting stuff.” Having built a career on mocking the “domestic goddess” homemaker ideal, she says she and her daughters and grandkids like to grow food, create scents and make honey.
Yet “Momsters” takes an ax to the idea of maternal perfection in a very different way than “Roseanne” did, reenacting the tabloid tales of real mothers who crossed legal boundaries, sometimes in misguided attempts to protect their children, like the woman who starts a campaign of lies against an alpha-mom she thinks mistreated her son.
“We were raised that all moms want the best for their kids, and we are never prepared that some moms are a bunch of freaking psychos,” Barr says with a chuckle.
She was recruited to join “Momsters” by network President Henry Schlieff, a former Viacom chairman whom Barr knew from her “Roseanne” days. “She is talented, she is funny, she loves ID and because of her show, America associates her with being a mom,” Schlieff explains by email. “She would be able to look at the content seriously but also with a ‘wink’ at some of the humor behind these stories.”
Asked whether she ever crossed the line into Momster territory, Barr looks affronted. In the early years of “Roseanne” things may have gotten a little wild — “having indiscriminate sex with everyone I met, it was a lot for my family to take” — but, she says, “I really tried to be a great mother, and I know my mother did too. Mothers in the right minds, that’s what we try to do.”
She points out that some of the crimes on the show are motivated by financial instability — “passing bad checks and stuff because you are trying to keep yourself afloat and you just can’t make it.” At one point Barr muses out loud that there should be a spinoff looking at the lives of the Momsters’ children, though the results might be rather depressing.
“Everything is sad,” she says with a shrug. “That’s what makes it so damn funny, when you turn it around.”
Barr learned that early in her life as a little Jewish girl in Salt Lake City, “growing up in the apartment house of refugees from Germany. I would go out to the backyard; there was a big shed with trunks of everything they had shipped, and they had numbers on their arms.” She continues in a murmur: “I never thought this was a very happy world. You gotta laugh or you will just go nuts.”
Twenty years ago Barr told the New Yorker that if she hadn’t found stand-up comedy she would probably have killed someone. Now she says that isn’t quite true: “I probably would’ve just been a jumper or something — to remove myself if I hadn’t found comedy, because that keeps me here. Like all comics.”
After burning through the television world, Barr took on politics. In 2012 she ran as a third-party candidate for president, a spectacle captured in Eric Weinrib’s documentary “Roseanne for President!” (It premiered at Tribeca Film Festival last year and is slated for distribution in 2016.)
“I do like making trouble on behalf of the public,” she says. But she gets impatient at ordinary folks’ penchant for self-deception. “Like George Carlin says, the owners of this country are in a club and you ain’t in it. Don’t lie to yourself! There are only like 1,500 of them in the world, they’re not lettin’ you in.”
Barr has plenty of things she’d love to do, like playing a serial killer on “Orange Is the New Black.” But she recently disclosed that she’s suffering from macular degeneration and glaucoma that will limit her vision and seems resigned to a reasonably quiet life playing with her grandchildren and hoeing beets.
“I think I did my part when it was my time to do something. And I sure had fun doing it too,” she says, adding later, “I feel like I’ve changed things as much as I’m going to be able to.”
‘Momsters: When Moms Go Bad’
Where: Investigation Discovery
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under age 14)
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