Print | Email  

Roseanne Barr

by: David Silverberg - Last updated: 2004-09-02

Roseanne Barr

Roseanne Barr

Hearing the lone name Roseanne can spark a list of numbers: nine years of the 1990s TV comedy Roseanne, four Emmy Awards, $25 million per season, three marriages, five children, 51-years-old.

While her TV star power has dimmed significantly since Roseanne ended in 1997, this working class Jewish girl from Salt Lake City, Utah, returned to her stand-up roots recently for an exhaustive North American tour.

“It’s been difficult raising five kids and a grandson,” Barr says from her Los Angeles home, her distinct trailer-park twang cloaking every syllable. “But I wanna do what I want, say what I want. I’m an entertainer, a performer, so doing live shows is how I’ve always envisioned living my 50s.”

TV comedy fans may have envisioned – and hoped for – a Barr that would keep churning out her classic show, featuring the dysfunctional Connor family. Roseanne became an unusual addition to the1990s comedy lineup by showcasing blue-collar problems and a crass parental unit. But it was Barr’s private life that attracted the most headlines, from her World Series off-key national anthem and subsequent crotch-grabbing to her marriage with actor Tom Arnold (whom she mud-wrestled on a Vanity Fair cover).

After their split, she had gastric bypass surgery and shed 80 pounds, and then underwent extensive plastic surgery on her nose, breasts, stomach and face. Her 1994 book My Lives detailed a horrendous childhood of abuse, while also revealing the conflicts on the Roseanne set, which included lawyers forcing Barr to read her scripted lines.

And even though she’s a grandmother today, Barr can’t help but confirm my suspicions that she hasn’t changed. “I want to get into geriatric porn now,” she says, half-jokingly. “I wish people would stop remembering the old me, and realize that I look great nude.”

She was accepting different compliments, though, when she was three years old: after entertaining her family at Shabbat dinners, the positive reaction encouraged Barr to dive into the comedy world.

By 18, she moved into an artists’ colony in Colorado, and after numerous stints at comedy clubs, Barr became known as the Queen of Denver Comedy. She appeared on The Tonight Show and it wasn’t long before ABC brought her talent to the tube. Roseanne debuted in 1988, and has since been syndicated in 150 countries.

Wouldn’t the Queen of Crass Comedy love what she sees on TV now? “It sucks,” she proclaims, “and the comedies aren’t funny, they’re just boring.”

She admits cooking and eating are her two passions, and she is even publishing a cookbook that will “definitely be high in fat, sugar and all that good stuff.” And weight jokes aside, Barr is also a cow – specifically, the voice of a plucky cow in the new Disney animated movie, Home on the Range.

Being behind the scenes suits Barr just fine. “I’m not much of a Hollywood socializer,” she admits. “I’m too neurotic to leave my house. I usually stay in bed and worry about everything.”

An Armageddon attitude fuels her current stand-up shticks. “The world is going to end in two years, if we continue on this path,” she says. “We have to change the way we think, because there’s so much hate in this world.” 

Barr saves her praise for a country she views as exempt from self-destruction. “I want to move to Canada,” she says. “You guys have better laws, are better informed, and are just so cool.”

Then, I hear some crackling on the phone line and Roseanne says to her youngest son, an eight-year-old named Buck.

“Honey, get off the cord, c’mon, get off.”

In that moment, shades of the old Roseanne return – the fictional mother juggling troublesome kids and a hectic lifestyle. Time passes but it also stands still.


David Silverberg is a freelance writer living in Toronto