A Blonde Roseanne Returns With a Roar
She says she was, though, while preparing to tape her first television showcase in several years. The Emmy-winning sitcom veteran has been writing fresh material since 9/11, and she returns to HBO with an hour of observations and music -- yes, she attempts to sing again -- in the aptly titled new special "Roseanne Barr: Blonde and Bitchin'" Saturday, Nov. 4.
Barr seems as fearless as ever in the show, taped at the celebrated Comedy Store in Los Angeles, as she tackles subjects from gay marriage to molestation by clergy members. She also comes to terms with her past by crooning a revised version of the Frank Sinatra standard "My Way," referencing her former union with Tom Arnold and her controversial rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
"It went through a lot of permutations," Barr says of her new show's content, "but that was all done in front of audiences over the past five years. It was just terrifying, because I didn't know for a long time what I was going to say. It's been 14 years since my last HBO special, so it's taken me that long to come up with another hour's worth of material."
Deciding what to wear for the performance felt like "forever" to Barr. "I'd been thinking about that for three years, I'm not kidding. It's a kimono that I used to wear with cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, because I wanted to mix East and West, but I kind of dropped the whole cowboy thing."
Barr courageously dons another garment, which she terms "a Madonna-type leotard," before the show is over. "You don't know how brave that was," she says. "I won't watch it."
The consistent theme of "Blonde and Bitchin'," according to Barr, is "rebelling against the lack of common sense. Trying to find that, with how extreme everything is right now, is really a task. To find common ground with all the division in the country, it was weird to try to find out where the middle was. I wanted to do a show that drags people dangerously back to the middle, where they should be.
"I did a lot of listening and meditating and filtering," Barr adds, "but I was so passionate the whole time I was writing and working the material. I was like, 'This is what I should say if I was really living my beliefs,' so I said it. It's very exciting artistically to just say what you want to say."
Indeed, in the special, Barr advises her audience to fear nothing: "I'm trying to say, 'Wake up and look how things are being used against you, or at least, know what's being done.' I just want to tell people what a turn-on it is if you believe in something and actually do it. It's so cool."
Barr knows how it can be otherwise, and she credits Jay Leno and David Letterman for returning her to late-night television appearances. "Getting back on 'The Tonight Show' was a four-year deal," she says. "I was doing a lot of improv, and I said something that went over the line, and I was not allowed to return. Both Jay and David helped me out so much; they personally brought me on their shows."
Michael Moore, the filmmaker and social commentator behind "Fahrenheit 9/11," also extended himself to Barr. "He called and said, 'Hey, Roseanne, you want to come out and do 10 (minutes of comedy during Moore's speaking tour)?' I was ready to just shut everything down, and he was working in my hometown, Salt Lake City -- in the reddest of the 'red' states.
"I did some of my material for college kids who were really right-wing, and they loved it. I knew then that it would be OK, and I got a lot of confidence back. I just kept going with Michael across the country for two weeks, and it was so awesome. The kids knew what I knew, and they wanted to hear it. I had agreement instead of opposition, and it turned the light back on."
From there, Barr was inspired by the ongoing popularity of her "Roseanne" series on Nick at Nite and in syndication. "I didn't want to just preach to the choir or to the converted," she reflects. "I wanted to talk to everybody. That's where I got with this act. I'll say, 'Here's one thing we can all agree on,' and you hear people cheering because they like it."
Younger fans often tell Barr how much they've gotten from her views. "A lot of people don't even know I did stand-up," she marvels. "They just know me as Roseanne Conner, so I've had to find a whole new audience. It's kind of gratifying that these young people will say, 'You're like my mom. You raised me.' And I'll ask them, 'Well, what did you learn?'
"If they learned to be a big ho or something, that wouldn't be good for me on Judgment Day. It's all good stuff they've told me, though."
Barr isn't looking to do another major tour, but she does plan to stay in front of live audiences. "It's like the old days, when I was right in everybody's face," she concludes. "I was the comic who was prowling the edge of the stage, interacting with people a lot. I feel like that's coming back, and I just love it."