Pioneering Comedian Roseanne Barr on Her Life on Screen as a “Working-Class Domestic Goddess”
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Emmy Award-winning actress Roseanne Barr starred in the popular and groundbreaking show on television titled simply "Roseanne," the first TV series to openly advocate for gay rights. "Roseanne" featured one of the first lesbian kisses on TV, in an episode when Roseanne kisses Mariel Hemingway. "Roseanne" was also the first sitcom to ever feature a gay marriage. The series tackled other controversial topics, as well: poverty, class, abortion and feminism. From her open support of unions in earlier shows to her tribute to Native Americans toward the end of the series, Roseanne never shied away from contentious issues. The writer Barbara Ehrenreich once praised Roseanne Barr for representing "the hopeless underclass of the female sex: polyester-clad, overweight occupants of the slow track; fast-food waitresses, factory workers, housewives, members of the invisible pink-collar army; the despised, the jilted, the underpaid." We play excerpts from the groundbreaking sitcom and speak with Barr about her childhood in Utah, where she was raised half-Jewish and half-Mormon, and talk about how she "made it OK for women to talk about their actual lives on television."
AMY GOODMAN: Today we spend the rest of the hour with the woman who described herself as a "fierce working-class domestic goddess." She’s the award-winning actor, one of the country’s best-known comedians, Roseanne Barr.
In the late '80s and early ’90s, she starred in the popular and groundbreaking show on television titled simply Roseanne, the first TV series to openly advocate for gay rights. Roseanne featured the first lesbian kiss on TV in an episode when Roseanne kisses Mariel Hemingway. That's right, the actress and granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway. Roseanne was also the first sitcom to ever feature a gay marriage.
The series tackled other controversial topics, as well: poverty, class, abortion, feminism. From her open support of unions in earlier shows to her tribute to Native Americans toward the end of the series, Roseanne never shied away from contentious issues.
The writer Barbara Ehrenreich once praised Roseanne Barr for representing, quote, "the hopeless underclass of the female sex: polyester-clad, overweight occupants of the slow track; fast-food waitresses, factory workers, housewives, members of the invisible pink-collar army; the despised, the jilted, the underpaid."
Roseanne received an Emmy and a Golden Globe Award.
She came to our studios last week, and I began the interview with Roseanne Barr with a clip from the first episode of Roseanne, which aired in 1988.
ROSEANNE CONNER: Save me that detergent coupon. Becky! Dan!
DAN CONNER: What?
ROSEANNE CONNER: The sink’s all backed up again.
DAN CONNER: I’ll plunge it right after breakfast.
ROSEANNE CONNER: Well, I don’t want you to plunge it. I want you to fix it now.
DAN CONNER: You got it, babe.
ROSEANNE CONNER: This is the third time this week. You’ve got to fix it today.
DAN CONNER: Absolutely.
BECKY CONNER: Mom, my bookbag just fell apart.
ROSEANNE CONNER: I just bought it yesterday.
BECKY CONNER: Mom, please, you’ve got to take it back.
ROSEANNE CONNER: All right. I’ll do it after work.
BECKY CONNER: Bye!
ROSEANNE CONNER: Good bye. Could you meet with Darlene’s teacher today?
DAN CONNER: I can’t do it today, babe. I’m putting in a bid on a job, and if I get it, me and Freddy start construction this afternoon.
ROSEANNE CONNER: Well, how about this bookbag? Can you exchange that? Could you fit that into your tight schedule there?
DAN CONNER: I can do that or fix the sink.
ROSEANNE CONNER: OK, fix the sink. I’ll do everything else, like I always do. I’ll have to get off work an hour early, lose an hour’s pay, totally rearrange my whole schedule. But I don’t mind.
AMY GOODMAN: Roseanne Barr has recently returned to prime-time with a new reality TV show on Lifetime called, well, Roseanne’s Nuts, about life on her nut farm in Hawaii. She has also just published a new book; it’s called Roseannearchy: Dispatches from the Nut Farm. Roseanne Barr is with us now.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
ROSEANNE BARR: Hi, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Hi. It’s great to be with you.
ROSEANNE BARR: It’s great to be with you, too.
AMY GOODMAN: To see you not on the silver screen, not in my little TV, but right here.
ROSEANNE BARR: That’s how I feel about you, too.
AMY GOODMAN: You are real.
ROSEANNE BARR: You are real, too. Yeah, we’re kind of real.
AMY GOODMAN: But the thing is, that actually is why Roseanne, the show, that just blew everything out of the water, was so successful, is because it was real. It was you.
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah, and, you know, it talked to—it had a voice that hadn’t been on television before. So I think it was, you know, more the voice than me. But I was, of course, thrilled to be part of that voice.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, before we talk about show biz and television and film and comedy, I want to talk about your life, how you came to be the woman you are. Where were you born, Roseanne?
ROSEANNE BARR: I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1952, November 3rd.
AMY GOODMAN: Oh, right around Election Day.
ROSEANNE BARR: Yep.
AMY GOODMAN: And we’ll talk about your running for president in a little while, but so, Salt Lake City.
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: What was that like?
ROSEANNE BARR: It was pretty much—well, it was different. It was kind of, in many ways, a baptism by fire to be there, to be—to be a smart girl, a smart, fat girl, and a smart, fat, Jewish girl. Those were like a lot of factors. And to be a smart, fat, Jewish girl of working-class origins in Salt Lake City, Utah, the reddest state of all the red states. So, you know, you can imagine, there was a lot of politics there.
AMY GOODMAN: Not red in the 1950s sense.
ROSEANNE BARR: No, but I mean red now.
AMY GOODMAN: Sort of the opposite.
ROSEANNE BARR: Right, sort of the opposite, exactly. What they call red states now. Deeply conservative. And, you know, so it was kind of like being a fish out of water, to say the least. But, you know, it did give me—it gave me a lot of things to think about and to kind of attempt to traverse my way through. And, you know.
AMY GOODMAN: Was being Jewish in a large Mormon community an issue for you growing up?
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah, it was an issue of fitting in, because all of our neighbors were like that. And, you know—
AMY GOODMAN: Did most think you were Mormon?
ROSEANNE BARR: Well, yeah, a lot of them did think we were Mormon, because my mother sent us to the Mormon church so that we could fit in with our neighbors. You know, we were assimilating into the dominant culture. And so, we went to—especially me, of all the four of my mom’s kids, I went to the Mormon church. And I was kind of a big star in the Mormon church for a while, too. I used to go around and give speeches and little sermons and stuff like that, with my mom, for the Mormon church about a healing that happened to me when I was three.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain.
ROSEANNE BARR: When I was three years old, I fell and got Bell’s—I fell on my face and got Bell’s palsy. And because it’s Salt Lake City, my mother first called a rabbi to pray for me. And the Bell’s palsy didn’t go away. And then she called the Mormon elders to come and pray for me, and they did, and the Bell’s palsy went away. In my—
AMY GOODMAN: After how long?
ROSEANNE BARR: After 48 hours. And I always wonder why a health professional was not consulted. But that’s Salt Lake. And later, at age 16, when reading medical journals became my hobby or obsession, I found that Bell’s palsy was a 48-hour condition, largely. So it was like a freakazoid—it was just all freakazoid. It was very religious. I was in an orthodox Jewish family the other half of the time, and in a really staid Mormon community. So I couldn’t help but become me, I think.
AMY GOODMAN: So, it’s interesting now, as you run for president, that there are two Mormons who are also running for president.There are two other Mormons running for president.
ROSEANNE BARR: That’s right. This is our time.
AMY GOODMAN: Who were your parents? What did they do?
ROSEANNE BARR: My parents were Jerome Harold Barr, who was a socialist and who, you know, was a great comedian and very intelligent person. And, you know, he used to tell us what we say in this house, you cannot say outside of this house.
AMY GOODMAN: Like what?
ROSEANNE BARR: All the political things of, you know, being a socialist. And my grandfather was a socialist, too. His name was Sam Barr. And my mother’s name is Helen Ruth Davis Barr, and she was kind of the wealthy girl from the other side of the tracks that my dad married. And here I am. So, I mean, I always had a—and the reason I’m telling that story is because I always had—I always was steeped in politics since I was little.
AMY GOODMAN: So how did you end up going into comedy?
ROSEANNE BARR: I was, you know, writing for a women’s magazine called Big Mama Rag. And, you know, I liked writing humor. Well, I should say, I wanted to write seriously, but it kept turning funny. And so, I just kept—finally, I just went, "The hell with it." When I was 28, I went, "The hell with it. I’m just going to be funny." Right after, like, you know, Reagan got elected, and I saw it all going to hell from, you know, the window of the bookstore I was writing for Big Mama Rag at, and I just saw it all go to hell on a street level, you know, right there in Denver, Colorado. I saw my first mentally ill people released on the streets. I saw all—and in 1980, like, you know, I saw all of it when Reagan was elected. So I’m like—I was trying to hold on by my fingernails, and it was like my dad said. It was—you know, they were going to undo everything that people had worked so long and hard for. And I just tried to, you know, tell people that it was happening to them, and I did it in a funny way—
AMY GOODMAN: Do you remember—
ROSEANNE BARR: —and ended up on TV.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you remember doing your first standup?
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah, I definitely remember my first standup.
AMY GOODMAN: When? Where?
ROSEANNE BARR: 1980 in Larimer Square in Denver at a place called the Comedy Shop, which later became the Comedy Works and was a fantastic club to develop your standup in. But, yeah, my first—my first standup act was very radical and very, you know—and they didn’t like it, and they said, you know, "Don’t come back." So then I had to go around to punk bars and do my act and—what do you call—I’m thinking of—Episcopalian church basements and lesbian coffeehouses and biker bars is kind of where I went to develop my act, and it ended up to be a pretty—because I’m playing all—and also urban places with, you know, all-black audiences, too. So I like got a real mish-mash of developing an act, and I think I—I think that I was able to take big ideas and talk in a normal way about them.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, it’s a pretty big deal that you’re starting this around 1980, and in five years you’re already on Carson.
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And I want to go to a clip of that. In 1985, your debut on national television, appearing on The Tonight Show, hosted by Johnny Carson.
ROSEANNE BARR: Oh, hi. I’ve been married for 13 years, and let me tell you, it’s a thrill to be out of the house. I never get out of the house. I stay home all the time. I never do anything fun, because I’m a housewife. I hate that word "housewife." I prefer to be called "domestic goddess." I feel it’s more descriptive. And you know what I do all day. Yeah, you’re right. I lay there on that couch, eating those bon-bons, watching those soap operas, and tuning into that Donahue show. There’s a show you could really learn something from. I didn’t even know it was possible to be a woman trapped in a man’s body.
AMY GOODMAN: Roseanne Barr, 1985.
ROSEANNE BARR: That was a million years ago, good lord!
AMY GOODMAN: Not really a million, just like 25, 26 years ago, just a quarter-century ago.
ROSEANNE BARR: I hear the drawl, you know, the Utah drawl, and I think I’ve dropped it pretty good.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what was the effect of going on Carson for you, for your career, for this country?
ROSEANNE BARR: Well, the very next day, I had enough work that I could move out of Denver and go on the road with—opening for Julio Iglesias, the very next day. I got a tour—
AMY GOODMAN: Oh, you started singing, too?
ROSEANNE BARR: No, I never—he never allowed me to sing. He was smarter than that. But he was a great person. And, you know, I had that tour booked the next day for 18 weeks, and, you know, it allowed me to have my family move to L.A. and buy—put a down payment on a house and change my life.
AMY GOODMAN: In Roseannearchy, in your new book, you have your first husband write the introduction?
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah, he wrote the prologue.
AMY GOODMAN: So that says a lot, that he was willing to do that. I mean, this is many husbands later.
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: You went through about four of them, right?
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah, three. Three that I happily divorced, and now I’m in a fourth relationship. But the thing about my first husband and I—Bill—is we have three kids, but we were writers together living on a commune when—you know, and Bill was very much a part of writing the jokes that, you know, got me to the Roseanne show and everything. So, we’ve remained friends. And he really is a wonderful writer, so I wanted people to be able to read what a—he’s really a good writer. And I like writers.
AMY GOODMAN: And he describes what it meant for you guys to be raising your kids and then pack up and head to L.A. Talk about that.
ROSEANNE BARR: They were little. They were under 10, all three of them. And, you know, they were little, and I don’t know, it was kind of culture shock and all the other things you can imagine for our family. And—
AMY GOODMAN: And it wasn’t three years before we see this debut of Roseanne that becomes the most popular sitcom on television.
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah, yeah. That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: Right? ABC sends you a chocolate number one.
ROSEANNE BARR: Right. They did send me a chocolate number one to celebrate that. And George Clooney and I—George was very funny. He’s a joker. And I went out—we went out in the parking lot, and I threw the chocolate number one in the air, and George hit it with a baseball bat. And we took a picture of that and sent it back to ABC to thank them for the chocolate number one, because other stars whose show went to number one would get like a Mercedes Benz or something, but they figured, "Ah, give the fat lady some chocolate." And I don’t know. I just always—that set me on a road to be perpetually offended.
AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to go to another clip where you—this is another episode of Roseanne where your character, Roseanne, has a chance to talk to her local state representative.
REP. MIKE SUMMERS: Hi, I’m Mike Summers, your state representative. How you doing?
ROSEANNE CONNER: Great.
REP. MIKE SUMMERS: Good. I’m going door to door, trying to get to know my constituents.
ROSEANNE CONNER: Oh, door to door, huh? That takes a lot of time. Why don’t you just go down to the unemployment office and see everybody at once?
REP. MIKE SUMMERS: I hear you. And you’re right. We can’t let this area’s workforce lay idle. That’s why bringing in new business is my number one priority.
ROSEANNE CONNER: How?
REP. MIKE SUMMERS: Through tax incentives. See, we’re going to make it cheaper for out-of-state businesses to set up shop right here in Lanford.
ROSEANNE CONNER: So they get a tax break?
REP. MIKE SUMMERS: Yeah, that’s why they come here.
ROSEANNE CONNER: Well, who’s going to pay the taxes that they ain’t paying?
REP. MIKE SUMMERS: Well, you will. But you’ll be working. Good, steady employment.
ROSEANNE CONNER: Union wages?
REP. MIKE SUMMERS: Well, now, part of the reason these companies are finding it so expensive to operate in other locations—
ROSEANNE CONNER: So, they’re going to dump the unions, so they can come here and hire us at scab wages. And then, for that privilege, we get to pay their taxes.
REP. MIKE SUMMERS: Is your husband home?
ROSEANNE CONNER: Well, he’s on the phone trying to keep us from losing our house. Hey, let’s talk about that. See, we’re broke. I can’t even afford to go buy groceries unless it’s double coupon day.
REP. MIKE SUMMERS: Mm-hmm. You know, we should talk about that. Oh, but I have several houses I have to get to before I quit for—
ROSEANNE CONNER: Well, hey, great! I’ll come with you. Boy, it’s getting rough out here, Mike.
REP. MIKE SUMMERS: Yeah.
ROSEANNE CONNER: You know, it’s getting so my son is going to have to wear my daughter’s hand-me-downs—and for real this time, not just for fun.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, there you were, talking to your state rep. This brings back memories, huh?
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah, I had some good lines. Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: How did Roseanne happen? How did this hit sitcom happen? You and John Goodman, the kids?
ROSEANNE BARR: Well, you know, it was put together by the Carsey-Werner team and Caryn Mandabach, too, I believe. And, you know, they just knew what they were doing. They had—already were running The Cosby Show, and they had a million other really great shows on. And so they knew what to do, and they did it. They first, you know, talked to me and asked—we talked about doing, you know, a show for working women. And they liked my standup, and so that’s kind of where it all went from there.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, but it’s not just sort of kind of like, well, it just kind of happened, because it was huge in ’88.
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah, it was huge.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the working-class family. You’re all about unions. You’re all about feminism. This was very different than the rest of television.
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah, well, it was kind of what I wanted to come to television to say, like I say, when I saw—when I saw the whole, you know, 1980, the beginning of the Reagan Revolution. And I just wanted to talk about it. I thought somebody should talk about it. But it kind of freaked me out, too, because on the Roseanne show, after like saying things like that about unions, I found out early in the first season of Roseanne that Roseanne was not a union show, and it was not filmed on a union lot. And so, it was like, "Whoah!" There was just so many twists and turns, and I tried to force them to make it into a union show. And it was like behind the scenes was a lot of stuff, too, because I didn’t want to be a big, fat hypocrite. But some ways, I couldn’t not be a big, fat hypocrite, you know? It was freaky.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, it’s interesting, because, I mean, you grew up with—in Salt Lake City, dominant culture Mormon. You weren’t Mormon. Then you are this feminist, working-class hit, and you enter mainstream media that was everything that you actually weren’t. Did you feel a similar way, from Utah to mainstream television?
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah, I figure I—I felt like I went from the frying pan right into the big proverbial fire, the unending fire. Yeah, it was really hard.
AMY GOODMAN: We return to my interview with Roseanne Barr, the actress, the—well, one of the country’s best-known comedians, starting in the late ’80s. She starred in the groundbreaking number one sitcom on television, Roseanne. It was the first TV series to openly advocate for gay rights.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to another groundbreaker on Roseanne. This was in 1994, the episode in Roseanne that features one of the first lesbian kisses in prime-time television.
ROSEANNE BARR: The first.
AMY GOODMAN: The first—
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —prime-time kiss, lesbian kiss.
ROSEANNE BARR: Very proud of that.
AMY GOODMAN: ABC initially planned not to air the episode, but relented when you threatened to move the series to another network.
ROSEANNE BARR: That’s true.
AMY GOODMAN: Why don’t you set the scene for us—
ROSEANNE BARR: Oh, boy.
AMY GOODMAN: —in this gay bar? I mean—
ROSEANNE BARR: Geez, I have to go back so far to remember. All I remember is that, you know, Mariel and I, you know—
AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking Mariel Hemingway.
ROSEANNE BARR: Mariel Hemingway, who is just a great actor
AMY GOODMAN: Ernest Hemingway’s grandddaughter.
ROSEANNE BARR: But she’s an incredible person and a great actress. And she’s really an activist out there today, too. So I’m giving her a shout-out. So, you know, because of Ernest Hemingway and my love for writers, especially Ernest Hemingway, it was all of that stuff combined, was just a wonder for me to be able to kiss her. And, you know, I really looked forward to it. And she is a hell of a good kisser, I just have to say that. I really do.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to the scene.
ROSEANNE CONNER: Can you believe that Nancy doesn’t think I’m cool enough for this place?
SHARON: That must have been before she saw you teaching 40 people to do the Monkey.
ROSEANNE CONNER: Yeah, how cool was that?
SHARON: Pretty damn cool. Where did you learn to dance like that?
ROSEANNE CONNER: Well, actually, I studied.
SHARON: Really? where?
ROSEANNE CONNER: In my living room with the Solid Gold dancers.
SHARON: You know, Roseanne, we ought to hang out more often.
ROSEANNE CONNER: I was thinking that, too, but next time let’s leave the wives at home.
SHARON: You read my mind.
ROSEANNE CONNER: Huh?
AMY GOODMAN: Alrighty, for people who are listening on radio, Mariel and Roseanne—OK, their characters on Roseanne — just kissed. Roseanne Barr?
ROSEANNE BARR: Well, you know, I felt that that show—you know, people called it the lesbian kiss show. But to me, it was really a show about homophobia, because, you know, all through that episode, my character was, like, confronted with her best friend coming out and, like, had a lot of feelings about it. And so, it was a—it wasn’t just about a kiss, you know. It was—but in another way, it was, because, you know, there was a huge coast-to-coast celebration in gay bars all over the country, and we made sure to advertise there. And because of the following of gay people to the Roseanne show, that’s also why ABC allowed it, because they were a large and vocal group that supported that happening.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this 1994. You threatened to go to another network?
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah, I did. I was threatening all the time. Boy, I got really drunk and heady with power. Just like they say, corrupts absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re talking in New York, which has just become the most populous state to pass gay marriage.
ROSEANNE BARR: Uh-huh, fantastic.
AMY GOODMAN: And now people are getting married here in New York. Your TV show was one of the first, unless you’re going to say the first—
ROSEANNE BARR: It was the first.
AMY GOODMAN: Your TV show was the first prime-time sitcom to prominently feature gay and lesbian characters and in 1995 showed a same-sex wedding. ABC moved the regularly scheduled broadcast time of 8:00 p.m. to 9:30 Eastern time. Let’s go to that show.
REV. CROSLEY: Do you, Leon, take this Scott to be your awfully rabid husband, to esculate, to cherish, to fax?
LEON CARP: I do.
REV. CROSLEY: Whew! And do you, Scott, erratically agree to all the same stuff?
SCOTT: I do.
REV. CROSLEY: Then, by the power encrusted in me, I now pronounce you man and—I now pronounce you men. Amen. You may kiss the bride, if there so be one.
LEON CARP: It doesn’t matter.
DAN CONNER: And there’s the kiss. I was wondering if they were going to do it, and they’re doing it. Yeah, look at them go at it!
ROSEANNE CONNER: They are not going at it, Dan. It just happens to be two people of the same sex kissing, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
AMY GOODMAN: And there you have it, those voices. Oh, it was John Goodman and Roseanne. So there you have, for those who couldn’t see, two men kissing on their wedding day, sealing the deal. Roseanne?
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah, it was fun to really like force that issue, I have to say. It was a blast. And I kept doing it for a while. And it was really rad.
AMY GOODMAN: So this was right after the lesbian—soon after the lesbian kiss.
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah. It was really fun to keep pushing the envelope as far as I could. I loved doing that.
AMY GOODMAN: The show was aired a little later than usual?
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah, but the subject matter—you know, like trying to like really push all the boundaries, because television, you know, it gives us that great opportunity to do that, and it seems like so sick that it’s just all about pandering, instead of that, you know?
AMY GOODMAN: How much control did you have over your show? That was named after you. The show was called Roseanne.
ROSEANNE BARR: Well, ultimately, I, you know, took all control. But, you know, I had to really fight for it. And fight I did. And, you know, I happened to be—because, I guess, I read The Art of War, I just knew how to fight, for some reason. And I had a lot—I had a smart sister, who helped me figure out how to fight, too. And I won. So, it was really like such—
AMY GOODMAN: What did you win?
ROSEANNE BARR: I won control over my show. And it was really hard. I mean, everybody tells me I should write a whole book about that. It was very difficult. But, you know, I think because of the fact that I had such a large audience, I was able to do it.
AMY GOODMAN: In your New York Magazine piece called "And I Should Know," which—where you detail your struggles with Hollywood, you talk about how much you respect Dave Chappelle.
ROSEANNE BARR: I totally respect Dave Chappelle for having the, you know, guts to just walk away. I mean, when they—you know, from what I’ve read—I don’t know him, but from what I’ve read, you know, he knew they were trying to, you know, as a black man, make him wear the dress. And, you know, he’s like, "No, I’d rather not do a show if I have to do that." And he walked away from millions and millions of dollars. And I mean, I didn’t have the guts to do that. I wanted to stay there. I didn’t stay there for millions and millions of dollars, but I felt like I was delivering a message and then—I mean, I got real, like—I felt real—like I was on a godly mission thing. That’s how my emotional illness manifested, that I was going to do this on behalf of, you know, the people. And so I stayed and fought, instead of walk away. And sometimes I wish I had walked away.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think would have happened?
ROSEANNE BARR: I would have less wear and tear on my nervous system, and my kids would have had maybe a more calm childhood. So, you know, as a mom, you sort of have regrets for that kind of stuff that you do, you know?
AMY GOODMAN: What about your kids? Talk about your life. You gave your first kid up for adoption?
ROSEANNE BARR: Mm-hmm, I did.
AMY GOODMAN: How old were you?
ROSEANNE BARR: I was 18.
AMY GOODMAN: You were living in Salt Lake City?
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah. It’s like a really crazy story. I was actually in the state mental institution. And I gave my daughter up shortly after that, met her again when she was 18, and now she’s 40. And she has, you know, one of my little grandsons. And we have a fantastic relationship, as I do with her adoptive parents. And it just all worked out great.
AMY GOODMAN: How did it happen?
ROSEANNE BARR: My other kids, it all worked out great, too.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you end up in the mental institution?
ROSEANNE BARR: Because, you know, I always had a little bit of—a couple screws loose, I guess people would say. I always had a dissociative disorder. But I healed from it over the course of 14 years of big-time therapy. But, you know, I mean, everybody’s kind of loony now. So I was kind of a pioneer in the mental illness thing, too. Everybody says they’re bipolar. Every time you pick up a paper, all Hollywood stars are saying they’re bipolar. I’m like, "Ah, been there, done that." Bipolar was like nothing.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think it helped you succeed?
ROSEANNE BARR: It did help me succeed. You know, it rocked my life in the wrong way, but it helped me succeed in the fact that I was just, you know, so compartmentalized, I kept coming. You know, my life was falling away. My real life was suffering and falling away. But I just kept coming, because I was on that mission to deliver that message on TV, and I wouldn’t let anything stop me, because I didn’t—that part of me only knew how to do that. And I had other parts of me doing other things at the same time, like—you know, like dissociative people do, like PTSD people do, like bipolar people do. And, you know...
AMY GOODMAN: So you had three kids with your first husband.
ROSEANNE BARR: Mm-hmm.
AMY GOODMAN: Then you had this husband on TV who was John Goodman.
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: What was your relationship with John like?
ROSEANNE BARR: Well, I loved him, and I still love him. And, you know, I never saw anybody who could act like that. Still I think he’s like the—he’s just so great. I can’t even believe that I had those years with him. And a lot of times, John, you know, drank too much and really made me mad. So, you know, it was real bipolar in—every relationship I have had in Hollywood has a real high and a real low. And I had to like navigate my way to the middle with all my relationships, including John. But for what he did with me on that show, I mean, there’s just—I just—you know, I’m just so honored to work with that caliber of an actor. And as a human being, that guy is fierce. He is not a phony. He’s lived a big, hard life, and he’s overcome it all, too. And he’s looking better and doing better than he ever has before. I’m very proud of him.
AMY GOODMAN: In your piece, "And I Should Know," you write about being forced to say certain lines that just didn’t sit well with you.
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah, that was in the first episode after the pilot. And they were trying to force me, but it didn’t work.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?
ROSEANNE BARR: I didn’t—I wasn’t—you know, I was on that mission. I was like, "I’m not going to say that. That’s a stupid line." And it kind of started a whole war with the writers, which, you know, they always talk about how they—you know, these writers, they always come up. They’re always like, "Oh, you fired all these writers. You always fight with writers," and all this stuff. Well, I just felt like everything I wrote was completely stolen, and I was never credited for being a writer myself. And that has like—you know, that was a huge blow, because I was a writer, and I am a writer. And, you know, I’m very thrilled that I was able to write that article for New York Magazine, and I look forward to writing more articles. And I really like writing.
AMY GOODMAN: The network said they were going to drop the show at the beginning, but John Goodman fought for it—or drop you from the show.
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah, they were trying to fire me off the show, because I didn’t say the lines that they thought Roseanne should say.
AMY GOODMAN: What were—one of these lines was "You’re my equal in bed, but that’s it"?
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah, I was supposed to say that to my husband. And I’m like, I’m not going to—I’m not going to come on here after all these years and all that I’ve gone through, to fight my way through punk clubs and biker bars, and I am not going to come this far to have some guy tell me that it’s about that, when it’s not about that. And I’m not going to say the stuff that men say to women, so that it makes it look OK that men say it to women. I’m not going to do it. I’m going to say something else, and you’re not going to stop me.
AMY GOODMAN: And John fought for you.
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah, they went to him and asked him if he would do the show without me, and asked Laurie Metcalf, too, and George Clooney. And they all said, "Are you kidding? The reason we—you know, we wanted to be on—what are you doing?" But it’s like that level of—that level of dissociation that happens like in that corporate—where those corporate decisions are made, makes me look completely sane.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ve had so many Facebook questions come in and people emailing us. Aisha Al-Suwaidi asks on Facebook, "Do you feel the general perception of female comedians has changed since Roseanne first aired?"
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah, absolutely. I feel that women’s voices changed since Roseanne first aired, because, you know, it kind of, like I wanted it to, made it OK for women to talk about their actual lives on television. And, you know, it’s changed some not so good, because it’s like always got that backlash. Everything that moves forward, it also has a backswing to it. So it’s this wildly swinging thing. But I want to say that, in the world, I just am very thrilled with the way things are going for women in the world. I am very hopeful and excited about that.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, there’s an interesting piece, The Shriver Report. Did you see this?
ROSEANNE BARR: Yeah, I saw the show.
AMY GOODMAN: "Where Have You Gone, Roseanne Barr?" And it’s about how things have profoundly changed, but it’s a fantasy of power for women. It says—it’s written by Susan Douglas—says, "So here is the unusual conjuncture facing us in the early 21st century, [and]especially amid the Great Recession: Women’s professional success and financial status are significantly overrepresented in the mainstream media, suggesting [that] women indeed 'have it all.'"
ROSEANNE BARR: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: "Yet in real life, even as most women work, there are far too few women among the highest ranks of the professions and millions of everyday women struggle to make ends meet and to juggle work and family."
ROSEANNE BARR: But that’s just TV.
AMY GOODMAN: Right, but she says, "'Roseanne' humorously balanced that almost impossible mix, engaging audiences of millions, men and women alike, because of its cheeky take on everyday situations. By contrast, what much of the media give us today are little more than fantasies of power."
ROSEANNE BARR: That’s true. That’s true. But I just want to say, for women, and I want to say it on TV—and I’m so thrilled to say it with you here—you know, to see the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and that behind every one of those iPhones is a woman’s face. Women are showing their faces on media everywhere now, and it’s like—I think that is such an awesome thing, and I don’t think it should be overlooked. And I think it’s a gathering force. And I think, man, I just—I feel—it’s just, governments will topple when women show their faces, and it’s happening. And I’m thrilled.
AMY GOODMAN: Roseanne Barr. Her show Roseanne was the number one TV sitcom in the early '90s. Her new book is Roseannearchy: Dispatches from the Nut Farm. She has a new reality show on Lifetime called _Roseanne's Nuts_.