Penthouse Retrospective

by Nanette Varian Originally Published: December, 1990

Roseanne Barr

Have Americans lost their sense of humor?

Barr: Some of them have. Or maybe it’s that their sense of humor isn’t mine ­and those people probably laugh at the things that disgust me. It didn’t help that I was a woman making fun of men on that ball field, spitting and grabbing my crotch in a male gesture. Men, by and large, don’t have a real good sense of humor about themselves. And a lot of people just don’t get parody. A lot of people only get dick jokes.

Did you hear what Bette Midler said about me? She said, “The business has been taken over by low-life sluts.” What’s up her ass? That really pissed me off. I think it’s because she’s Miss Disney now. The only thing I’ve ever said to her is, “Hi. I’m a fan.”

Well, now I’m going to sing her “Wind Beneath My Wings” song in my stage show. I’ve got a big cardboard cutout of Bette and I’m gonna sing it right to her! But I won’t say anything about her because, after all, she and the other women comics of her generation­; Martha Raye, Phyllis Diller, Marjorie Main – they paved the road for me!

Are you a baseball fan, by the way?

Barr: Yeah! I like baseball. All the time I’m wondering why this all happened. When I went there to sing, there were wall-to-wall reporters and cameras, and it was like they were waiting for me to fuck up. I think a hipper crowd would have helped me out.

I suppose I should just save my act for people who paid to see me. And I will do that from now on!

You’re the star of America’s favorite TV show, yet you’re put down on an almost daily basis. Why?

Barr: I have always had intense, in­tense problems with the press. I think [the anthem incident] was a press thing, a media thing blown all out of propor­tion. And maybe the press does rep­resent a part of the mass unconscious that finds me, and other women with some kind of power, largely frighten­ing. So it was just that [fear] magnified to the 50 millionth degree.

Everything that the press ever at­taches to me has a lot of fear and loath­ing in it, because they don’t get what I’m about. They never will. That’s why I’m talking to Penthouse. At least you write some shit, there’s substance. It’s controversial, another point of view.

Some reports say you’ve promised to “tone down” your behavior. Is that true?

Barr: Absolutely not! I said I was sorry I offended anybody, but they wanted me to sit there and grovel. It’s like whenever I have a crisis, these “ex­perts” really come out with the “you should’ves.” Well, hell, you know, I’m an artist and I don’t give a shit!

A lot of people – network people, publicity people – they all want to say that I’ve promised to tone myself down. They each want to be “the man that tamed Roseanne Barr.” And I’ll tell you what – none of ’em’s ever gonna do it! I’ll see their asses fired first!

The one thing that really helped me is that demographically, I’ve gotten a lot more young male and teenage boy fans. They loved what I did at the base­ball game! I probably lost some old, grumpy fans, but that’s okay. I’ll trade them old buggers for some younger, hipper fans any day!

You were also criticized re­cently by a writer who said that your remarks about Arsenio Hall being “the first black nerd” were “racially nasty.”

Barr: That’s not what I said. I said. “It’s not often that we get to see a black nerd.” Which is true, because you just think of nerds as generally being white, and it’s totally refreshing to finally get to see one of color. I see that as a state­ment of fact rather than a put-down, and I’m really offended that any critic would put a racist connotation to it. That’s loathsome. It’s always a white person who says that.

No matter how insane people make her out to be, when you hear her words, Roseanne doesn't seem much different than any other intelligent woman with an ax to grind. Unless, of course, she's talking about how insane she is...

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