Penthouse Retrospective

by Nanette Varian Originally Published: December, 1990

Roseanne Barr

It had gotten to the point where I turned on the TV every night and he was riffing on the parts of my body, which isn’t at all funny. If it was funny, I wouldn’t take offense to it. I mean, of course I can take a fat joke, I’m a co­median. But one day I turned it on, and this was his joke: “Imagine Roseanne Barr at night when she takes her bra off and all the fat just falls out. Can you picture that?” Well, that isn’t funny. It’s like so what? I’m fat – get over it! He should work on the idea of punch lines. It just didn’t sit right. I thought it was mean-spirited and stupid. So the idea is, you called me fat, I’ll put you in my act. Don’t fuck with me.

When “Roseanne” began its first season, how much creative control were you promised?

Barr: They told me it was a collabora­tion. And it was, at first. Then I saw that an executive producer, Matt Williams, got this whole “Created by” credit, and that really pissed me off. Then they got me “Based on a character created by Roseanne Barr” at the end, but I wanted it to say “Based on characters created by Roseanne Barr,” because I did create every character. They’re all from my family, and the husband was based on Tom Arnold, who was my friend at the time.

I heard that one disgruntled staff member tried to sabotage me by telling the Writers Guild that I was totally out of control, demanding credit for other people’s work.

What exactly is your involvement with the show now, and how has it changed?

Barr: It’s the same as it’s been all along, but with less resistance. and I have a producer credit now. I’m not this mega­lomaniac who has to be involved in every aspect of the show, but I was always a writer on the show, and I always was pretty much a producer, too, but I didn’t take the credits. I figured, Why do that? But now I understand that in this town, you take the credits.

We used to get first drafts of the script on Mondays, then we’d film on Friday of that same week. What was happen­ing was that I’d end up revising the script and taping the show all in the same week, which I thought made not for a good show. Sometimes you’re so bone-dry after working that hard. I talked to them about having this setup where we would meet every Wednes­day to discuss the following week’s script. I thought I had put together something very militaristic that would work out very well.

Sounds reasonable.

Barr: It is very reasonable.

And this is what caused all the trouble?

Barr: Yes. Jeff Harris, another execu­tive producer, was very, very upset be­cause I was an actress and a writer. Like I’ve said, I don’t think he’d ever been in a room with a woman who didn’t serve him coffee.

Is this the guy who placed the ad in Daily Variety saying he planned to “vacation in the relative peace and quiet of Beirut”?

Barr: Uh-huh, yeah. That funny moth­erfucker. I think he thought his job there was to placate me. But there were a lot of power plays over the years that really weren’t mine. A senior staff member once confronted a writer and said, “I question your loyalty. Whose side are you on? Hers or ours?” It just was sick, insane and sick, and I can’t really make any sense of it.

But I made my mistakes, too.

Like what?

Barr: Being a mom, I tended to take a lot of shit from people. Rather than as­serting myself all along, I’d let it build, then have a big explosion. Now I say, “Well, wait a minute, I’m disagreeing here.” You know, all that assertive, busi­ness-type shit that I didn’t know how to do before in my life or on the set.

Penthouse: It’s been said that because of the way they’ve been raised, women have trouble learning how to delegate, how to say no, how to fire people.

Barr: Oh, I felt all that. That’s probably just because it takes a while to learn all that kind of stuff. As for getting rid of people, if I was to do it now, I would’ve gotten rid of these people way sooner. I wouldn’t let them fuck with me for six or seven months, thinking, “Well, maybe it’s my fault, or maybe I haven’t been clear, or maybe I haven’t been this or that.” I would just go, “I’m sorry, I can’t work with you. Bye.”

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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