Penthouse Retrospective

by Nanette Varian Originally Published: December, 1990

Roseanne Barr

And I wouldn’t explain over and over to people why I wanted things done, which is probably something that women do, too. No, I would come in and go, “This is what I need you to do, please have it done by tonight.”

Now, instead of saying “I need you to understand that I’m right, that I have a point,” I go, “Look, I’m your fucking boss. I want this.” And that’s really hard, so I must be like every other woman that’s in every other business, but I had to learn it in front of the whole country.

Why have people said that you’re difficult to work with?

Barr: I imagine I probably was tough to deal with. I’m not blameless. But it’s hard to be lied to over and over. I’m a real trusting person. It was hard to see my work and my contribution de­graded week after week. They would say, “You know we want your input.” What I was doing was hugely more important than “input.” I was shaping scripts, writing lines, changing scenes. But they made my contribution seem smaller and cuter.

On Thursdays I would go in and scream, “Where is the shit I gave you on Monday?” And they’d say, “Well, we didn’t think it would work.” And I’d go, “Well, do you think this shit is funnier?” And I would always win, because their shit was never funnier. And they’d go, “We just didn’t think your char­acter would ever do this.” Well, I am “she.” Ask me!

How was your Roseanne Conner character misinterpreted?

Barr: I felt that her character was two parts of me. There’s a real fragile underside that you cover up with all the sarcasm. I felt like they never showed any vulnerability. I told them, “I’m like fucking Alf. . . . I’m a cartoon!” I had no fragility. I can’t be right every week. I’m not the ballbusting, castrating bitch.

I’d have to remind them that this is a mother – “Would your mother do that?” They just didn’t know how to write for women. Then in the second season, after I had the big talk about the fragility underneath, they came back and wrote me like June Cleaver. There was no edge. And it still wasn’t that funny.

So it went from one extreme to the other?

Barr: Yeah, and they kept going, “Give us time, we need time to find it.” But it was like, “What’s hard to get? You open the fucking door and there I am, there’s my character right there! What’s hard to get?”

Or they’d take situations I’d written for my character and change them into situations for John Goodman’s character, with me going, “and then what happened, honey?”

And then they kept softening John’s character, making him act like a boy. There was no man-woman shit happening – he’s sweet and I’m a bitch. That just isn’t the balance I wanted, which was regular husband-and-wife shit, like “The Honeymooners.” I think that TV writers just do that: It just happens. It’s like some unconscious robot thing, until everybody is in the fourth grade.

A newspaper columnist wondered why – if your show is so immensely popular – the Democratic party can’t muster enough blue-collar votes to elect a national candidate?

Barr: I read that, too, and I’ve wondered myself. The Democratic party needs to pull itself together, because it’s farther away from the people than the Republican party appears to be, and that’s why George Bush is president. They just haven’t gotten it yet.

What are they doing wrong?

Barr: They don’t have enough women in there. They don’t have enough people of color in any positions. It’s the same tired old guard, pretending that they’re concerned about women and people of color.

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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