Roseanne is zeroing in on a milestone: her 60th birthday. But if you think that the force of nature who reached powerhouse status while striking fear in the hearts of network and studio honchos, critics and a few ex-husbands has mellowed, think again. There’s a new method to her madness: If you can’t beat ’em, run for president of the United States.
Stretching her battlefield from the TV landscape to the political arena, the former self-declared “domestic goddess” earlier this year tossed her hat into the race for the White House and last week was selected as the presidential candidate for the Peace and Freedom Party.
“And after I win, by a vote of 99 per cent in my favour, then I will make some changes in television,” she proclaimed. “I’ll make changes on all kinds of media. I’m going to run for president of the United States till I do win.”
Although Roseanne’s campaign is flavoured with humour, it’s obvious from her passionate tone that she’s not totally fooling around. But it’s just one item on her frenzied agenda: She’s in talks for a project with NBC and is planning what she calls “a 60th anniversary trip around the world all by myself”. Before that, however, is Comedy Central’s Roast of Roseanne, the latest in the cable network’s series of specials that unleash a comedic assault on a noted celebrity.
The dais for the roast featured an eclectic mix of veteran comedians (Gilbert Gottfried and Jeffrey Ross), actresses (Katey Sagal and Ellen Barkin) and entertainers (Wayne Brady and roast master Jane Lynch), all paying tribute to Roseanne, her landmark series Roseanne and her far-reaching effect on comedy. Even former spouse Tom Arnold, whose relationship with Roseanne was an extreme firestorm of outrageousness before dissolving in divorce and charges of abuse, makes a “surprise” appearance to toast his ex-partner.
Roseanne regards the event as more than just another touchstone in her diverse career: It’s her way to reconnect and revive the edgy comedy style that defined her rise to prominence — particularly with Roseanne, which ran for almost a decade and helped define an era with its depiction of a working-class family grappling with the woes of harsh economic times. The series, which co-starred John Goodman as her husband, ran from 1988 to 1997 and was a consistent ratings winner.
“I’m putting my feet back into the joke world,” Roseanne said, sipping a beverage in front of her El Segundo production office-studio.
The comedian, who is slimmer and more relaxed than she was in her Roseanne days, added, “I’m trying to challenge myself and stretch. I’m older than a dinosaur, so I’m seeing if I can be hip enough for Comedy Central’s audience. They wanted to do something new and different. And it’s cool that they’re coming to me — when networks come to me, you know there’s something weird.”
Though the taping of the Roseanne roast was typically crammed with raw language and scorched-earth insults that left political correctness and sensitivity in the parking lot, Comedy Central is positioning the event differently than past roasts that took aim at more notorious celebrities such as Charlie Sheen, David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson.
Last year’s Sheen roast and the 2010 Hasselhoff roast were designed for those performers to directly confront their demons and tabloid shenanigans in a comedic setting, and then move forward. The Roast of Roseanne, with its more intimate stage and scope, is first and foremost a tribute.
“She’s a comedic icon, and the approach has to be different because she’s a trailblazer of the comedy community,” said Jonas Larsen, the network’s executive in charge of the roast. “Charlie and David were both pop culture icons, but they had issues and needed the form of a roast to put those issues behind them. That’s not the case with Roseanne. There is nothing but love and respect from those involved. It adds a gravitas to the proceedings. We really want her to feel like it’s an honour.”
It’s the second time in her career that Roseanne has been roasted. The Friars Club in 1993 honoured the performer at its non-televised annual roast. The dais included Arnold, Bill Maher, Martin Mull, Sandra Bernard and Andrew “Dice” Clay. The late Steve Allen was the toastmaster. Roseanne was at its height, and Roseanne won the Emmy for lead actress in a comedy series that year (she chose not to attend the ceremony).
What a difference 19 years has made.
Instead of continuing her reign, the entertainer’s post-Roseanne resume is top-heavy with stumbles. Among the failures are talk shows, reality series and a lifestyle/cooking programme. She is particularly disgruntled with Lifetime’s handling of her last project, Roseanne’s Nuts, about her life running her macadamia nut and livestock farm in Hawaii. The series, which premiered in July 2011, was cancelled after a few episodes.
And NBC recently passed on a pilot, Downwardly Mobile, that was developed by and starred Roseanne as the proprietor of a mobile home park and reunited her with John Goodman.
Reflecting on the 1993 roast, Roseanne said, “Yeah, I was at the top of the TV world, but at the bottom of my life, the bottom of my mental landscape.”
She added, “Nothing I’ve done since the Roseanne show has had any success. But if I tried to sell Roseanne now, I wouldn’t be able to sell it. Things have changed and [TV executives] know how to control and filter out what they don’t want. They don’t want anything that says the things I’m saying.”
Despite the setbacks, Roseanne said she is happier than she’s ever been. “I have inner peace. I cooked all that conflict down.”
She spends most of the year in Hawaii on her farm, where she lives with partner and longtime boyfriend Johnny Argent, kids and grandkids. “Being there, it’s closer to the ground, closer to fundamental things — my family and my beliefs,” she said.
She attributed part of her past tumult to negativity and doing the wrong projects for the money. “I felt unbalanced, which made me mentally unbalanced. Then I started doing things because they were right. My life took a shift, and it was real good.”
Roseanne is intent on balancing her priorities — using her presidential campaign to push her attack on what she calls the outdated political party system, expanding her comedic vision and focusing on a simpler, more organic lifestyle.
“I’m finally doing what I want to do, when I want to do it,” she said. “I’m in control of my work and my play. I’m in the queen bee seat.”