A while ago Mr. Larue and I were discussing a certain Twitter/Tumblr-er who is reportedly writing a TV pilot. Mr. L was going about how unique she is because she was able to translate her experience as a mother into a comedy writing career. “It’s unheard of!” he gushed. “Name one other obscure housewife who has been given her own show.” I thought for a minute and replied “Roseanne Barr.”
After a six-year career as a stand-up comic, domestic goddess and mother of three (not counting a baby that she had given up for adoption and later reunited with, as well as a now-teenage son that she had with her third husband) Roseanne Barr launched her sitcom Roseanne in 1987 and changed the face of network TV. Roseanne wasn’t the first show to feature a working-class family and it also wasn’t the first to showcase a feminist protagonist. But I can’t think of another program that was created by a working-class housewife that focused on the reality of her own life. It’s also worth mentioning that Barr didn’t (and still doesn’t) look like a typical Hollywood starlet and never once apologized for her weight, her loudness or her opinions.
Barr is also topical right now because she’s being doing the talk show rounds (perhaps you saw her on Oprah) to promote her new book Roseannearchy. I uploaded the book to my Kindle and wasn’t too surprised by what I read. A lifelong feminist, Barr describes being raised by her two Jewish grandmothers, growing up as a chubby girl, obsessing over religion and theology, yearning to prove to the world how special and talented she was, marrying young, having children, being part of a feminist collective as a young mother and housewife, becoming famous and leaving her husband for Tom Arnold. She also describes the loneliness that fame brought, the emptiness that needed to be filled after an abusive childhood (at one point in her life she accused her father of incest, a term that she now rescinds), the pain that she felt when her public turned on her, and her struggles with mental illness.
Unlike a lot of mainstream female comedians both pioneering and of more recent generations, Barr self-identifies as a feminist and tries to be conscientious about the way she presents herself as such. This does not mean that she is politically correct – I don’t think it’s really possible to be a comedian and not toe the line between funny and offensive and she is, after all, Roseanne Barr. Throughout her book and what I remember from her act in the “˜80s and “˜90s, Barr does say some things that make me a little uneasy. As a person who is neither Jewish nor dealing with substantial mental health issues, I won’t pass judgment on the way that she talks about these aspects of her life, though I could see people taking issue with some of her language. There are a few points, political and otherwise that I disagree with (I’m sure Roseanne and I could have a very lively discussion regarding her support of Mike Tyson), but for the most part Barr’s message is about empowering oneself and being compassionate towards others. And for that, she has my respect.
Though she blogs regularly and is developing a reality show (and just published this book), Barr has been lying relatively low these days, living on a macadamia nut farm in Hawaii. Which means it’s about time that another domestic goddess makes her way from her modest home into the public consciousness. And I’m glad that “regular” women are speaking to the masses via blogs and Twitter. Just remember that Roseanne beat them to it and she did it much, much louder.
Book cover photo courtesy of Roseanneworld.com