LISTSERV mailing list manager LISTSERV 16.0

Help for PORTSIDE Archives


PORTSIDE Archives

PORTSIDE Archives


PORTSIDE@LISTS.PORTSIDE.ORG


View:

Message:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Topic:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Author:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

Font:

Proportional Font

LISTSERV Archives

LISTSERV Archives

PORTSIDE Home

PORTSIDE Home

PORTSIDE  May 2011, Week 3

PORTSIDE May 2011, Week 3

Subject:

Roseanne Tells All

From:

Portside Moderator <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Thu, 19 May 2011 00:50:36 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (411 lines)

And I Should Know

    Roseanne Barr was a sitcom star, a creator and a
    product, the agitator and the abused, a domestic
    goddess and a feminist pioneer. That was twenty
    years ago. But as far as she's concerned, not much
    has changed.

By Roseanne Barr

New York Magazine

Published May 15, 2011

http://nymag.com/arts/tv/upfronts/2011/roseanne-barr-2011-5/

During the recent and overly publicized breakdown of
-Charlie Sheen, I was repeatedly contacted by the media and
asked to comment, as it was assumed that I know a thing or
two about starring on a sitcom, fighting with producers,
nasty divorces, public meltdowns, and bombing through a live
comedytour. I have, however, never smoked crack or taken too
many drugs, unless you count alcohol as a drug (I don't).
But I do know what it's like to be seized by bipolar
thoughts that make one spout wise about Tiger Blood and brag
about winning when one is actually losing.

It's hard to tell whether one is winning or, in fact, losing
once one starts to think of oneself as a commodity, or a
product, or a character, or a voice for the downtrodden.
It's called losing perspective. Fame's a bitch. It's hard to
handle and drives you nuts. Yes, it's true that your sense
of entitlement grows exponentially with every perk until it
becomes too stupendous a weight to walk around under, but
it's a cutthroat business, show, and without the perks,
plain ol' fame and fortune just ain't worth the trouble.

"Winning" in Hollywood means not just power, money, and
complimentary smoked-salmon pizza, but also that everyone
around you fails just as you are peaking. When you become
No. 1, you might begin to believe, as Cher once said in an
interview, that you are "one of God's favorite children,"
one of the few who made it through the gauntlet and
survived. The idea that your ego is not ego at all but
submission to the will of the Lord starts to dawn on you as
you recognize that only by God's grace did you make it
through the raging attack of idea pirates and woman haters,
to ascend to the top of Bigshit Showbiz Mountain.

All of that sounds very much like the diagnosis for bipolar
disorder, which more and more stars are claiming to have
these days. I have it, as well as several other mental
illnesses, but then, I've always been a trendsetter, even
though I'm seldom credited with those kinds of things. And I
was not crazy before I created, wrote, and starred in
television's first feminist and working-class-family sitcom
(also its last).

I so admire Dave Chappelle. You did right for yourself by
walking away, Dave. I did not have the guts to do it,
because I knew I would never get another chance to carry so
large a message on behalf of the men and women I grew up
with, and that mattered most to me.

After my 1985 appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny
Carson, I was wooed by producers in Hollywood, who told me
they wanted to turn my act into a sitcom. When Marcy Carsey
- who co-owned Carsey-Werner with her production partner,
Tom Werner (producers of The Cosby Show) - asked me to sign,
I was impressed. I considered The Cosby Show to be some of
the greatest and most revolutionary TV ever.

Marcy presented herself as a sister in arms. I was a
cutting-edge comic, and she said she got that I wanted to do
a realistic show about a strong mother who was not a victim
of Patriarchal Consumerist Bullshit - in other words, the
persona I had carefully crafted over eight previous years in
dive clubs and biker bars: a fierce working-class Domestic
Goddess. It was 1987, and it seemed people were primed and
ready to watch a sitcom that didn't have anything like the
rosy glow of middle-class confidence and comfort, and didn't
try to fake it. ABC seemed to agree. They picked up Roseanne
in 1988.

It didn't take long for me to get a taste of the staggering
sexism and class bigotry that would make the first season of
Roseanne god-awful. It was at the premiere party when I
learned that my stories and ideas - and the ideas of my
sister and my first husband, Bill - had been stolen. The
pilot was screened, and I saw the opening credits for the
first time, which included this: CREATED BY MATT WILLIAMS. I
was devastated and felt so betrayed that I stood up and left
the party. Not one person noticed.

I confronted Marcy under the bleachers on the sound stage
when we were shooting the next episode. I asked her how I
could continue working for a woman who had let a man take
credit for my work - who wouldn't even share credit with me
- after talking to me about sisterhood and all that
bullshit. She started crying and said, "I guess I'm going to
have to tell Brandon [Stoddard, then president of ABC
Entertainment] that I can't deliver this show." I said, "Cry
all you want to, but you figure out a way to put my name on
the show I created, or kiss my ass good-bye."

I went to complain to Brandon, thinking he could set things
straight, as having a robbed star might be counterproductive
to his network. He told me, "You were over 21 when you
signed that contract." He looked at me as if I were an
arrogant waitress run amok.

I went to my agent and asked him why he never told me that I
would not be getting the "created by" credit. He
halfheartedly admitted that he had "a lot going on at the
time" and was "sorry." I also learned that it was too late
to lodge a complaint with the Writers Guild. I immediately
left that agency and went to the William Morris Agency. I
figured out that Carsey and Werner had bullshitted Matt
Williams into believing that it was his show and I was his
"star" as effectively as they had bullshitted me into
thinking that it was my show and Matt Williams was my
"scribe." I contacted Bernie Brillstein and a young talent
manager in his office, Brad Grey, and asked them to help me.
They suggested that I walk away and start over, but I was
too afraid I would never get another show.

It was pretty clear that no one really cared about the show
except me, and that Matt and Marcy and ABC had nothing but
contempt for me - someone who didn't show deference, didn't
keep her mouth shut, didn't do what she was told. Marcy
acted as if I were anti-feminist by resisting her attempt to
steal my whole life out from under me. I made the mistake of
thinking Marcy was a powerful woman in her own right. I've
come to learn that there are none in TV. There aren't
powerful men, for that matter, either - unless they work for
an ad company or a market-study group. Those are the people
who decide what gets on the air and what doesn't.

Complaining about the "created by" credit made an enemy of
Matt. He wasted no time bullying and undermining me, going
so far as to ask my co-star, John Goodman, who played
Roseanne Conner's husband, Dan, if he would do the show
without me. (Goodman said no.) That caused my first nervous
breakdown.

    "I so admire Dave Chappelle. I did not have the guts to
    walk away."

To survive the truly hostile environment on set, I started
to pray nonstop to my God, as working-class women often do,
and to listen nonstop to Patti Smith's "People Have the
Power." I read The Art of War and kept the idea "He that
cares the most, wins" upmost in my mind. I knew I cared the
most, since I had the most to lose. I made a chart of names
and hung them on my dressing-room door; it listed every
person who worked on the show, and I put a check next to
those I intended to fire when Roseanne became No. 1, which I
knew it would.

My breakdown deepened around the fourth episode, when I
confronted the wardrobe master about the Sears, Roebuck
outfits that made me look like a show pony rather than a
working-class mom. I wanted vintage plaid shirts, T-shirts,
and jeans, not purple stretch pants with green-and-blue
smocks. She bought everything but what I requested, so I
wore my own clothes to work, thinking she was just absent-
minded. I was still clueless about the extent of the
subterfuge.

Eventually she told me that she had been told by one of
Matt's producers - his chief mouthpiece - "not to listen to
what Roseanne wants to wear." This producer was a woman, a
type I became acquainted with at the beginning of my stand-
up career in Denver. I cared little for them: blondes in
high heels who were so anxious to reach the professional
level of the men they worshipped, fawned over, served, built
up, and flattered that they would stab other women in the
back. They are the ultimate weapon used by men against
actual feminists who try to work in media, and they are
never friends to other women, you can trust me on that.

I grabbed a pair of wardrobe scissors and ran up to the big
house to confront the producer. (The "big house" was what I
called the writers' building. I rarely went there, since it
was disgusting. Within minutes, one of the writers would
crack a stinky-pussy joke that would make me want to murder
them. Male writers have zero interest in being nice to
women, including their own assistants, few of whom are ever
promoted to the rank of "writer," even though they do all
the work while the guys sit on their asses taking the
credit. Those are the women who deserve the utmost respect.)
I walked into this woman's office, held the scissors up to
show her I meant business, and said, "Bitch, do you want me
to cut you?" We stood there for a second or two, just so I
could make sure she was receptive to my POV. I asked why she
had told the wardrobe master to not listen to me, and she
said, "Because we do not like the way you choose to portray
this character." I said, "This is no fucking character! This
is my show, and I created it - not Matt, and not Carsey-
Werner, and not ABC. You watch me. I will win this battle if
I have to kill every last white bitch in high heels around
here."

The next battle came when Matt sent down a line for me that
I found incredibly insulting - not just to myself but to
John, who I was in love with, secretly. The line was a
ridiculously sexist interpretation of what a feminist thinks
- something to the effect of "You're my equal in bed, but
that's it." I could not say it convincingly enough for Matt,
and his hand-picked director walked over and gave me a note
in front of the entire crew: "Say it like you mean it ...
That is a direct note from Matt." What followed went
something like this: My lovely acting coach, Roxanne Rogers
(a sister of Sam Shepard), piped up and said, "Never give an
actor a note in front of the crew. Take her aside and give
her the note privately - that is what good directors do."
She made sure to say this in front of the entire crew. Then
she suggested that I request a line change. So I did. Matt,
who was watching from his office, yelled over the
loudspeaker, "Say the line as written!" I said, "No, I don't
like the line. I find it repulsive, and my character would
not say it." Matt said, "Yes, she would say it. She's hot to
trot and to get her husband in bed with her, and give it to
her like she wants it." I replied that this was not what she
would say or do: "It's a castrating line that only an idiot
would think to write for a real live woman who loves her
husband, you cocksucker." ABC's lawyers were called in. They
stood around the bed while the cameras filmed me saying,
very politely, over and over, "Line change, please." After
four hours of this, I called my then-lawyer, Barry Hirsch,
and demanded to be let out of my contract. I couldn't take
it any longer - the abuse, humiliation, theft, and lack of
respect for my work, my health, my life. He explained that
he had let it go on for hours on purpose and that I had
finally won. He had sent a letter to the network and Carsey-
Werner that said, "Matt wasted money that he could have
saved with a simple line change. He cost you four hours in
production budget." That turned the tide in my favor.

Barry told me Matt would be gone after the thirteenth
episode. Which didn't stop him from making my life hell
until then. Some days, I'd just stand in the set's kitchen
weeping loudly. The crew would surround me and encourage me
to continue. CJ, one of my favorite cameramen - an
-African--American married to a white woman - would say,
"Come on, Rosie, I need this job. I have five kids, and two
of them are white!"

I was constantly thinking about my own kids' being able to
go to college, and I wrote jokes like a machine - jokes that
I insisted be included in the scripts (lots of times, the
writers would tell me that the pages got lost). But thanks
to Barry, my then-manager Arlyne Rothberg, Roxanne, my brave
dyke sister Geraldine Barr, the cast of great actors, the
crew - who became my drinking buddies - the wardrobe
department, and the craft-services folks, I showed up and
lived out the first thirteen episodes, after which Matt
left. Without all of them, I never would have made it. (Most
of the crew now work for Chuck Lorre, who I fired from my
show; his sitcoms star some of my co-stars and tackle many
of the subjects Roseanne did. Imitation is the sincerest
form of show business.)

Matt stayed just long enough to ensure him a lifetime's
worth of residuals. Another head writer was brought on, and
at first he actually tried to listen to what I wanted to do.
But within a few shows, I realized he wasn't much more of a
team player than Matt. He brought his own writers with him,
all male, all old. Most of them had probably never worked
with a woman who did not serve them coffee. It must have
been a shock to their system to find me in a position to
disapprove their jokes.

When the show went to No. 1 in December 1988, ABC sent a
chocolate "1" to congratulate me. Guess they figured that
would keep the fat lady happy - or maybe they thought I
hadn't heard (along with the world) that male stars with No.
1 shows were given Bentleys and Porsches. So me and George
Clooney [who played Roseanne Conner's boss for the first
season] took my chocolate prize outside, where I snapped a
picture of him hitting it with a baseball bat. I sent that
to ABC.

Not long after that, I cleaned house. Honestly, I enjoyed
firing the people I'd checked on the back of my dressing-
room door. The writers packed their bags and went to join
Matt on Tim Allen's new show, Home Improvement, so none of
them suffered at all. Tim didn't get credit either.

But at least everyone began to credit me. I was assumed to
be a genius and eccentric instead of a crazy bitch, and for
a while it felt pretty nice. I hired comics that I had
worked with in clubs, rather than script writers. I promoted
several of the female assistants - who had done all the work
of assembling the scripts -anyway - to full writers. (I did
that for one or two members of my crew as well.) I gave Joss
Whedon and Judd Apatow their first writing jobs, as well as
many other untried writers who went on to great success.

Call me immodest - moi? - but I honestly think Roseanne is
even more ahead of its time today, when Americans are, to
use a technical term from classical economics, screwed. We
had our fun; it was a sitcom. But it also wasn't The Brady
Bunch; the kids were wiseasses, and so were the parents. I
and the mostly great writers in charge of crafting the show
-every week never forgot that we needed to make people
laugh, but the struggle to survive, and to break taboos, was
equally important. And that was my goal from the beginning.

The end of my addiction to fame happened at the exact moment
Roseanne dropped out of the top ten, in the seventh of our
nine seasons. It was mysteriously instantaneous! I clearly
remember that blackest of days, when I had my office call
the Palm restaurant for reservations on a Saturday night, at
the last second as per usual. My assistant, Hilary, who is
still working for me, said - while clutching the phone to
her chest with a look of horror, a look I can recall now as
though it were only yesterday: "The Palm said they are
full!" Knowing what that really meant sent me over the edge.
It was a gut shot with a sawed-off scattershot, buckshot-
loaded pellet gun. I made Hil call the Palm back, disguise
her voice, and say she was calling from the offices of Tom
Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Instantly, Hil was given the big
10-4 by the Palm management team. I became enraged, and
though she was uncomfortable doing it (Hil is a professional
woman), I forced her to call back at 7:55 and cancel the
8:00 reservation, saying that Roseanne - who had joined Tom
and Nicole's party of seven - had persuaded them to join her
at Denny's on Sunset Boulevard.

The feeling of being used all those years just because I was
in the top ten - not for my money or even my gluttony - was
sobering indeed. I vowed that I would make a complete change
top to bottom and rid myself of the desires that had laid me
low. (I also stopped eating meat for a year, out of
bitterness and mourning for the Palm's bone-in rib-eye
steaks.) As inevitably happens to all stars, I could not
look myself in the mirror for one more second. My dependence
on empty flattery, without which I feared I would evaporate,
masked a deeper addiction to the bizarro world of fame. I
had sold my time and company at deflated prices just for the
thrill of reserving the best tables at the best restaurants
at the very last minute with a phone call to the maitre d' -
or the owner himself, whose friendship I coddled just to
ensure premium access to the aforementioned, unbelievably
good smoked-salmon pizza.

I finally found the right lawyer to tell me what scares TV
producers worse than anything - too late for me. What scares
these guys - who think that the perks of success include
humiliating and destroying the star they work for (read
Lorre's personal attacks on Charlie Sheen in his vanity
cards at the end of Two and a Half Men) - isn't getting
caught stealing or being made to pay for that; it's being
charged with fostering a "hostile work environment." If I
could do it all over, I'd sue ABC and Carsey--Werner under
those provisions. Hollywood hates labor, and hates shows
about labor worse than any other thing. And that's why you
won't be seeing another Roseanne anytime soon. Instead, all
over the tube, you will find enterprising, overmedicated,
painted-up, capitalist whores claiming to be housewives. But
I'm not bitter.

Nothing real or truthful makes its way to TV unless you are
smart and know how to sneak it in, and I would tell you how
I did it, but then I would have to kill you. Based on Two
and a Half Men's success, it seems viewers now prefer their
comedy dumb and sexist. Charlie Sheen was the world's most
famous john, and a sitcom was written around him. That just
says it all. Doing tons of drugs, smacking prostitutes
around, holding a knife up to the head of your wife - sure,
that sounds like a dream come true for so many guys out
there, but that doesn't make it right! People do what they
can get away with (or figure they can), and Sheen is, in
fact, a product of what we call politely the "culture."
Where I can relate to the Charlie stuff is his undisguised
contempt for certain people in his work environment and his
unwillingness to play a role that's expected of him on his
own time.

But, again, I'm not bitter. I'm really not. The fact that my
fans have thanked and encouraged me for doing what I used to
get in trouble for doing (shooting my big mouth off) has
been very healing. And somewhere along the way, I realized
that TV and our culture had changed because of a woman named
Roseanne Conner, whom I am honored to have written jokes
for.

===

Barr now lives in Hawaii, where she farms macadamia nuts.
She has a new book, Roseannearchy (Gallery; $26), and will
return to TV in Roseanne's Nuts, a Lifetime reality show.

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

Submit via email: [log in to unmask]

Submit via the Web: http://portside.org/submittous3

Frequently asked questions: http://portside.org/faq

Sub/Unsub: http://portside.org/subscribe-and-unsubscribe

Search Portside archives: http://portside.org/archive

Contribute to Portside: https://portside.org/donate

Top of Message | Previous Page | Permalink

Advanced Options


Options

Log In

Log In

Get Password

Get Password


Search Archives

Search Archives


Subscribe or Unsubscribe

Subscribe or Unsubscribe


Archives

November 2014, Week 4
November 2014, Week 3
November 2014, Week 2
November 2014, Week 1
October 2014, Week 5
October 2014, Week 4
October 2014, Week 3
October 2014, Week 2
October 2014, Week 1
September 2014, Week 5
September 2014, Week 4
September 2014, Week 3
September 2014, Week 2
September 2014, Week 1
August 2014, Week 5
August 2014, Week 4
August 2014, Week 3
August 2014, Week 2
August 2014, Week 1
July 2014, Week 5
July 2014, Week 4
July 2014, Week 3
July 2014, Week 2
July 2014, Week 1
June 2014, Week 5
June 2014, Week 4
June 2014, Week 3
June 2014, Week 2
June 2014, Week 1
May 2014, Week 5
May 2014, Week 4
May 2014, Week 3
May 2014, Week 2
May 2014, Week 1
April 2014, Week 5
April 2014, Week 4
April 2014, Week 3
April 2014, Week 2
April 2014, Week 1
March 2014, Week 5
March 2014, Week 4
March 2014, Week 3
March 2014, Week 2
March 2014, Week 1
February 2014, Week 4
February 2014, Week 3
February 2014, Week 2
February 2014, Week 1
January 2014, Week 5
January 2014, Week 4
January 2014, Week 3
January 2014, Week 2
January 2014, Week 1
December 2013, Week 5
December 2013, Week 4
December 2013, Week 3
December 2013, Week 2
December 2013, Week 1
November 2013, Week 5
November 2013, Week 4
November 2013, Week 3
November 2013, Week 2
November 2013, Week 1
October 2013, Week 5
October 2013, Week 4
October 2013, Week 3
October 2013, Week 2
October 2013, Week 1
September 2013, Week 5
September 2013, Week 4
September 2013, Week 3
September 2013, Week 2
September 2013, Week 1
August 2013, Week 5
August 2013, Week 4
August 2013, Week 3
August 2013, Week 2
August 2013, Week 1
July 2013, Week 5
July 2013, Week 4
July 2013, Week 3
July 2013, Week 2
July 2013, Week 1
June 2013, Week 5
June 2013, Week 4
June 2013, Week 3
June 2013, Week 2
June 2013, Week 1
May 2013, Week 5
May 2013, Week 4
May 2013, Week 3
May 2013, Week 2
May 2013, Week 1
April 2013, Week 5
April 2013, Week 4
April 2013, Week 3
April 2013, Week 2
April 2013, Week 1
March 2013, Week 5
March 2013, Week 4
March 2013, Week 3
March 2013, Week 2
March 2013, Week 1
February 2013, Week 4
February 2013, Week 3
February 2013, Week 2
February 2013, Week 1
January 2013, Week 5
January 2013, Week 4
January 2013, Week 3
January 2013, Week 2
January 2013, Week 1
December 2012, Week 5
December 2012, Week 4
December 2012, Week 3
December 2012, Week 2
December 2012, Week 1
November 2012, Week 5
November 2012, Week 4
November 2012, Week 3
November 2012, Week 2
November 2012, Week 1
October 2012, Week 5
October 2012, Week 4
October 2012, Week 3
October 2012, Week 2
October 2012, Week 1
September 2012, Week 5
September 2012, Week 4
September 2012, Week 3
September 2012, Week 2
September 2012, Week 1
August 2012, Week 5
August 2012, Week 4
August 2012, Week 3
August 2012, Week 2
August 2012, Week 1
July 2012, Week 5
July 2012, Week 4
July 2012, Week 3
July 2012, Week 2
July 2012, Week 1
June 2012, Week 5
June 2012, Week 4
June 2012, Week 3
June 2012, Week 2
June 2012, Week 1
May 2012, Week 5
May 2012, Week 4
May 2012, Week 3
May 2012, Week 2
May 2012, Week 1
April 2012, Week 5
April 2012, Week 4
April 2012, Week 3
April 2012, Week 2
April 2012, Week 1
March 2012, Week 5
March 2012, Week 4
March 2012, Week 3
March 2012, Week 2
March 2012, Week 1
February 2012, Week 5
February 2012, Week 4
February 2012, Week 3
February 2012, Week 2
February 2012, Week 1
January 2012, Week 5
January 2012, Week 4
January 2012, Week 3
January 2012, Week 2
January 2012, Week 1
December 2011, Week 5
December 2011, Week 4
December 2011, Week 3
December 2011, Week 2
December 2011, Week 1
November 2011, Week 5
November 2011, Week 4
November 2011, Week 3
November 2011, Week 2
November 2011, Week 1
October 2011, Week 5
October 2011, Week 4
October 2011, Week 3
October 2011, Week 2
October 2011, Week 1
September 2011, Week 5
September 2011, Week 4
September 2011, Week 3
September 2011, Week 2
September 2011, Week 1
August 2011, Week 5
August 2011, Week 4
August 2011, Week 3
August 2011, Week 2
August 2011, Week 1
July 2011, Week 5
July 2011, Week 4
July 2011, Week 3
July 2011, Week 2
July 2011, Week 1
June 2011, Week 5
June 2011, Week 4
June 2011, Week 3
June 2011, Week 2
June 2011, Week 1
May 2011, Week 5
May 2011, Week 4
May 2011, Week 3
May 2011, Week 2
May 2011, Week 1
April 2011, Week 5
April 2011, Week 4
April 2011, Week 3
April 2011, Week 2
April 2011, Week 1
March 2011, Week 5
March 2011, Week 4
March 2011, Week 3
March 2011, Week 2
March 2011, Week 1
February 2011, Week 4
February 2011, Week 3
February 2011, Week 2
February 2011, Week 1
January 2011, Week 5
January 2011, Week 4
January 2011, Week 3
January 2011, Week 2
January 2011, Week 1
December 2010, Week 5
December 2010, Week 4
December 2010, Week 3
December 2010, Week 2
December 2010, Week 1
November 2010, Week 5
November 2010, Week 4
November 2010, Week 3
November 2010, Week 2
November 2010, Week 1
October 2010, Week 5
October 2010, Week 4
October 2010, Week 3
October 2010, Week 2
October 2010, Week 1
September 2010, Week 5
September 2010, Week 4
September 2010, Week 3
September 2010, Week 2
September 2010, Week 1
August 2010, Week 5
August 2010, Week 4
August 2010, Week 3
August 2010, Week 2
August 2010, Week 1
July 2010, Week 5
July 2010, Week 4
July 2010, Week 3
July 2010, Week 2
July 2010, Week 1

ATOM RSS1 RSS2



LISTS.PORTSIDE.ORG

CataList Email List Search Powered by the LISTSERV Email List Manager