Remember Roseanne Barr Not For Her Fox Special, But For Who She Once Was

The much-hated comic returns to standup in Fox Nation’s upcoming ”Cancel This!” but her legacy ought to be her groundbreaking 1990s TV series

She’s ba-aack. After getting her titular character killed off her namesake network show in 2018 after tweeting a racist, ugly slur about former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett, comic actor Roseanne Barr is returning to standup, and the newly blonde pop culture outcast is debuting a Fox Nation comedy special, Cancel This!  

Early viewers of the special, however, have said that the thing is like fingernails on a blackboard. But Barr told Fox News that the standup stage is a “great place” to “discuss cancel culture itself and how horrible it is” and that “it was [made] in response to being fired.” 

Others see Barr and her new show a little differently. LGBTQ Nation says Barr’s fresh comedy routine is “addressed at Fox’s target demographic: old people whose kids don’t talk to them anymore.” Clips of the 70-year-old’s jokes released online so far have also drawn ire, whether it’s for digs about gender or just generally sounding out of touch with jokes that land with a thud.

The kids today “have no concept of reality!” Barr quips in one clip. “Asking questions that have nothing to do with the real world: What is my gender, Mom? What is my gender? Your gender is ‘Get a job,’ that’s your gender!”

“‘What is a woman?’ Barr says in the clip above. “They don’t know that? That one they’re asking all the time,” she said. “I’ll tell you what a woman is. A woman is ME! A woman is someone who cleans up everybody else’s shit! That’s what a woman is!

“A woman is somebody whose boobs hang down to her knees with a prolapsed uterus from giving birth to five ungrateful little privileged fucks who’ve never had to work for anything in their whole damn lives!” she continues.

It seems like a comment about Fonzie and the shark could be made, fairly, about the content of the clip. This is all quite unfortunate, given Barr’s incredible impact on television—both as a creator, an actor and on comedy.

The original Roseanne debuted in 1988. It’s remembered as a groundbreaking series for network TV; for many viewers, it was the first time that they’d seen a household like their own featured on TV realistically. The living room was theirs—minus the couch afghan, which my mom would have considered tacky. And the Conners’ kitchen seemed like a copy of their own; the same could be said for all the living rooms and dining rooms of millions of Americans—who also had a Lay-Z-Boy, afghans, and peeling linoleum.

In short, Roseanne‘s visual world was committed to social realism. This hadn’t been done before, not in a way so dead-on—Married With Children came close, but that show was more of a send-up. And sure, All in the Family did something similar, but that was in the 70s.

Roseanne also broke ground with its portrayal of money’s major role in the American family. In towns that sit between the working class and the middle class, most of the men labored in the local plants, and the women, mostly mothers, stayed home, worked part-time, or found a side hustle— like running a daycare out of their house. This was basically the background of Roseanne—her various part-time jobs, combined with her husband Dan’s ins and outs with financial insecurity. Money was always a necessary throughline and one that hadn’t been shown realistically on TV before, either. But it was used to capture the small triumphs and petty blows of everyday life.

Since it aired, Roseanne has been cited several times over the decades since its bizarre 9th and final season as having been far ahead of its time in terms of the inclusion of everyday folks who happen to be gay or bisexual. Sandra Bernhard’s Nancy, a regular character on the show, comes out in the season 5 episode “Ladies Choice,” and Barr’s character at a point shares an on-screen kiss with Nancy’s girlfriend, played by guest star Mariel Hemingway. The show later depicted the wedding of Roseanne’s diner boss, Martin Mull’s Leon, to his boyfriend, Scott, played by late comedy legend Fred Willard. 

Literally, no other sitcom was doing this at the time. Josuha Kurp noted in Vulture in a 2010 essay on the legacy of Roseanne that, “she did more for the ways homosexuals are portrayed on television than any single gay character or couple has done in the years following.”

The contents of Cancel This! might not be so remarkable, had not Barr’s Roseanne character been killed off over that racist tweet. Back in 2018, as then-President Donald Trump, the alt-right, the Proud Boys, and various others were furiously fanning the flames of racism in America, ABC took no action as Barr joined in the pile-on, tweeting countless appalling comments and conspiracy theories as her re-booted show floated at the top of Nielson’s primetime TV rating charts. Yet soon as they saw her vile tweet about Jarett, she was axed.  

RELATED: Cancel Culture Has Been Reduced to Time-Out for Adults

Barr lost millions for this, but was, and nevertheless remains, worth millions more. Instead of a second season of the rebooted Roseanne, the show reconfigured itself as The Conners, with Roseanne the character dying from an opioid overdose, leaving Dan a widower patriarch. Meanwhile, Roseanne Barr was one of the first to be what some call “canceled.”

In 2023, Fox Nation may have been willing to give her a chance, but there may not be much more to see here of late-period, still pro-MAGA Barr’s comedy schtick. Yet no one is ready to get the hook and pull her off the stage, either, as long as it’s profitable. For that, we will have to wait and see. 

To the real fans, let us remember Barr’s career salad days, with the daring comedian gleefully singing “The National Anthem” off-pitch, grabbing her crotch, and going off to marry Tom Arnold. Some will always remember what Barr left behind with the original run of her sitcom, where she perfected wisecracking, then laced it with longing and pathos. 

We’ll also remember one of her more important pieces of advice: “What women don’t understand is that no one gives you power. You just have to take it.”

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