Editor’s Note: In the wake of the recent controversy over Roseanne Barr’s racist tweets and the cancellation of her T.V. show, the Journal is reprinting an edited excerpt from an interview with the comedian that ran in 2006, when, among other things, she said her ambition was to become prime minister of Israel and that she would never act in a sitcom again.
Roseanne Barr says she has two secret ambitions. One is to celebrate the bat mitzvah she never had growing up in Salt Lake City. The other is to become prime minister of Israel, a sort of Golda Meir II.
“My family won’t listen to me, but otherwise I know every solution to every problem,” she said.
The one-time “Domestic Goddess,” whose popularity exploded as a lower-middle-class Lucy in Middle America during nine stormy seasons of “Roseanne,” said she will never act in sitcoms again. She hosted a talk show, “The Roseanne Show,” for two years before it was canceled in 2000, and followed up with a reality television show and a cooking show, both of which met with premature ends when she fell ill in 2003.
In 2005, she returned to her first love, stand-up comedy, toured much of the world and recently did a two-night stint in England, where she wowed the natives.
In her new stand-up routines, Roseanne frequently predicts that “unless people wake up,” the whole world is going to blow up, and she means it. But even so, there is a silver lining. When Armageddon arrives, she predicts, thin people will die first and fat people will walk over their bones.
In this interview she was also less frenetic, more in control and, at times, pensive, although with frequent flashes of her trademark bawdy wisecracks.
The star, who was booed in 1990 for mangling “The Star-Spangled Banner” for laughs before a Padres baseball game in San Diego, remains Hollywood’s anti-celebrity. Her storefront office is on Main Street in El Segundo, and she mostly dresses in jeans, flowered shirts and glasses. She, and her closely knit clan, all raised Jewish, live in the South Bay area, far from the ritzy digs of Beverly Hills and Bel-Air (“too many Jews there”).
“I need to be in a quiet place. I need to know all the neighbors, to walk down the street and talk to people,” she said. “I love the outdoors, the beaches and to go hiking and camping.”
Roseanne’s Jewishness, heightened by her well-publicized association with the Los Angeles Kabbalah Centre, is as much a part of her persona as her loud stage voice and fat-lady jokes.
“It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.” — Roseanne Barr
Like many American Jews, Roseanne defines her ethnic and religious identity by her own personal standards, which in her case often leads into uncharted territory.
Asked about the basis of her Jewishness, she cracked, “An overwhelming desire for carbohydrates.”
Turning more serious, and mystical, she added, “It’s part of my genetic memory. When I hear stories from the Bible or about Judaism, I think that they are about me, that I am part of them, like, I was personally at Mount Sinai with Moses.”
Then the comedian resurfaces. “Of course, this may be some kind of mental illness,” she pondered. “Sometimes, I wonder if there isn’t a fine line between being Jewish and being crazy.”
Her rather eclectic views on religion may have their roots in her childhood years in Salt Lake City, surrounded by Mormons, during the 1950s and early ’60s. There were only 50 Jewish families in the city and there was a lot of anti-Semitism, which sometimes expressed itself violently, she recalled.
Her grandfather, descended from a long line of rabbis, had changed his name from Borisofsky to Barr when he arrived from Russia, while her father was a door-to-door salesman of sundry household goods, including a ready supply of crucifixes.
To protect her children, Roseanne’s mother kept their Jewishness secret from the neighbors and took the family to Sunday services at a Mormon temple.
There, 6-year-old Roseanne discovered her first public stage, lecturing on the faith to Mormon congregations throughout Utah and becoming “like a little preaching rock star.” She was even elected president of a Mormon youth group.
Meanwhile, Roseanne’s devoutly Orthodox grandmother, who knew nothing about her granddaughter’s Mormon escapades, took her to synagogue for Shabbat services. There the little girl was unable to duplicate her stage success, although when she reached 13, the resident cantor introduced her to the mysteries of the kabbalah.
Roseanne never had a bat mitzvah, but is now giving serious thought to catching up.
“I was recently at my niece’s bat mitzvah, and she talked about helping other people in the world,” Roseanne said. “I love to be involved, and that really turned me on. Yes, I would like to have a bat mitzvah; that would be cool.”
She thinks her 72-year-old mother might join her as a fellow bat mitzvah girl.
When she was 16, Roseanne was hit by a car, and the accident left her with a “traumatic brain injury,” whose after-effects she still feels occasionally.
At 17, she became pregnant, gave up the baby girl for adoption, but has since reclaimed her as part of the family. She now counts three ex-husbands, three daughters and two sons, ranging in age from 10 to 35, and two grandsons, named Ethan Zion and Cosmo Dexter.
Roseanne revels in the role of family matriarch and excused herself during the interview to pick up her 10-year-old son, Buck, at a nearby school.
“I love being a nosy neighbor, an interfering mother-in-law and all those wonderful things,” she said. “I started doing everything wrong with my children, but have spent the last 15 years trying to make up for it.”
In recent years, Roseanne’s name has been closely linked to the Kabbalah Centre, which is frequently criticized for its alleged high-pressure tactics to extract money from its followers and the sale of “blessed” bottled water as a cancer cure.
Roseanne said she is not a member of the center, hasn’t given any money, is not “a joiner or follower of anything” and visits mainly to check out its library books.
Although she left home before finishing high school, Roseanne reads widely.
“I like all kinds of esoteric reading and thinking,” she said. Among her favorite subjects are mysticism, philosophy, comparative religion, science and current events.
She also supports liberal politics, traveled with iconoclastic filmmaker Michael Moore during the last presidential election, and as part of a recent show she diagnosed President George W. Bush as having attention deficit disorder.
Besides supplying books, she credits the Kabbalah Centre with showing her the power of meditation, which has given her greater control over her emotions and made her “a lot nicer than I used to be.”
Asked for some parting words of wisdom, Roseanne said, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”