Roseanne Barr on class, gays and Denver comedy in the '80s
Never one for settling down, Roseanne Barr has kept very busy since her days changing the face of TV and women's comedy with her hit sitcom, Roseanne. In the last two years alone, she's starred in a reality TV show about her macadamia-nut farm in Hawaii, run for president, and been roasted on Comedy Central. Once a rising star in Denver's standup comedy scene, Roseanne will return to Denver on Wednesday, July 31, at Lannie's Clocktower Cabaret, for a fundraiser for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. In advance of that appearance, we caught up with Roseanne to talk about breaking boundaries, class repression and the difficulties of being a female comic during the 1980s comedy boom.
Roseanne Barr will appear at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 31, at Lannie's Clocktower Cabaret.
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Westword: When you were coming up as a comedian in the '80s, the national industry was really exploding. What was the comedy scene in Denver like at that time?
Roseanne Barr: Well, it was 1980, and there were about six local comics at George McKelvey's Comedy Shop. It just started as a one-night-a-week thing, and then it grew into the weekends. I was there at the start of it.
Comedy Works was getting established around that time. Today it has such a reputation for touring comics as a club they look forward to playing. Did it have this reputation from the beginning when you started performing?
It was around for about a year before I played there. I think that we just followed Lannie Garrett's show. It was a little tiny room, and it was the comics that helped make it grow.
Looking back on that era of comedy, it wasn't the most amicable to female standups. Women were pretty objectified by the male comedians. You had a feminist edge to your standup back then -- how did audiences respond to that?
At Comedy Works there were about three or four female comics mixed in with the men. They didn't like female comics at George McKelvey's and did whatever they could to keep us off the stage. But we just kept coming back and pushing it until they didn't have any choice. I was bringing about thirty people with me to the show, and I think it only seated forty, or maybe ninety. So in bringing my own audience, they couldn't keep us out anymore. They didn't like women, women's jokes -- they were very biased.
Today comedy is loaded with successful, respected female comics. And while things may have gotten better, do you think there's still a hangover of that old prejudice that you experienced in the comedy world?
Well, I wouldn't know. It was hard for me to come up when I did, but I'm not in the industry now. There are a lot of great women comics today, that's for sure.
Now that you're returning to standup, is it rekindling creative parts of you that have been dormant since you left the stage?
Yeah. I love to write jokes and tell jokes, so reconnecting with that has been a blast. It's been thirty years, and comedy audiences are different now than they used to be. You've gotta be faster with your jokes these days. People have a shorter attention span.
So you feel there isn't room for long-form storytelling in standup anymore?
You can do that, but you have to get a laugh every seven seconds. After that they get rowdy and start growlin' at ya.