I laughed out loud -- numerous times and involuntarily -- at Roseanne Barr's HBO special.
Unfortunately, the year of this special was 1987, Barr onstage at the old Mayfair Theatre in Santa Monica. Soon she would become a star, change her name to just Roseanne. Now she's back to Roseanne Barr -- and back to stand-up, in a new hour filmed at the Comedy Store and airing on HBO tonight.
It's called "Roseanne Barr: Blonde and Bitchin'," and instead of reflecting the journey from the early Barr to the current one, it's hazily thought-out and dull. And cynical toward the consumer, given that she dips into the archives to haul out old jokes from her "domestic goddess" heyday.
Barr looks great, anyway, blond and radiant, her plus size curtained behind a blue kimono number, the face exfoliated; you'd believe her in a movie playing a Hollywood madam. And yet I forget where we left off, vis-a-vis her; I think it's post-sitcom, post-medications, post-divorces, post-infamous butchering of the national anthem at a San Diego Padres game, post-talk show.
Though she's still Jewish. None of the infamous chapters in her public life, however, get a real airing, and the topics that do don't go much beyond Roseanne-isms.
"This whole century blows," she says, by way of mentioning (as opposed to connecting it back to a point of view) bird flu, mad cow disease, President Bush, Gov. Schwarzenegger, Oprah and pedophile priests.
Current events were never Barr's strong suit. What was different and even liberating about her when she burst onto the stand-up scene in the 1980s was the persona: An overweight housefrau emerging from domestic misery to tell us about her life. She was a never-before-seen mix of the put-upon and the raunchy, giggling at her own jokes. She made herself as aggressively undeniable as her male counterparts, chomping on her gum and daring the audience to be offended by her abrasive cackling. Behind the character was the voice that responded to advice not to hit your kids in anger by saying: "When would be a good time? When you're feeling particularly festive?"
That's a line from the 1987 special. At 54, Barr is still her unapologetic brash self, but now the pose seems not so much subversive as unexamined. She's up from Burke Williams instead of the trailer, exuding more ex-star entitlement than outrageousness. The mother of a 10-year-old and the grandmother of a 5-year-old, she says, staring at the effects of menopause: "I'm wet where I'm supposed to be dry and dry where I'm supposed to be wet."
Co-written with her piano player, Johnny Argent, "Blonde and Bitchin' " is a scattershot hour, ending with her stripping to a leotard and then belting a comic version of "My Way." We're supposed to buy her as a once-breakthrough comedian who's back on the beat.
To that end, Barr is apparently touring, arriving by helicopter onto gay cruises to whoop it up with her fan base. On some rung of the show business ladder, it's got to be a spectacle.
'Roseanne Barr: Blonde and Bitchin' '
When: 10 to 11 p.m. Saturday
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)