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Roseanne, presidential candidate, can take the heat of a roast

Roseanne, Peace and Freedom Party presidential nominee, says, "I'm putting my feet back into the joke world." First up: "Roast of Roseanne" on Comedy Central.

August 10, 2012|By Greg Braxton, Los Angeles Times
  • Roseanne gets done up for the comic takedown that is a Comedy Central roast.
Roseanne gets done up for the comic takedown that is a Comedy Central roast. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

Roseanne is zeroing in on a milestone: her 60th birthday. But if you think that the force of nature who reached powerhouse status while striking fear in the hearts of network and studio honchos, critics and a few ex-husbands has mellowed, think again. There's a new method to her madness: If you can't beat 'em, run for president of the United States.

Stretching her battlefield from the TV landscape to the political arena, the former self-declared "domestic goddess" earlier this year tossed her hat into the race for the White House and last week was selected as the presidential candidate for the Peace and Freedom Party.

"And after I win, by a vote of 99% in my favor, then I will make some changes in television," she proclaimed. "I'll make changes on all kinds of media. I'm going to run for president of the United States till I do win."

PHOTOS: Roseanne's celebrity roast

Although Roseanne's campaign is flavored with humor, it's obvious from her passionate tone that she's not totally fooling around. But it's just one item on her frenzied agenda: She's in talks for a project with NBC and is planning what she calls a "a 60th anniversary trip around the world all by myself." Before that, however, is Comedy Central's "Roast of Roseanne," the latest in the cable network's series of specials that unleash a comedic assault on a noted celebrity.

The dais for the roast, which airs Sunday at 10 p.m., features an eclectic mix of veteran comedians (Gilbert Gottfried and Jeffrey Ross), actresses (Katey Sagal and Ellen Barkin) and entertainers (Wayne Brady and roast master Jane Lynch), all paying tribute to Roseanne, her landmark series "Roseanne" and her far-reaching effect on comedy. Even former spouse Tom Arnold, whose relationship with Roseanne was an extreme firestorm of outrageousness before dissolving in divorce and charges of abuse, makes a "surprise" appearance to toast his ex-partner.

Roseanne regards the event as more than just another touchstone in her diverse career: It's her way to reconnect and revive the edgy comedy style that defined her rise to prominence — particularly with "Roseanne," which ran for almost a decade and helped define an era with its depiction of a working-class family grappling with the woes of harsh economic times. The series, which costarred John Goodman as her husband, ran from 1988 to 1997 and was a consistent ratings winner.

"I'm putting my feet back into the joke world," Roseanne said, sipping a beverage in front of her El Segundo production office-studio.

The comedian, who is slimmer and more relaxed than she was in her "Roseanne" days, added, "I'm trying to challenge myself and stretch. I'm older than a dinosaur, so I'm seeing if I can be hip enough for Comedy Central's audience. They wanted to do something new and different. And it's cool that they're coming to me — when networks come to me, you know there's something weird."

Though the taping of the Roseanne roast was typically crammed with raw language and scorched-earth insults that left political correctness and sensitivity in the parking lot, Comedy Central is positioning the event differently than past roasts that took aim at more notorious celebrities such as Charlie Sheen, David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson.

Last year's Sheen roast and the 2010 Hasselhoff roast were designed for those performers to directly confront their demons and tabloid shenanigans in a comedic setting, and then move forward. The "Roast of Roseanne," with its more intimate stage and scope, is first and foremost a tribute.

"She's a comedic icon, and the approach has to be different because she's a trailblazer of the comedy community," said Jonas Larsen, the network's executive in charge of the roast. "Charlie and David were both pop culture icons, but they had issues and needed the form of a roast to put those issues behind them. That's not the case with Roseanne. There is nothing but love and respect from those involved. It adds a gravitas to the proceedings. We really want her to feel like it's an honor."

It's the second time in her career that Roseanne has been roasted.

The Friars Club in 1993 honored the performer at its non-televised annual roast. The dais included Arnold, Bill Maher, Martin Mull, Sandra Bernard and Andrew "Dice" Clay. The late Steve Allen was the toastmaster. "Roseanne" was at its height, and Roseanne won the Emmy for lead actress in a comedy series that year (she chose not to attend the ceremony).

What a difference 19 years has made.

Instead of continuing her reign, the entertainer's post-"Roseanne" résumé is top-heavy with stumbles. Among the failures are talk shows, reality series and a lifestyle/cooking program. She is particularly disgruntled with Lifetime's handling of her last project, "Roseanne's Nuts," about her life running her macadamia nut and livestock farm in Hawaii. The series, which premiered in July 2011, was canceled after a few episodes.

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