BREAKING: Before she was famous!


The summer of 85:
Long ago and far away, we spent a few days around Roseanne Barr, before she became hugely famous.

It was February 1986. Incomparably, we had decided to expand our empire by opening a second comedy club in the Baltimore suburbs.

By "we," we mean our partner at that time, comedian/writer Dan Rosen, and ourselves. We flew Roseanne in from the coast to headline at the new club.

As we were able to prove that week, Roseanne wasn't yet famous. That said, in August and November of 1985, she had appeared on the Tonight Show, where she'd rocked the world.

Through the miracle of YouTube, we watched those appearances again yesterday. We'll link you to them below. Within the comedy world, everyone knew that Roseanne was the next gigantic star, but her sitcom didn't go on the air until 1987.

We were surprised by our reaction when we watched those appearances from the late summer and fall of 85. We were surprised by how much we liked the person we saw performing those sets, and by the fact that they made us laugh out loud.

Don't get us wrong! We liked Roseanne, a lot, when she came to Baltimore. We also thought that she was just about the smartest person we'd ever met in the comedy world, though we can't remember what she said or did to make us react that way.

(We only remember one thing she said. Lunching at Baltimore's sumptuous Harborplace, she said this to us and our girl friend at the time: "So, are you kids gonna get married, or what?" We'll guess that some hemming and hawing ensued. The question was answered in a surprising way that fall.)

We liked Roseanne a lot that week; we thought she was very sharp. Also, she was a monster act at that time, as she showed when she came to the downtown club to do a guest set at the midnight show that Saturday night.

(If memory serves, her shows at the suburban club may have been cancelled due to lack of attendance. The Baltimore Sun had taken a pass on doing a profile of Roseanne. They didn't believe us when we told them that she was the next big thing. The empire quickly shrank back to its original size.)

Though they didn't know it at the time, a hundred or so Baltimoreans saw the next big thing at the downtown club that night. Yesterday, we watched her doing those two Tonight Show sets, and it made us both happy and sad.

Yes, it's true. Roseanne could be seen, at that time, as a bit of an updated Phyllis Diller—as the sassy, smart-talking housewife comic who wasn't going to take it any more, who was even going to give it back.

Yesterday, though, we were surprised by how much more her persona conveyed in those sets, and by the way the Tonight Show audiences responded to some of her jokes. We were also surprised by the way we sometimes laughed out loud, on each of two viewings—for example, when she explained what she did when her husband complained that she should be more aggressive in bed.

There was a lot of smiling and happiness being conveyed on that Tonight Show stage. Was Johnny perhaps a bit nonplussed? Famously, he'd rarely booked female comics, and he'd often been married himself.

Roseanne has been back in the news of late because her sitcom is back. She's also been in the news because she voted for Trump.

Results were perhaps predictable. At the New York Times, Roxane Gay may have flipped out a tiny tad in this op-ed column. Yesterday, the Washington Post followed suit, and added an explicit racial twist, with this front-page Outlook piece by C. Nicole Mason, a guest columnist.

Roseanne Barr says she voted for Trump. On the revived TV show, the fictional Roseanne Conner voted for him too.

What should anyone think about that? Tomorrow, we'll look at the essays by Gay and Mason. For today, we're still surprised by how much we liked the person we saw yesterday performing those Carson sets.

For her first Tonight Show appearance, click here, move to the 26-minute mark. You'll be traveling back to August 23, 1985.

Why were people applauding some of those jokes, like the one about refusing to stop watching The Wheel of Fortune? We can't answer that.

For her second appearance, just click here. You'll learn what she did when her husband said she should be more aggressive in bed.

We liked that person, a lot, when she came to Baltimore. On those tapes, you'll be seeing the next big thing before she became hugely famous.

Was there something to learn from that person? More significantly, is there anything to learn from her now?

Tomorrow: Those two columns

Vintage Roseanne: We can't find tape of this, so we're working from memory here. But at the First Annual American Comedy Awards Show in 1987, Roseanne started her chunk by saying something like this:

"You guys! Isn't this the kind of show we all used to make fun of?"

The program aired on ABC. And yes, it pretty much was!


  1. Smart woman, Roseanne. Good political instincts.

  2. It is unclear what Somerby's point is here. Can you like someone who is a nutcase? Why not? He keeps repeating how much he liked her then.

    But not only did Roseanne vote for Trump but she also reported recovered repressed memories of both parents abusing her, committing incest, from her infancy (a time period when no one can possibly remember anything because memory doesn't work that way). Her processing of reality, her willingness to believe fantastic things, was evident way back then. She may be a nice person and a funny comedian, but she doesn't process reality very well.

    It is OK if Somerby likes her. That doesn't make her right about Trump or anything else. It just makes her someone who is nice, who can be funny.

    So what is Somerby's point?

    And while we're at it, did he marry his girlfriend and if he doesn't want to say, why the tease? Does he perhaps think that having had a girlfriend at some point in the past gets him off the hook for the horrible things he has been saying about Stormy Daniels, for his beknighted attitudes toward women expressed over the past few weeks? No sir. It doesn't.

    1. I suggest that you make an appointment as soon as possible with a psychotherapist.

    2. You actually understand the case against Barr, with her Nazi cookie photo shoot, quite generously. Bob wants to settle scores with people who are calling his old celebrity friend a mean spirited nutbag, but that is exactly what She is. She has, by the way, gone off on hate rants against Republicans too. This is probably the only thing which could cause Bob to do a rethink.

    3. his beknighted attitudes

      So, do we have to address him as Sir Bob now?

    4. Sir Cut & Paste

  3. There may be people who have fond memories of the young Ted Cruz. Maybe he tied the shoelaces of the kindergarten kids. No doubt there are people who liked him back then. So what? Does it excuse anything he has done since?

    Roseanne doesn't get a pass. Even Hitler loved his dog. What is Somerby's problem these days?

    He wants to humanize Trump supporters. Why? Does he think they'll return the favor? Trump supporters are our neighbors and family members. Does he really think we don't know that some of them are nice people?

    Somerby is such an ass these days.

  4. Unfortunately, Roseanne apparently does not think women should be treated with respect. So did a lot of other white women in 2016.

  5. Rosanne is vastly wealthy. Does that make her a tool of the media corporations and the sponsors who interrupt her tv show to hawk their bullshit? Is she a sellout?

  6. Thanks for the personal anecdotes, mean Bob.

  7. Funny that when "liberal" entertainers like Kathy Griffin or Jimmy Kimmel or Michael Shannon voice anti-Trump views, Somerby rips them a new one. But when Roseanne voices pro-Trump views, and tweets a lot of nutty political bs to boot, Somerby is filled with warm regard for her.

    "Double standard" is what that's called.

    1. I’m convinced Bob’s defense of Bill O”Reilly is largely based on him getting booked on the Factor once, though he was bumped. Well, Bob sure takes care of his friend.

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  9. You should not miss Maher from this weekend where he takes apart Geraldo; whose defense of Trump comes down to “he was nice to me when I was a guest on celebrity apprentice.” Bob’s work here is pretty much another version of Geraldo.

    Is it possible Bob is misleading the readers here by mistake? I doubt it “She says She voted for Trump.” Actually She was for Trump from the get go and was on the stump for him. She has signed on to Alex Jones level garbage which She posted on her website YEARS ago. Her behavior, once She became someone with a hit TV Show, was repulsive! She bullied and pushed people around, damaging people’s lives.
    It’s a sad story, and one Bob apparently has just been too lazy to follow.

  10. Funny for me to see the guy who was on before Roseanne - it was a youngish Gary Busey. In 1985, he would have been 41. He looked 27. About 15 years ago I was watching a TV special where this guy was talking about his drug problems and he said "I could not handle the fame."

    I was thinking "This guy is famous? Who the heck is he?" It was Gary Busey. I had never heard of him. He was not THAT famous.

    The movie he was promoting then sounded interesting. Insignificance. Leonard Maltin gave it 3.5 stars out of 4 in his 1998 movie guide.

  11. Oh god. Bob Somerby talking about some failed venture in 1985 where Roseanne Barr acted out her comedy dreck on the way to TV fame is the most depressing and dismal thing to read today. Like, Somerby tried for showbiz, but it was all sadass Kentucky and greasy chicken on paper plates for the rubes. Hey Bob, did Roseanne ever call to thank you for setting up a microphone and a folding chair for her decades ago? You didn't even buy her a six-pack, did you. This is one of the lamest attempts at celebrity association I've ever read. Embarrassing.

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