“When you meet her, it’s best if you don’t try to shake her hand,” Roseanne Barr’s makeup artist and longtime friend warns me. “She doesn’t like to be touched by strangers.” OK, no sweaty handshakes. Fair enough. But there’s more. “If you get nervous around Roseanne, try not to show it. She’s like a shark. If she smells fear, she’ll tear you apart,” the makeup artist says.
As I wait for Barr to arrive, I contemplate the pop culture folklore that surrounds her: the alleged multiple personality disorder, the roller coaster relationship with Tom Arnold—which culminated in a bitter divorce—the theory (her own) that she may in fact be the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler, whom she has requested to be dressed as for her Heeb photo shoot. “Nervous” doesn’t begin to describe my feelings about meeting this 5’4″ Jewish grandmother.
With her hit sitcom off the air for more than a decade and the tabloid pages of her tumultuous life rotting in landfills, Barr currently spends her time working on a collection of essays on menopause, celebrity, pharmaceuticals and Jewish life in Mormon Utah (to be published by Simon Spotlight Entertainment) and disseminating her signature mix of insights and insults through her blog (Roseanneworld.com). She briefly kept an account with what she now calls “that shit heap” (Twitter) before deleting it, citing as her reason “the idiocy of people and how ill-informed they all seem.” Today, when she brusquely enters the photo studio, she seems none too happy about having been dragged from her self-imposed exile.
“Hello,” she barks in a general greeting to everyone and no one. I approach with the kind of caution usually reserved for wild animals and salute her with a “Sieg Heil” in honor of our shoot. She looks at me blankly and asks, “Who are you?” I do my best to explain, then abruptly break the second Roseanne commandment: “Sorry, I’m a bit nervous,” I stammer. The second the words are out of my mouth I brace myself for the onslaught, but to my surprise I seem to have amused her and Barr softens into the loving, if somewhat irritated, matriarch who charmed a generation.
As the “Domestic Goddess” dons the famous moustache, transforming into “Domestic Goddess Hitler,” I notice that she’s beginning to have fun. She nails the Fuehrer’s facial expressions with twisted glee, and as she takes the burnt gingerbread “Jew Cookies” out of the oven it occurs to me that Barr may be the last celebrity utterly incapable of giving a fuck—a quality theoretically easy to embody until it’s time to face the practical repercussions. “Franklin Ajae, Paul Mooney, Mort Sahl and Dick Gregory’s passings will tear my kishkas out,” Barr laments. “They gave everything they had to just tell the truth, and they couldn’t make a decent living because of the choice they made—not selling out to Hollywood.”
At 55 years old, truth is the key governing principal to Barr. Yes, she has plastic in her past, but she has since rejected the idea of staving off the aging process. In fact, clinging to youth now seems downright disgusting to her. “Today’s youth make me rejoice in being a germ-obsessed hermit,” she confides. “The thought of young people â€˜doing it’ is repulsive to me.” However, this does not mean the lovable curmudgeon doesn’t know how to party. “I have the pleasure of drinking too much in my post-menopausal incarnation,” she reveals. “I like tequila, really expensive kinds… straightup. I hate alcoholics and AA… If you can’t drink responsibly, don’t drink at all. Don’t go to meetings, whine about your character flaws and blame the fact that you are a sociopath on booze.” Barr also supports legalizing marijuana and has plenty of theories on the subject. “Kraft Foods invented pot. You have to realize that it’s a spiritual hunger, not a material hunger, that you are feeling,” she says.
As we wrap up the shoot, Barr puts her Swastika armband, one of the gingerbread victims and a Polaroid of herself in the costume in a Ziploc bag, making it look like evidence from some bizarre crime scene. She plans on bringing it to her 13-year-old son when she picks him up from school. “Maybe this will make my kid like me,” she says with a sigh.
When the photographer suggests that we pose together for a quick snapshot, I put my arm around this slightly eccentric drinker and pot smoker who gets off on dressing like a Nazi, and it dawns on me: I adore her. No-touching protocol be damned, I lean in to plant a kiss on her cheek, and, to my surprise, she turns toward me and puckers her lips. The nerves I’m feeling now are of a completely different variety.
Click for more of Roseanne’s insight and of course pictures, including the above mentioned Polaroid.
Read Heeb publisher, Josh Neuman’s response to all the fuss over the photo on the Internet.Â