Did you hear the one about the canceled TV star? She wasn’t actually canceled, but the perception of her as such, resulting from real-life consequences of her behavior, landed her a special on Fox News’ streaming service.
It’s not funny, but it’s true. Following in the footsteps of Sharon Osbourne, whose self-produced (and propagandist) limited documentary series Sharon Osbourne: To Hell and Back premiered on Fox Nation last fall, Roseanne Barr dropped a one-hour stand-up special on the streamer this week. Roseanne Barr: Cancel This has some jokes, or what could reasonably qualify as such even if they aren’t exactly funny, but it also contains a lot of bald-faced appeals to Barr’s red base, which is perhaps more sympathetic than ever to her after a racist tweet about Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett got her fired from her show in 2018. Naturally, Barr disagrees about the characterization of said tweet—“muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj”—as racist.
Cancel This was filmed in Texas (Houston to be exact), where Barr now lives. She extols her new home state’s virtues like this: “I look out my bedroom window, I can’t believe it, I see all these gorgeous little tiny baby deer in my yard eating the grass around my pool, it’s so fantastic, you know, ‘cause I can pull out my AR-15 and just blow ‘em to smithereens. Legally! So fantastic. Open carry, bitches, hell yeah!”
If she were spoofing conservative values by latching onto the most obvious talking points and expressing them in a manner that turns up the fervor just a notch or two, one might interpret the entire exercise as satire. Instead, the routine is obvious and rusty when it isn’t convoluted, and Barr seems to conflate cheers with laughter, which is to say she seems equally committed to being agreed with as she does being laughed with. Like a child, eliciting any response seems like the main objective. As she told Tucker Carlson this week regarding the special: “My standup is more offensive than I’ve ever been, and I’m so happy, because you’ve gotta be more offensive when the culture is so offensive that it makes absolutely no sense—that it’s anti-life, anti-human, anti-culture, anti-citizen. You’ve gotta be so offensive to offend the most offensive thing that is on earth right now, and I think I’ve done it.”
And so we get jokes that Frankenstein conservative interests, like: “I just wanna say to all those girls that are all so damn upset about them overturning the Roe v. Wade thing: Don’t get so damn upset about it. You are never gonna get pregnant. You got the vax. You’re never gonna have a baby, chill out!” She complains about her “libtard” daughters who disagree with her politics. She announces, “My pronouns are: kiss my ass,” a joke swiped from one of the most profoundly unfunny men in the public eye, Ted Cruz.
Cancel This is not the return to form Barr thinks it is, nor is it a good argument as to why she deserves to remain in public consciousness. She, of course, speaks at length about her firing, repeating claims that she thought Jarrett was white (thus attempting to exonerate herself from having dehumanized Jarrett via the racist trope of comparing Black people to apes), and that Ambien fueled her posting. “I got fired, ‘cause basically I racially misgendered somebody I thought was as white woman,” is how she puts it. She recalls being contacted by ABC after news of her tweet spread, to which her reaction was: “Oh shit, I don’t want to talk to no Hillary donors!”
Barr recounts a “rough couple of years” following her dismissal, and elsewhere she evinces the very Republican brand of solipsism that paints her as a victim and anyone holding her accountable as an oppressor—a page ripped from Trump’s rulebook. What’s more disgusting than this disingenuousness is that it’s an actually effective tactic. “I’m not going to let rich, privileged assholes win, I’m not,” she says of her drive to get back on the stage. There is no sense of the irony that, to many, Barr is herself a rich, privileged asshole and that, furthermore, no one is entitled to their giant platform. That public space is rented, not owned. This week on Fox News’ Outnumbered (they’re really, really marketing the hell out of this thing), Barr claimed that as a result of her firing she lost “everything.” I’ll believe it when I receive her dispatch from the homeless shelter. To Carlson, she said, “I was the first casualty of cancel culture in a large way,” which ignores not only comedians who faced backlash as a result of their antics (like Gilbert Gottfried and Michael Richards), but also, I don’t know, Jesus Christ.
Or Harvey Weinstein, someone Barr rails against when she whines about the “baby-blood drinking Democrat community…or the protect-Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Prince Andrew community” in one breath and then seemingly defends in another breath when she states, “These MeToo whores, they are so on my last nerve.”
Expecting coherence from Barr might be too tall an order, but her lack of it does her comedy no favors. Those who have been following along will not be surprised that she strikes a conspiratorial tone when discussing the covid vaccine. On the debunked notion that smoking protects people from covid, she says, “That’s when I knew everything was bullshit. It’s all bullshit and nothing but lies. Every single damn thing.” She says vaccine mandates make her “mad” and claims that within her family, many of whose members labeled her a conspiracy theorist, “they’re all sick, I’m the only healthy one.” She also says that she’s had “the covid” four times and no longer has a sense of smell or taste, though one could argue she’d been missing the latter years before the pandemic hit.
“What happened to people, though?” goes one rant. “How could they line up to take these shots from this government knowing that this government gave smallpox-infested blankets to the First Nations people? Gave syphilis to Black prisoners in Tuskegee? Told us there was weapons of mass destruction before they leveled Iraq and destroyed Libya? Told us fen-phen was safe and then all the fuckin’ fat people died?”
Never mind that said shots were first distributed by the government of Trump, whom Barr voted for and supported. Never mind the political hopscotch in that rant, or the intentional overlooking of science and ignoring of the overwhelming successes of vaccines, in general. Barr seems more focused on appealing than speaking the truth, though she can’t quite stay put in one place for too long—her progressive views on marijuana (a “good, good drug”) and gay marriage both elicit surprising cheers from her predominantly white, Southern audience.
Like so many Republican-angled figureheads and self-styled purveyors of truth, it seems that Barr’s biggest cause is herself. “You can’t wake up people who are pretending to be asleep,” Barr says of the pro-vax, gender-studying liberals she is eager to cast as more privileged then herself, a celebrity millionaire. But her special reminds us that you can sing a lullaby, stringing together familiar words and ideas, to those pretending to be asleep. It doesn’t have to make sense, it doesn’t have to be true, it just has to sound good.