The Star: In standup set, Roseanne Barr reminds us why she became famous in the first place

At Brampton’s Rose Theatre on April 22. Repeats April 23 at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, St. Catharines; April 25 at Oakville Centre; April 27, River Run Centre, Guelph.

Roseanne, the TV show, is remembered adoringly and is now enjoying a massively popular second lease on life.

Roseanne Barr, the beyond-outspoken celebrity, has a famously colourful history. But the legend of Barr’s standup comedy seems to have been eclipsed by them both, which created an interesting atmosphere at her show Sunday night at Brampton’s Rose Theatre.

That Barr, 65, is treasured by her people was a fact obvious from the moment she took the stage to a partial standing ovation, and underlined by the recognition and applause received later by a throwaway reference to her Hawaiian nut farm, of all things.

They cheered a fond joke about show co-star Sara Gilbert and a sharp, if stale, gag about Barr’s ex-husband, Tom Arnold. In fact, most everything she did worked for her audience, though it’s hard to imagine the first half of her hour-long set getting the same response from a less-besotted crowd. (The love in the room didn’t extend to the opener, Letterkenny’s K. Trevor Wilson, whose likeable set got a polite but slightly sedate response.)

There was a joke about her getting medical marijuana in California to deal with her anxiety “that I might run out of pot”; there was a joke about how without gay men “us fat girls would have no one to dance with.” The topics and execution were not, then, exactly revolutionary; the stuff about gay people in particular would have been right at home in a Margaret Cho set from 20 years ago. (Not that there’s any malice; her interaction with the crowd revealed the Church of Roseanne is a broad one, with pockets of gays and lesbians in attendance, and some pro-Trump and some anti-Trump, if you care, though it was a largely apolitical affair.)

Barr’s standup career — which the ABC show now in its surprising 10th season drew upon — always dwelt on relatable, everyday resentments, but at least once on Sunday it felt familiar for the wrong reasons: a joke about her children finding her drugs was excused by a near-sellout, 860-seat theatre full of the precise people who would know that a memorable 1993 episode of Roseanne, “Stash From the Past,” was built out of the same incident.

If anyone in the audience was annoyed, it never showed. Their heroine was here, in all her endearing bluntness. A couple of talky patrons seemed to sometimes think she was in a personal conversation with them, though I tend to blame the cosiness of the venue and house lights that were probably too bright.

At any rate, they didn’t have to wait too long before the set snapped into focus. Like Chris Rock last fall at the Air Canada Centre, Barr saved the strongest material for the final 30 minutes.

There was a delightfully sly joke about the Kardashians (“they’ve got the kind of talent you just can’t find, anywhere”) and more winning stuff about sex among the elderly and, of all things, the McRib. There were gags that scored big even with a non-superfan like me, including one about altar boys that probably cannot be printed here, and one about Chaz Bono that probably can, but I just don’t have that kind of guts.

Barr has seldom been a high-energy performer, but she sold a bit about incontinence and did a lot of audience interaction — at times it seemed like an unusually funny and offensive TED talk — including some amusing, spontaneous-seeming interaction with an elderly patron who seemed at risk of expiring during the show.

Though they might have been there just to admire her as much as laugh, the back half of her set more than justified the crowd’s love. You got reminded of the woman who hit big on The Tonight Show and Letterman in the 1980s, shortly before ABC came calling. More of that, please.


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