Once Upon A Time, Roseanne Barr Was The Only Person Who Ever Stood Up For Me

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Comedian Felicia Michaels On Why She's Optimistic Roseanne Barr's Series Reboot May Have A Positive Impact
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That's why I'm still hoping she uses the reboot of her show to take a stand that helps us all.

One of the first people I met in comedy was Roseanne Barr. I was 18 and an open mic comic. She was a middle act and a mom.

We were both living in Colorado and within a few minutes of our first meeting, we were pushing a car loose from a snow bank at the tail end of a blizzard in Aspen, trying like hell to get to a gig on time. We laughed our behinds off over the comical farce of it.

At the time, I had a boyfriend who was a club owner and a comic. I’m going to just be honest ... he was a disgusting jerk.

I met him on a night I did a wet t-shirt contest at a strip joint called the Peppermint Lounge. After we started dating, whenever I disagreed with him even a little, he would either spit in my face or throw a twenty dollar bill on the floor and call me a wh*re as he screamed at me to pick it up, “Just like all the wh*res do from stage floor of the Peppermint!"

 

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Soon enough, I working full time as a stripper. It was also during this time that I started doing comedy.

Once, when he was the opening act for James Brown in Denver, he actually did one of my jokes, during that show, right in front of me.

When I quietly confronted him about it backstage after the show, he slapped my face and said no one would ever believe that an unfunny c*** like myself could write a joke that good. Charming, n'est-ce pas?

So why why am I writing about this now? Because after a year of dating, I started hinting to him that maybe we should break up. In response, he threatened to tell everybody in the business not to book me for shows if I left.

Given that he was a club owner, it was not an empty threat.

One night soon after, Roseanne worked the club and after the show we decided to go grab some grub. We sat at the edge of the restaurant in a booth next to the window. My boyfriend found out where we'd gone, and as we ate our late night pancakes, he sped his car back and forth through the small service driveway right outside of that same window we were sitting next to, shooting darts with his eyes at the both of us.

When Roseanne noticed what he was doing she simply said to me, “You gotta get away from that guy.”

I confessed to her that I wanted to, but that he'd told me I would never do comedy in the state of Colorado again if I left, adding to her, "I hope he won’t stop booking you because you’re hanging out with me tonight.”

She just laughed as he drove by once again with a crazed look on his face — and then she unceremoniously flipped him the bird.

It was the first time in my young life that anyone had ever stood up for me.

He finally left us alone, and shortly thereafter I left Colorado forever, making my way to Los Angeles to try my hand at comedy there.

 

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A few years later, Roseanne came to LA and stayed at my apartment while she auditioned for club owner Mitzi Shore to be a regular at The Comedy Store.

Becoming a regular at The Comedy Store is still something to covet in the comedy world, but back then it meant you were pretty much guaranteed to make a living in comedy, as Mitzi also had a show in Vegas and worked all her favorites there constantly.

The night of her audition, Roseanne not only became a regular after her showcase in the Original Room, but Mitzi put her on in the Main Room at the Store, and if memory serves me right, she was booked on The Tonight Show right then and there.

Can you imagine that?

Roseanne killed it.

We laughed all the way to my apartment, and I still remember her calling people back home with her great news from the pink phone I'd glued a million tiny trinkets on, as I was a major-league Desperately Seeking Susan and Madonna fan at the time.

Roseanne’s life took off in a million different directions. She went on tour, did The Tonight Show, and got her show. It was lightening fast. I’ve never seen anything like it since.

I slugged it out in the open mic scene in LA, started gigging enough to quit stripping near the airport, and actually became a regular at The Comedy Store myself.

About a year later, right around the time her series Roseanne premiered in 1988, I saw her again and we went to grab another late night meal, this time at Fatburger.

While we waited for our food, Roseanne confessed to me that burgeoning fame and money wasn't all it's cracked up to be. She suddenly became wistful and said, “You can’t trust anyone once you’re famous. Everybody always wants something from you.”

It was my first peek into being famous-adjacent. As we chowed on our burgers I thought to myself, “I’m never going to ask Roseanne for anything.” And I never did.

As the years flew by, Roseanne and I lost touch. The times we did run into each other in the clubs, we always had a genuine exchange of warmth and questions about how things were faring for the both of us.

But now let’s get down to the ugly. Let’s leave the past behind, and dive deep into the present, because here’s my question ...

How did one of the perceived liberals of the '80s become a Trumper?

Here is a woman who — in real life — not only couldn't have cared less about risking her own job security to stand up for a stripper — during an era when sex-workers were shamed terribly for having agency over their own bodies and electing to use it in order to survive — but also championed through her art the idea of inclusion for all, no matter one’s sexual orientation or skin color.

In a since-deleted Tweet back in December of 2017, Roseanne herself said that she was never a liberal, but a radical.

"4 those who wonder-back in the day when I was called a 'liberal' by journalists, I used to answer-'I'm not a Liberal, I'm a radical' & I still am-I voted Trump 2 shake up the status quo & the staid establishment."

I, like the rest of you, have been absorbing the opinions being put out there on social and mainstream media, both for and against Roseanne and the reboot of her show.

I've seen the sharing and re-sharing of the 2009 photo of Roseanne dressed in a Hitler get-up while holding a pan of burnt cookies in human form, and the resulting statements of incensed people swearing they will never watch her new show.

I want you to know that I totally get it.

I’ve combed over it all, trying to make sense of it.

I’m a die-hard liberal. If one could harness the hate that fills my heart when it comes to the subject of Trump, it would light up the entire Puerto Rican electrical grid in a second. Trump’s Presidency has enabled others to not only divide us, but has allowed extremists on all sides of social issues to rear their ugly heads, and I do not want or intend to normalize any of it.

Roseanne has said, just like all the Trumpers in our lives, that “I voted for Trump to shake things up.”

So now what? Do we all just take our corners in the stagnant waters of our political system as it increasingly becomes an all-out risk to so many lives?

 

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I watched the reboot. It’s solid. The best and smartest writers worked on it, so how could it not be?

Do I hope that the story arc for the season hints at Roseanne’s character understanding that sometimes when opting to shake things up, it’s not the political earthquake that’s the biggest hazard, but the effects associated with it — the landslide of open hate, the volcanic eruption of poverty, and many generations of hard earned trust displaced by a tsunami of hateful tweets?

You betcha!

How can I, and all of you, no matter what part of the political dial you rest your soul on, even start a conversation without enabling, accidentally triggering, or normalizing hate?

How do we actually start hearing each other out?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that maybe the right tool for the job is a little concept called comedy, and if so, that tool should be wielded by a person who has dipped their toes in both worlds, both conservative and liberal. So if not Roseanne, then who?

As a full fledged adult all I can say is this: I no longer know Roseanne and haven’t for many many many years, but the 18-year-old girl who was spat on, humiliated, and looked down on can only hope that the one person who stood up for her then will once again stand up for us ALL.

 

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Felicia Michaels is comedian, writer, and filmmaker whose comedy has appeared on such networks as MTV, A&E, COMEDY CENTRAL, VH1, SHOWTIME, NBC, ABC, and FOX. She was nominated twice as Funniest Female by the American Comedy Awards before clinching it. Currently, Michaels keeps herself busy touring and putting the finishing touches on a new directorial project — all while raising two young boys as a single mother.

This article was originally published at Facebook. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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