Although Roseanne Barr grabbed all the headlines, she wasn't the only comedian to sing the national anthem at a baseball game in 1990.

Some four months before Barr's cacophonous rendition in San Diego, Elayne Boosler opened a Mets game at New York's Shea Stadium with her version of the "Star-Spangled Banner.""I sang it so well that you didn't read about it the next day," Boosler said by phone from Los Angeles. "I don't really crave singing at all, but I did it because I love the Mets so much and I love baseball so much. I thought it would be the ultimate thing to do. And, as a comedian, you don't often get to play to 35,000 people."

And while Boosler didn't do any elaborate theatrics (a la Barr's spitting or crotch-grabbing), she couldn't resist adding her own gentle comedic touch to the song.

"I thought a lot about how people would be expecting something (funny), and I put a lot of thought into how to do something. You know, people are very serious about the song.

"And I just came up with one little move that was so appreciated and so well-received that it did get noticed as being funny without being offensive."

What she did was sing it straight - "and right before the high note, my hand came up and I crossed my fingers."

Boosler said the gesture got a huge crowd response because "they were thinking `I hope she makes it,' and they realized what I was thinking. It was like a great piece of comedy without offending anyone.

"And when I made it (the note), it was like the loudest cheer I ever heard. It really was being able to put comedy in it - but comedy that fit because it was appropriate."

The fact that Boosler could use such a small gesture to communicate with so many is a good example of why she's considered one of the top stand-up acts in the country. For Boosler, communication is the essence of comedy - a fact that she thinks is ignored by many young comedians.

"The thing that I think is missing in a lot of the fast-food comedy is some kind of dignity and heart for the human condition," she said. "It really is a lot of slick guys with condescending attitudes.

"To me, that has nothing to do with what I use comedy for, which is to make people leave feeling a little better than they came in - feeling more human and more connected. I think there's a lot of isolation in the world, and I like people to come in all separately and go out feeling bonded. I think that's what really good comedy does - you laugh from the heart."

It's a sense of entertaining that Boosler picked up from her earliest idols: Buster Keaton, Jackie Gleason, Phil Silvers, Judy Holliday, Carole Lombard and Rosalind Russell.

"It's funny because I don't usually analyze comedy, and I never really knew why I liked them," Boosler said. "But now, looking back on it, all those six people had the same thing in common. They came from such a human spot, and it really was them trying to make sense of the world around them - not aloofly standing back and commenting on it wryly."

During some 18 years of performing, Boosler has watched comedy grow from its infancy into a multimillion-dollar industry. She's concerned that the quality hasn't kept up with the quantity.

"To me, comedy's disco now - and we all know what we thought of disco," Boosler said. "I think the boom will die back a little, and it will turn back into the people who do it because they love it - not because there's money. Just like good music comes back.

"It's about the level of disco. It's 400 guys doing McDonald's jokes with a bad attitude. To me, that's not comedy.

"But it has nothing to do with me. I think people who follow me or have seen my shows will come out because they know it's a very different thing. I'm not trying to put together five minutes to get on a sitcom."

Boosler also bristles at being labeled a female comedian.

"I've never put myself in a category that cuts me off from half the population," she said. "I don't do an act geared towards women. I talk to men all day; it would be silly to stop at 8 o'clock."

In fact, Boosler considers a story that Jimmie Walker told her one of the greatest compliments she has received.

He "was hanging around with a lot of guys who were talking about comics and they said, `Well, who's the greatest woman comic?' And Walker said, `What about Boosler?' And they said, `Oh, she's not a woman comic.' "

But Boosler knows that once she gets onstage, it doesn't take long for the labels to fade away.

"It doesn't mean anything. You get on stage; you have 10 seconds - and after that, you're dead or you're great. People don't leave the club and say, `That's the greatest show I ever saw. Too bad it was a woman.'

"You've got 10 seconds, and after that it all disappears. They don't even know who they're looking at. If people are laughing and everything is hitting them right, they don't know if you're black, if you're short or if you're a woman."

At the close of her current tour, Boosler will film her fourth special for the Showtime cable-TV network. And although she has an open ear for any worthwhile television or film project, she knows where her bread is buttered.

"I do stand-up," Boosler said, "and my dream, which I'm now achieving, is to stand up in concert for two hours a night the way I used to watch (Richard) Pryor and (Robert) Klein.

"That's all I want out of it. I just want to be a great stand-up comedian.

"That field's wide open."