Domestic goddess that she is, Roseanne Barr can't help but look at success from a homemaking point of view.
"I'm a better housekeeper now," she said during a press conference last summer. Then she added the kicker: "I have a maid."As a stand-up comedian, Barr paylayed her Utah upbringing and working class roots into national popularity and appearances on the "Tonight" show, her own HBO special and as the opening act for a concert tour by Julio Iglesias (or, as Barr calls him, "that Spanish guy.")
And now, as the star of one of the new television season's biggest comedy hits, ABC's aptly named "Roseanne," she's learning that show biz success has its privileges.
"We have the same values as we've always had,"she said of her family, which consists of herself, husband Bill Pentland and three children. "Only now we have money and can buy stuff."
Most of her life, however, has been similar to the reality portrayed on "Roseanne," a sitcom about a blue collar family that is constantly struggling to make ends meet. "When I was growing up in Salt Lake I took every minimum wage job I could get," she said. "I worked at the Jewish Community Center. I was a camp counselor. I was a waitress. I was a phone answerer.
"There were never any real rewards," she said. "You had to find your happiness in humor, family closeness, warmth and love because you couldn't afford to do anything else. Like my father always used to say, 'It's better to be rich and healty than sick and poor.'"
Adding to the difficulty of her early years in Utah was a constant feeling of being "real different."
"There aren't a lot of Jewish people in Salt Lake, and I was raised in a real orthodox Jewish family," she said during the press conference. "At times it was real difficult. I couldn't wait to get out of there."
So when she was 18 she took a trip to Colorado--ostensibly to visit a friend. "But I knew right then that I was never going back to Utah to live," she said. Indeed, she met and moved in with Pentland just days after leaving Salt Lake.
But the change of scenery didn't change her lifestyle much. The problem could be summed up in two words: dollar bills. Dollars were hard to come by; bills weren't.
"It's real hard to have everyone call you and tell you you're behind on the bills," she remembers of those days. "It's a hard way to live."
But her quick wit helped her become a popular cocktail waitress, which helped her become a popular stand-up comic in the Denver area, which helped her win a national reputation for comedy, which brought her a starring role in a TV comedy in which she plays - surprise! - a quick-witted woman with money problems.
"It's not like I have to do a lot of acting with this character, you know what I mean?" she said, chomping away on the ever-present chewing gum in her mouth. "For 36 years I was her!"
Barr, who was earlier offered the role of Peg Bundy in Fox's "Married . . . With Children" (she turned it down because she thought it was "too mean" and because "it was not on a real network"), has high hopes for "Roseanne."
For one thing, she likes the fact that "Roseanne" is about a real flesh-and-blood mother. "I think I'm the first real mom on TV," she said. "All the other shows have dads who are moms - or at least they act like moms. Most of the moms on TV are all so dumb."
For example, she said, "I could never take it that Lucy had to beg her husband for $5, and then he'd spank her or humiliate her somehow. I hated `I Love Lucy.' "
She's also pleased with "Roseanne's" blue collar orientation. "There's always been this real patronizing attitude toward working class people on television," Barr said. In fact, that's one of the things that bug her about "The Cosby Show."
" `Cosby' is good for what it is," she said. "But I want to see a show that's about real people. Working people."
That's exactly what she has in "Roseanne." And apparently, she's not the only one who's watching. The show has been in the A.C. Nielsen Co. ratings top 10 each week that it's been on, and television critics from all around the country are hailing the show as one of the year's best new series.
"We started with a funny comedian," producer Tom Warner said, "and people seem to be responding to what she's saying."
Not that what she's saying is particularly soothing. With a whiney, nasally voice that can only be described as grating, Barr's TV character talks about her kids ("This is why some animals eat their young") and her husband ("Do I ever regret marrying you? Every minute of my life") with a sort of loving acidity. But it's consistent with the hard-edged view of comic reality that has been Barr's trademark during her entertainment career.
It's also consistent with her hard-edged view of life, shaped by years of struggle, frustration and, sometimes, pain.
"The people who know me best say they hope success changes me," Barr said. "But I realize that this could all be gone tomorrow. In this business stuff happens. I could be a segment on `Where Are They Now?' next week."
And if that happens?
"It happens," she said, unconcerned. "We'd get along. We did it for about a million years before - I guess we could do it again." She paused, then added: "As long as I didn't have to give up the maid."