“People ask me, ‘What has a has-been of your magnitude been up to lately?’” Roseanne Barr joked about halfway through her set at the Tropicana’s Laugh Factory on January 17, the fourth night of her new Las Vegas residency. That kind of jovial self-deprecation, a pretty far cry from her legendary she-devil reputation, infused the entire performance, which was so refreshingly casual and low-key that it began with Barr strolling onstage as she checked her smartphone, asking the audience to wait a moment. (That did lead to a joke about how she had a new app allowing her to ignore all of humanity, but it may also have involved her catching up on last-minute email.)
Sometimes the show was a little too casual; Barr was on stage for less than an hour, with no opening act, and more than a few times she stumbled over jokes or seemed to lose her train of thought. Even then, she was happy to laugh it off (“That wasn’t a very good joke”), and one of the benefits of having been through the tabloid/controversy/scandal wringer so many times seems to be that she’s not concerned with what people think about her. Blaming allergies from the dry Vegas climate, she had a pocket full of tissues and kept wiping her nose throughout the show, which turned out to be sort of endearing, since a big theme of the night was Barr’s willingness to showcase her flaws.
Anyone hoping to see Barr go off on crazed rants or spout conspiracy theories would have been sorely disappointed; although she didn’t shy away from mentioning her recent presidential campaign (in which she placed sixth in the general election), virtually every political topic turned into a series of innocuous jokes. She even brought out the old chestnut about gay marriage leading to the end of gay sex. Despite her willingness to highlight her own eccentric history, the show also felt like Barr’s effort to re-establish herself as a standard, reliable comedian, and plenty of her topics (the indignities of aging, the difference between men and women, the horrors of the Kardashians) were boilerplate stand-up subject matter.
Barr’s audience has shrunk over the years (the fairly small Laugh Factory was only about two-thirds full), but the people who’ve stuck around (gay people and fat people were who Barr identified as her core fanbase) are clearly in her corner. They cheered loudly when she asked who voted for her, they applauded when she successfully moved a stool from one side of the stage to the other, they laughed at some of her hackiest material (“I hear the food [at Guantanamo Bay] is worse than the buffet at Excalibur”), and they endured her good-natured ribbing from the stage (the one guy who clapped when Barr asked who voted for Mitt Romney was a favorite target). In turn, she delivered the kind of solid performance that her detractors probably would never have expected, fired off a few really strong jokes (“I have five children. I used to be kind of pro-life.”) and even inspired boos when she wrapped things up. Becoming a has-been might be the best thing that ever happened to her.