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Roseanne Barr eyes cancel culture rebound with new comedy special

Roseanne Barr takes part in a special event and podcast taping at Stand Up NY.
AP Photo/Craig Ruttle
Roseanne Barr takes part in a special event and podcast taping at Stand Up NY in 2019.

Comedian Roseanne Barr was swiftly canceled in 2018 after posting a tweet about Valerie Jarrett, a black woman and former adviser to President Barack Obama, which was considered virulently racist. Now, years later, the comedian with a larger-than-life personality is stepping back into the spotlight for a second chance with a new comedy special. The title is no accident and appears to be aimed at sticking it to the haters who cheered her cancel culture demise: “Roseanne Barr: Cancel This!”

It’s a shot across the bow from the brash comedian, loudly declaring she has no intention of allowing herself to be permanently canceled. The special is slated to air on the Fox Nation streaming service Feb. 13.

Be prepared for Roseanne to burst back onto the scene with a no-holds-barred approach. After all, what does she have to lose, having suffered almost instant banishment?

Her strategy isn’t surprising, considering that her personal brand has always been built around being plainspoken and unafraid to speak her mind. Refusing outright to be canceled may be the best plan of action for her return. After all, it has worked well for fellow comedians Dave Chappelle and Louis CK, who both were slammed in the past for offensive words and deeds (respectively), but have managed to continue their wildly successful careers.

Critics labeled Chappelle transphobic and wanted his Netflix special canceled, but Netflix refused to kowtow to the cancel culture mob and aired it anyway. Chappelle himself clapped back at detractors by doubling down on his jokes focusing on gender identity. Meanwhile, comedian Louis CK, who was accused in 2017 of exposing himself and performing a sex act in front of female coworkers, won a Grammy for Best Comedy Album in 2022 and recently performed a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Given the triumphs of Chapelle and Louis CK, it is hardly surprising that Roseanne may be looking to take a page from the same PR playbook. After all, her colleagues prevailed in part owing to their refusing to be cowed in the face of withering criticism. Now Roseanne appears to be pursuing the same strategy.

It is a move that comes with little reputational risk to Barr. And the fact that she is directly daring her detractors to try canceling her is significant in and of itself. Her fearlessness may pay off.

Cancel culture strikes terror into the hearts of many in the public eye — especially performers — because their personal brand is their livelihood. For them, a tarnished image can produce devastating consequences, including scuttled appearances, lost endorsement deals and limited career options. But Roseanne is making it clear that she is not willing to go quietly.

Like kicking a hornets’ nest, the blowback from some quarters is bound to be fierce. Roseanne clearly thinks she can handle it. Most significantly, if she succeeds with her in-your-face action plan, this strategy may become foundational for others who have been canceled

In recent years, comedians have been willing to take up the fight, with luminaries including Bill Maher and Gabriel Iglesias decrying and mocking cancel culture. Comics have had the freedom to say whatever they think, no matter public opinion, because being outspoken and controversial is part of what makes them impactful, memorable and funny. So much of what makes their content memorable is that they hold up a mirror to society’s less shiny parts. But that edginess has recently also come into direct conflict with the self-righteous purveyors of cancel culture, who seek to de-platform those deemed to have committed unforgivable cultural sins.

Cancel culture certainly curbs the ability of people to make jokes, even if they are poking fun at themselves. In the blink of an eye, jokes can become easy targets for online mobs, who bide their time waiting for someone to make the “wrong” move and then deride and denounce.

If Roseanne’s re-entry into the public eye is successful, it could be a turning point, bringing cancel culture mobs into direct conflict with proponents of free speech. Her ability to resuscitate her career in the wake of a racially-charged offense could be evidence that hope is not lost for those who endure cancel culture strikes.

It stands to reason that Roseanne flamed out so spectacularly in part given her willingness to wade into identity politics. With Fox stepping forward to provide her a testing ground, the world will be watching, looking for clues as to whether she can rise from the ashes and spark a next chapter in her lengthy career.

Evan Nierman is CEO of crisis PR firm Red Banyan and author of the forthcoming book: The Cancel Culture Curse: From Rage to Redemption in a World Gone Mad.

Tags Barack Obama Cancel culture Comedy Fox free speech Jokes political comedy Racism in the United States Roseanne Barr Roseanne Barr Stand-up comedy Texas tweets Valerie Jarrett

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