Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The latest ROSEANNE "controversy"

Wow. Big flap over a ROSEANNE joke from last week. Roseanne and Dan were in bed at 11 and he mentioned that he slept through the last few hours. “We missed all the shows about black and Asian families,” (meaning of course BLACKISH and FRESH OFF THE BOAT). Roseanne then says: “They’re just like us. You’re all caught up.”

Various industry people and folks on social media are outraged. It’s dismissive, it’s racial, it’s inappropriate, it’s offensive, it’s divisive.

I’m not going to argue the merits of the line either way. I’m just going to say I’m glad I’m not writing network television at the moment. Because if that little throwaway line is enough to spark a huge controversy I don’t know how comedy writers today are supposed to do their jobs.

So to be clear -- I’m not reacting to the line itself; I’m reacting to the reaction. Was the line inappropriate? Maybe. It certainly was to some and I respect that. But was it so inappropriate that it warranted a whole national brouhaha?

I’m trying to imagine myself in a current writers room, now having to walk on eggshells and analyze every line super carefully to make sure I don’t offend anyone even inadvertently. I like to think of myself as a compassionate person and I try to interject humanity into any project I undertake. But I’m also a comedy writer. And characters need to have flaws, there has to be some edge. I never want to be irresponsible, I never want to needlessly hurt another person or collective group. But one-time innocuous lines with no malice intended are now considered irresponsible.

So I’m glad I’m not the one in that writing room at 3:00 AM trying to come up with a killer joke that no one in America will take exception with. Censorship is bad. Self-censorship might just be worse.

NOTE: I am traveling around a lot today so may not get to moderating your comments for a while. But I will get to them and post them.

57 comments :

Douglas Trapasso said...

See also Apu-Gate from the Simpsons.

Dave Regian said...

I'm no lover of ROSEANNE but I do wonder how much of the righteous indignation is over the fact that SHE delivered the line. I wonder if it would have flown under the radar on any other show or by any other character.

Terrence Moss said...

I watched the episode as it was airing last week and I still don't understand the problem with this line beyond people looking to create an issue out of a non-issue.

Mitchell Hundred said...

I don't think the issue people have with this kind of thing is that the joke is offensive in and of itself. Any decent joke is going to offend somebody. The issue is that the joke reinforces existing and harmful power structures. This article about punching up vs. punching down is a pretty good illustration of the point.

William said...

I think it is Americas puritan streak. Your country has always had a trend of a significant minority of people overly concerning themselves with the wrongs of others, instead of trying to do something right in the world. Even when the criticism is valid, it still seems a disproportionate response to what is basically "bad words." Why not volunteer at a shelter for spousal abuse-victims, organise a meditation retreat, collect last winters clothes so you can give them to the homeless in 6 months time, drive some kids to soccer-practice. There are so many opportunities in life to do something good, whether big or small, for others, so why spend your energy on "somebody somewhere said something wrong"?

VincentS said...

The more free publicity Roseanne gets the more she laughs all the way to the bank.

Mike M said...

"Punching down"?
How is it punching down to say "they're just like us".
That's not a punch, that's a "Kumbaya"

And I'll note that I am no Roseanne fan. Haven't watched any of the new show.

Matt said...

I am more offended that it isn’t remotely funny.

Tom said...

I took it as a comment on the reductive tendencies of the modern network sitcom; possibly I was reading too much into it. Though apparently not even one hundredth as much as various commentators.

I agree with Ken, this is completely disproportionate righteous indignation. Also it runs a severe boy-who-cried-wolf risk, delegitimising future genuinely progressive discussion. This is exactly the sort of thing Trump et al need to retain power — wedge issues in which the other side look a bit ridiculous.

JACK ZULLO said...

Yeah, everyone need not be throwing stones at the windmills.

Aaron Sheckley said...

I can't stand Roseanne, and I'm comfortable believing she's awful, but I can't parse why that joke is causing outrage. There are shows on right now about Black and Asian families, and Roseanns's observations is that they're "just like us". Is the outrage based on the idea that no Black or Asian families are as bad as Roseanne's? Are Black and Asian families outraged at being compared to Roseanne Barr? Did someone use an electron microscope to scan this joke at a molecular level in order find something to be outraged at? How does this joke "reinforce existing power structures"?

VP81955 said...

On the surface, it seems innocuous; it's not as if her character was poking fun at blacks and Asians. I fault Roseanne for all sorts of things, but I give her, and her show's writers, the benefit of the doubt on this one.

Chris said...

Friday question: on several occasions you've mentioned an important distinction for actresses which is can they cry funny or not?

Is that distinction considered for anger? I'm thinking about people like Jeremy Piven or Larry David who, if encountered in real life, without the premise of a television comedy, would be pretty terrifying if you think about it, but fans love them because of their ability to make menacing funny.

Mitchell Hundred said...

How is it punching down to say "they're just like us"?

I wasn't speaking to that line specifically, since I also haven't seen any episodes of the show. I was speaking to the broader point about political correctness killing comedy.

Charles said...

Put me in the "disproportionate righteous indignation" column too. I thought the line was moderately funny, and contextualize it in light of the fact that it's the Roseanne character that delivers it. As much as some may or may not want to acknowledge the fact, there are people out there who look at sitcoms which feature minorities as attempts to normalize the "others", and don't look any further than that for societal messages that those shows might contain. So to a character like Roseanne, a show that features Asian or Black characters would, by its nature, be presenting a simplistic message of "They're just like us."

If the show had been trying to make the point that Fresh off the Boat or Black-ish were nothing more than "Hey, look! Minorities are just like us" efforts, then I think maybe the outrage would be a little more founded. But I took it as a throwaway line from a character who probably doesn't think too deeply about the minority experience, so I didn't find any reason to get upset.

Of course, I'm a middle-aged white guy from flyover country, so what do I know from outrage?

Elf said...

I laughed at the line because the Roseanne character delivered it. I would expect Roseanne Connor to dismiss those shows and miss the message of them entirely since she's not the target audience for them. I don't think it denigrates those other shows at all.

Kosmo13 said...

Who's Roseanne?

G P Gates said...

[Alan Partridge sigh] "This country!"

John Blahut said...

People are just looking for a reason to be offended. I prefer to look for a reason to laugh.

Ralph C. said...

Everyone needs a hobby.

B.C. Christiansen said...

It's also basically saying "Why even have Black and Asian families on television - they're just like white folk!" which is ridiculously reductive and reactionary, justifying a good ol' all white network like in the olden days. That's not contemporary America anymore. You can be funny without being racist, or at least have some purpose or poignancy for instance....watch these Black and Asian shows?

Unknown said...

He's not able to moderate! Now's my chance to say it

BOOGER!

D McEwan said...

Well, since Roseanne is now our fuhrer's new butt buddy, everything she says of a dismissive nature is seen as coming right from Trumputin himself. Another performer who isn't defending that monster and having cozy late-night phone chats with one of the most evil men in the world is not going to be subjected to the same level of scrutiny anymore. The fact that Trumputin would never like the "Roseanne's cross-dressing grandson" subplot is not factored in.

The irony is that Roseanne is now being defended and lauded by the same people who wanted her lynched after she mangled the National Anthem years ago.

Dr Loser said...

If they can't do that line on the "Roseanne" reboot, then what was the point of the reboot in the first place?

Ya gotta give your characters room.

And yes, I'm baffled as to why it was deemed "outrageously offensive." Without the context, it doesn't really sound that laugh-out-loud, but like I say -- you don't have to agree with the sentiment (whatever people think it might have been). You just have to accept that Roseanne's character would have said it.

Archie Bunker RIP.

Dr Loser said...

"The issue is that the joke reinforces existing and harmful power structures."

Yeah, that makes perfect sense. Except every single friggin word of it.

Leaving jokes to one side, in what way to "existing and harmful power structures" need reinforcing? They're big boys (or in the case of Roseanne, big girls.) They can go reinforce themselves, and if you're going to make a political complaint, that is what you should be focusing on.

Not some two-bit sit-com reboot.

Larry V said...

Because Roseanne can't act, i.e., because her line delivery tends to be limited to barking out lines loudly and contemptuously vs. more loudly and more contemptuously, I found the joke hard to read. The same line could be intended as good-natured ribbing of the sitcom practice of contriving to find commonalities as part of a happy ending, or as contemptuous of the PC instincts of network sitcoms. Not particularly funny either way, but because Roseanne isn't good at nuanced line readings, I couldn't tell what this joke meant.

Some critics and part of the public objected to the joke. That happens. More interesting to me would be to hear the reaction of the writers of "Black-ish" and "Fresh Off the Boat," since however the line is read, it seems like a snide crack at "Roseanne's" ABC colleagues.

Anonymous said...

I am neither Black nor Asian so I cannot speak as one, but I didn't think the line was racist at all. I took it to mean all three shows were about families - just like the Connor family - and daily family lives and situations. I also stopped watching after episode 1 when that grandstanding showboat of a president took credit and bragged about the ratings. Janice B.

Jon B. said...

I'm not a Roseanne fan. I haven't watched the revival. I think it is a funny line. Even more so when I think of it in Roseanne's voice.

john not mccain said...

On 30 Rock, Tim Conway looks into the writers' room at TGS and says "We used to call this the Jew room." Not that long ago and I wonder what would happen if that ep aired tonight.

other ken said...

Context is important.
In past several weeks, not just in her show, roseanne has gone out of her way to endorse demented donnie and his policies of fraud, bigotry, hate and ignorance.
Couple this with her reputation, as documented by you, that she is a micro manager of her scripts and writers dejour.
When viewed in this context one must wonder as whether this was an "innocent" joke or a pointed one.
Example if in a remake of say "Fmily Ties" it showed Elyse and Steven Keaton (Baxter and Gross) in same set up with same line would the same offense be taken?
I think not, I may be wrong. I will grant that their is always going to be someone but I do not beleive it would gather the steam that it coming out of a rabid demented donnie supporter ( the rabid leading the rabid)
Much the same way that jokes on All in the Family or Maude were accepted because on understood the context of the players.
In roseanne she has so interwound herself to her character that one cannot view only half of the equation.

Dan Ball said...

I'm on the fence about this. It's high time we stop being mean to minorities or just other human beings in general. On the other hand, it does seem like there should be a line drawn where targets of jokes should relax and take it in good humor.

Bottom line is that people don't NEED to make off-color jokes at the expense of someone else's race. However, those intended targets DO need to feel as if they're equal because of who they are and not their ethnicity or skin color. Those are where the priorities should lie.

Stephen Marks said...

|It seems like a forced line, like the writers thought of "they're just like us" then back engineered it like the Area 51 guys did with that Roswell debris. I think the righteous indignation, as Tom above me put it, for the line is collateral damage from a deep hatred of Rosanne Barr. Why do people hammer away at this woman? Shes successful, funny, can act while making it not look like acting, was smart enough to keep a sitcom on the air for years, and not a shred of proof she slept her way to the top.....that was Tom Arnold. She did it all on her own with talent and drive. Maybe if there were more Rosannes there would be less Bill Cosby's, Weinsteins, Lauers, extras from the Wizard of Oz, Afflecks and Sam Anderson (he's nobody, he's just a guy I work with). I admire Rosanne Barr for what she has accomplished and so I'm putting her third on my top 100 most powerful people in Hollywood list. Ken is fifth.

Mike Doran said...

Still not watching Roseanne2.0, still can't stand her voice.

Ever since Righteous Indignation became the National Sport - and everybody started covering it that way - I find myself going back to the Old DVD Wall and marveling at what was gotten away with in the Long Long Ago, i.e., anything made before about five years back.

At the risk of getting spiked, I dare to bring up Mr. Kimmel's one-second, one-line tease about Mrs. Trump's Slovenian accent vis-a-vis the Hispanic tones of his amanuensis Guillermo, and how it triggered Sean Hannity's latest bout of political incontinence.

I'm wondering when/if some "organization" is going to demand an apology from Ms. Barr and her high command for - whatever - or will enforce unstated sanctions on ABC, the producers, or - whoever - lest all good things come to a sudden halt, or - something ...

I'm shaking my head so much that at times I can detect a distinct rattle.
I don't think I'm the only one.

Coram Loci said...

It's prejudice. Roseanne supports Trump. Thus, the Horns Affect. Her words must be viewed with suspicion.

The outrage is fostered by a PC culture that rewards victim status.

Meanwhile, good people who are genuinely sympathetic to egalitarian notions will keep quiet out of fear of being labeled a racist/sexist or because it's more important that equality be advanced than it is that unreasonableness be squelched. When moderate voices recede then the more extreme viewpoints sound louder. Moderation requires speed bumps. But instead of speed bumps we have silence that gives an opportunity for others to prove their bona fides, to go that one extra step. The ground under everyone then shifts a bit in that direction.

The people who make these far-fetched accusations need to be lampooned.

Gary said...

My biggest fear from this whole Roseanne thing is that the writers of other sitcoms will start inserting political arguments into their shows, in an attempt to boost ratings. We all know the broadcast networks will copy anything to try and catch a current wave. This would be self-defeating; as a rule people watch comedy shows to distract from the country's problems, not remind us of them. Of course there have been quality exceptions like M*A*S*H and All in the Family.

Anonymous said...

Recently, ME TV started airing WKRP..and they skipped one episode without explanation..Les on a ledge...I can see why in this day and time, they would...First, the A plot is Les is kicked out of a sports locker room as someone thought he was gay.....The B plot is a brilliantly funny plot, where Johnny convinces Herb(in a plan to get Herb to leave Jennifer alone) that Jennifer is the result of a sex change operation...she used to be a guy.
Both plots are played for laughs...and for the most part it is the prejudicial that is the punchline..but ME TV decided not to air it....and that is sad.

Steve Lanzi (formerly known as qdpsteve) said...

What Coram Loci said.

Ken, major credit to you for putting your personal distaste for Roseanne aside, and calling out this PC bullsh!t.

IMHO she and her show are pissing off all the right-- oops, make that correct-- people. That's a healthy thing.

Dave Wrighteous said...

I've got no problem with being politically correct. Like say, it ain't cool to use slurs about minorities or sexual orientation. DUH! Common sense if yr a decent human, right? But what I do have a problem with is what I call the political OVERcorrect.
In today's new "woke" culture, people's personal offensive radar is on a hair trigger and EVERYTHING anymore offends SOMEONE!! So satirical or topical comedy will probably sound alarm bells for someone.
Example: remember the hubbub about that dastardly Hollywood Reporter cover featuring some top Hollywood actresses and they were..take a breath...ALL WHITE!??!
Ok, THR is hardly a racist manifesto, and you'd think just women on the cover of a major mag would be a plus, but nope. The "lack of diversity" had people in a lather.
SOOOOOO...seeing the ridiculousness of this Political OVERCorrect, I made a joke on my FB page followed with a link to the story about the cover"outrage":
"Christmas is coming this Monday, and I will be taking photos with my family.
We are all white.
I would like to apologize in advance in an attempt to avoid the inevitable FB and Twitter backlash."
Ok, not Ken Levine-esque humor, but an ok quick gag, satirically based, with NO malicious intent WHATSOEVER, mocking what I thought was much ado about nothing.
I. GOT. BOMBED.
SJW's and snowflake liberals came out of the woodwork to crap on me (and I'm a left leaning liberal registered Independent!). It got ugly and good friends blasted me, but y'know what? I wouldn't back down, I wouldn't apologize and eventually left the discussion because it was a waste of time, when I could be working and writing comedy. Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.
Anyhow, sorry for the novel, folks, but my point is, if comedy is coming from a non-malicious heart, without a hateful agenda, stick to yr guns and fire away with both barrels.
I'm sure Norman Lear got crapped on for All in the Family when it started, but it had a heart and was using Archie as a satire on how dumb racism and sexism is.
Thanks for reading (end of rant, TYVM)

VP81955 said...

If a series thinks it has any chance of a syndication deal, the showrunner probably will nix any blatant political commentary, because nothing dates a show like current-day political references. After all, which '70s hit did better in reruns -- "All in the Family" or "The Mary Tyler Moore Show"?

Tom Galloway said...

Surprised no one's mentioned two seemingly pertinent facts about the Roseanne writers room:

1) Wanda Sykes, a black woman, is supposed to be in it (not listed on IMDB as an episode writer, has title "Consulting Producer")

2) Sykes was a recurring character on Black-ish.

Can't be sure, but if I were running a room and we were thinking about using that line, I'd like to think I'd bounce it off her first.

Loosehead said...

I am not black or asian, and nor do I play one on TV, but it seems to me that there is more racism from Wolowitz towards Koothrapali, two characters who are friends on TBBT, than there is in this line. Either a lot of people misheard it, or misunderstood it (or think a white character shouldn't go near this subject),but my own theory is that the brouhaha was somehow engineered by the show producers. No such thing as bad publicity, right?

Larry V said...

@Stephen Marks - Roseanne "can act while making it look like not acting.'

We'll have to agree to disagree on that point.

I am a fan of actors who know how to underplay. But nuance is not Ms. Barr's strong point. To put it mildly.

McAlvie said...

I'd have thought saying, "They're just like us" would be the least offensive line in the book. Even "shows about black and Asian people" isn't that big a deal. I know, on the surface it sounds bad, but let's be honest: when you are discussing a tv show, do you always remember what's it called? I don't. I frequently refer to shows as "the one with the two cops that used to be a movie" or "the one about the kids and the sci fi stuff set in the 80s". Sometimes I just blank out on the titles, but sometimes its because they use such silly titles these days. Cheers, Friends, MASH ... you can remember those. The one with the guy who has the apartment in New York and the really annoying parents who keep dropping in ... anyone remember what that's called? It's got a great cast, but don't ask me what its actually called.

Come on, I don't even like Roseanne, and even I think that was just picking a fight.

Roger Owen Green said...

I thought it was funny. (I'm black and didn't/won't watch) because it disses ABC's lineup, so the joke works as THOSE SHOWS were TV, THIS is real life.

Johnny Walker said...

Personally I think the line Dan delivers is repugnant. It makes me dislike that character for making such a horrible remark (and used to love Dan). However Roseanne somewhat deflates by immediately saying, (in effect) “it’s no big deal”.

I guess they’re addressing their audience and how they see things, so there’s a reason for that line to exist.

Anyway, I suppose the bru-ha-ha (which hasn’t made it to these shores) is possibly an overreaction to what people see as the “Trumpification” of their nation.

I’m not there, so I can only imagine. Seems like there’s bigger things to be upset about than a show you’ve probably not even watched.

MikeN said...

This is how you got Trump. As Roseanne told Jimmy Kimmel, 'I'm still the same person. It's you guys on the left went so far over there.'

Just for laughs she should see how people react to the line, "That's an Italian, a Jew, an Irishman, and a regular American there."

Writer on an All in the Family reboot would be the worst job ever.

Kaleberg said...

You are always going to offend someone. I remember the adman Jerry Della Femina saying that he had once done an ad for a line of socks that had a dog in it. They got a letter from someone who was outraged. As far as that someone was concerned dogs were disgusting; they were horrible, wretched animals. It went on at length describing the various disgusting habits dogs have. (Of course, we love them anyway, but ....)

Nowadays, there would have been a real anti-dog pile on. There would be an anti-sock boycott. Not everyone likes socks, you know. Have you read that report the CDC censored about socks? It really tells the truth about socks, and let's not even talk about dogs.

Yeah, we've gone there. The internet makes it so much easier.

other Ken said...

MikeN said. "This is how you got Trump."
Yeah by ignoring and making excuses for his, and now hers, inane, absurd and, considering the sources, insulting language.
As for - Dave Wrighteous - comment on mythlogical "political OVERcorrect. "
gee I remember that arguement when people got upset with demeaning jewish jokes but felt people getting upset about "black face" routines as just not appreciative of entertainment history.
Same can be said of Irish jokes, Polish jokes, Asian, etc.
I guess the difference is if your particular group is respected that means the others just haave no sense of humor.
Source is important.
In Hawaii a local comedians such as Frank DeLima has made a career out of ethnic humor but because of who he is and the sense that he identify's with the objects of his humor very little push back ( there are always a few)
But if roseanne, or dice clay were to use the saame exact monologue I dare say there would be outrage.
Roseanne has
1) Purposely interwound her on stage amd off stage persona's and as such cannot be judged with only one side of the equation.
2) bowed down and embraced demented donnie with all his racism, bigotry and ignorance.
She will always be judged with those two factors in mind.
Just as a joke about any racial minority, no matter how supposedly "innocent" it may be, being made by David duke is viewed with a great deal more suspicion then same joke from say Mel Brooks.

Anonymous said...

One of my all-time favorite sitcom jokes was on Phenom where one of the characters was getting ready to go on a cruise and another character handed him a bon voyage gift — a books on tape recording of Buddy Hackett reading The Joy Luck Club. I’m sorry. It was FUNNY.

Steve said...

I think part of the problem with that joke is it's awkward and unclear. You have to think too hard about what it's trying to say. It's actually fascinating to pick it apart.

I think the joke they were going for was a spin on the Simpson's line where Bart turns on Dinosaurs and says admiringly, "Wow, it's like a window into our own front room."

"We missed Black-ish and Just Off the Boat."
"They're just like us. Now you are caught up"
Implication: Modern sitcoms about working class families owe a debt to Roseanne

...except that it make no sense for Roseanne Connor to make that joke, because she doesn't know she's on TV.

So they rewrite Dan's line so that Roseannne's can be read as:

"They (black and asian families) are just like us (white working class families). Now you're caught up."

...but the implication of that is a bit unclear. Is she saying that the shows are excessively heavy-handed in trying to hammer home it's core lesson with each episode and maybe poking fun at the idea that it's a sitcoms job to teach us anything? Or is she saying that there is no real value to diversity on TV and there are too many shows about these darn minorities?

I assume the writer meant the former, but the fact that Dan's setup line is so weird (why whould a human being ever say "all the shows about black and Asian families" instead of just naming those TWO shows? Only two reasons:making a thinly-veiled racist comment or trying to set up a specific punchline), and the fact that we know Roseanne's politics run in a particular direction really makes it easy to think the later.

And how you read the in-character joke is going to color the how you read the meta part of the joke. So now it sound like they are saying these shows are unworthy to follow in their footsteps because they bring nothing new except race.

Don't make me guess what your intention is hen you write a joke.

Dave Wrighteous said...

other Ken

I dig that my post was long, so maybe you tapped out before the end when I said
"if comedy is coming from a non-malicious heart, without a hateful agenda, stick to yr guns and fire away with both barrels."
I don't find the line offensive a bit. "They're just like us. You're all caught up" actually sounds inclusive to me and as for Dan saying what he did? Well, it's pretty established that Dan isn't a racist and his line comes from general ignorance, that Roseanne cuts down with a quip. It's well thought out, really, and the I find flap over it a bit silly and goes to show why All in the Family ain't getting rebooted anytime soon.

other ken said...

@Dave Wrighteous
I agree with your second half. And I also believe that a All in the Family could work.
But I disagree that a rabid demented donnie supporter can ever be viewed in terms of "if comedy is coming from a non-malicious heart, without a hateful agenda, stick to yr guns and fire away with both barrels."
So on this particular issue it appears that we must agree to disagree on specific example while agreeing on general principle.

Diane D. said...

I am really perplexed as to how “We missed all the Black and Asian shows” can be considered repugnant or racist—especially when his wife answers, “They’re just like us. You’re all caught up.” His comment sounds crass, vulgar, even ignorant, but obviously innocent. It is why I never liked the show in the past and still don’t. I didn’t watch it, btw, I just heard about it. At any rate, I agree with Ken—I’m glad he doesn’t have to write for that kind of sitcom at this time in history.

Unknown said...

To be clear, I don't really find it racist or offensive. I find it awkward, confusing and unfunny. But I really do understand how you could watch that and come up with "it seems a bit racist" as the answer to the question "what the heck was that joke all about?".

Joe Blow said...

I thought it was Roseanne Barr’s attempt to try to show that Roseanne Conner (and Dan) were NOT racist (in her usual awkward, confusing way).

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Kelvin Yu, who writes for BOB'S BURGERS and co-starred on MASTER OF NONE, picked the joke apart: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/13/arts/television/roseanne-bad-joke-controversy-kelvin-yu.html

Basic argument: it was dismissive of people who are already barely represented on TV. Cue Twitter storm.

wg

catfish cooper said...

Last Man Standing as Mike & Vanessa (The Baxter's) invite new neighbors, Chuck Larabee & his wife over for dinner...Best Episode Ever, timing was on point & real! (LOL :)