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AN EXCERP FROM " MY DIRTY LIFE IN COMEDY"
THE DAYS OF WINE, PIE AND NO SLEEP
My first day as a writer on Roseanne, I made the mistake of getting dressed up. All the writers looked like they just gotten out of bed. Turns out they did. No one paid attention when I walked into the room. I had no clue where to sit so I stood there feeling awkward. One of the writers pulled a chair for me from the back of the room. Then the head writer introduced me “Hey this is Lois she’s a new writer so be nice to her for today, then you can do what you want after that” He turned to me. “Good Luck Lois” One writer leaned over and told me to prepare to never go home again. He wasn’t joking. There were two couches in the room and over the next four years we all took turns sleeping on them. A writer’s room is a very special place that’s hard to describe. It’s organized chaos. There’s a system to getting things done. It’s just not obvious. When all the writers gather in the room to write a show, its pure insanity. You spend hours of your life together like the common room of a federal prison. And it’s not always about the writing. Generating stories is a weird process, at least it was on Roseanne. Sometimes stories came to us fast. Other times other we struggled to find a story that would work and was funny or socially relevant. We would eat, drink, fight, fart, talk about sex, our families, childhood, hard times, sharing the most intimate details of our lives to unearth the best stories. And it worked. The first few months was hell. I would get home late sleep for five minutes then back to the writer’s room. It was 1991 everyone had the boring little Nokia phone. No fun apps to keep you sane. I had a giant phone in my car. We had desk top computers in our office for writing scripts. When we were breaking a story in the room we used the chalk board to map out the beats. Yep. CHALK! And we all had pencils paper to make notes. PENCILS!! There are some people who have never seen or used a pencil. Scary.
The first week on staff, I pitched a few jokes with no response. Not kidding, it was as if I had said nothing. One of the writers gave me some good advice. “Just shut up and listen until you have something brilliant then pitch” I took his advice and did not open my mouth, except to order lunch and talk to the other writers. After a few months I finally gathered the courage to pitch something I thought was brilliant but turned out not to be. I was beginning to understand the hierarchy of a writer’s room. Being a comedian, I figured jokes would be my strength but it’s not like stand up at all, the jokes had to fit the character, especially when pitching for Roseanne. The room was starting to feel like a prison. You only left to pee or smoke. A few writers started smoking just to leave the room. At the start of the season we would post our weight on the board. At the end of the year the fattest writer won a thousand bucks. I won season two. I blame it on PIE NIGHT. When Roseanne would throw out a script. We knew it was going to be there until the wee hours. So, our boss would order pies for each of us. You would eat one piece, then later throw it at each other out of frustration. The cleaning people must have thought animals were in the room. They were right. The room was a pig sty food wrapper all over the floor, gum on the arms of the chairs, pencils stuck in the walls, and overflowing trash cans. It was a sick environment but we generated great scripts. The words FUCK OFF written in huge red letters of the door: We broke everything. It was grueling, but the pay checks were amazing! For me it was tricky staying friends with Roseanne and dealing with the shit said in the room. In the writer’s room you were a writer and not Roseanne’s pal. You had to take sides or you would not survive. Some writers hated her and vented it. They warned me not to share anything said in the room with anyone in the cast, especially Roseanne. Most everyone was afraid of Roseanne. Which I liked. It was fun to see these big guys so intimidated by one woman with so much power. But you really did earn your fat paychecks. When she would throw a script out on the Friday night we would spend the entire weekend in the room re-writing for Monday’s table reading. Roseanne launched a lot of writer’s careers. So, no matter how pissed you got at her or the hours spent in this fucking writers’ room. The day you left the show with that Roseanne credit under your belt, you had your pick of writing jobs. And a huge amount of respect as a writer.
The table readings were always terrifying. We would take the walk of death from the offices to the stage. You never knew if you would get fired or the script would be tossed out, and you would be stuck in the room all night, eating an entire pie. One night we came up with the episode where The Connors ordered a new washer. When two arrive for the price of one it becomes a dilemma for Roseanne. Keep them both and sell one or be honest and send one back. This story came from a conversation about honesty and human instinct. The irony was writers stole everyone they could get their hands-on printer paper, pens, mugs, fucking trays of water. And anything with the show’s logo or Roseanne’s name on it. When jokes didn’t work Roseanne would call a few writers to meet with and generate alternatives. It was not a big deal for me since I already wrote so many jokes for her tour. She would call certain writers to the stage after a rehearsal and I was always picked! One summer she called five writers to her trailer. It was over 100 degrees. Roseanne’s trailer was super luxurious. Two bedrooms, a gourmet kitchen and a very cushy living room. But on this day the air was out. We sat for three hours sweating like pigs pitching jokes. She was the only one with a fan facing her. If she liked a joke she would grunt and if not, she would say “What else?” Since this was my first job as a writer it was baptism by fire. It made me tough. All other shows I did were a cake walk in comparison.
Lucky me, I got to work with the fabulous Amy Sherman, on Roseanne. Yes, that Amy Sherman. The creator writer director of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. The Emmy award-winning director. One of Amy’s first writing jobs was Roseanne. She was a total perfectionist and wonderfully eccentric. The first day we met, she was wearing a mad hatter’s hat. She was not the only one who wore a hat on the writing staff, Betsey Bourns also wore hats. Everyone who wore a hat was a brilliant writer. Why the fuck did I not wear a hat? But working with Amy was amazing and exhausting. She combed over every beat of a story and thought about everything for an eternity. I spent many days with Amy writing in her dark depressing office. But I learned a lot. Some days it was unbearable. I would pitch something, Amy would look at me, and saying nothing. I would sit and wait. She would stare at the page, her huge hat covering her face, so I didn’t even know if she was awake. I’d clear my throat, a few times, then she would say. “I like that put it in” She wrote fucking brilliant scripts, and I learned to take long pauses without a hat. One day we were in her office working when Roseanne drove up in a studio golf cart to the window of Amy’s office and screamed “HEY BROMFIELD COME OUT HERE!” Amy looked at me “You better go so we can all keep our jobs” I got in the golf cart without knowing where the hell we were going. We headed to the front gate of the studio. She was laughing as the cart careened over speed bumps then through the main gate and onto the sidewalk towards a VERY BUSY STREET You could hear the faint sound of the guard yelling from the studio guard gate. “You can’t take the carts off the lot!! “Roseanne screamed back “FUCK YOU!” I thought I was going to die. I held on as she flew over the curb and into the intersection. We sped towards the MacDonald’s then into the drive thru. A few cars stopped and stared. Roseanne’s name was plastered across the golf cart. We were behind a SUV breathing in all the fumes. A couple of people jumped from their cars and got an autograph. Once we got to the drive-thru window Roseanne ordered a ton of food. The cart was so low to the ground. The kid taking her order, had to lean out of the window and look down to see us He was star struck. “Hey are you Roseanne Barr?” To which she related. “Yeah, now get us some fucking burgers” We screeched out of the drive thru lane and back across the street. She was laughing the entire time. When we got to the guard gate we were scolded by a very pissed off guard. “Miss Barr what you did is against the law” Roseanne threw him a burger then sped through. She dropped me front of the main window to the writer’s room. Everyone was at the window laughing their asses off. But honestly this is how I managed to not get fired. I just went along with anything Roseanne wanted me to do!! Even death-defying trips to Mc Donald’s in a golf cart!
Roseanne invited me to her Bachelorette party. She was marrying Tom. There was three writers and two assistants invited. She told us to bring bathing suits. All you could hope was she wouldn’t drown one of us. We arrived at her house with lame gifts. I mean, what the hell can you give someone this wealthy. Tom greeted us with a comment about our bathing suits. “Ah girls you don’t need those suits. Roseanne always swims naked” With that comment, I decided to drink a lot. The afternoon turned to evening without me even noticing. I was eating like a pig and drinking myself into a stupor. Suddenly Roseanne jumped into the pool. She was not naked YET! It was fun until Roseanne starting doing cannonballs off the diving board. Every time she hit the water, I thought someone was going to die. It was scary. Then she took her bathing suit off. I raced to the side of the pool to get out and find something to pull my eyes out with. Roseanne was screaming and splashing everyone. I just wanted to drown her so she would shut the fuck up. Suddenly there was a booming voice coming from the third floor of the house. We looked up and there was TOM ARNOLD leaning out a window with a VIDEO CAMERA filming us. He yelled. “COME ON GIRLS GET NAKED” Roseanne. Immediately pushed her tits out of the water. Tom loved it. He screamed. “Great tits honey” Tom was determined to get us all on camera. Again, I tried to get out of the pool, but Roseanne grabbed my bathing suit and pulled me back. She told me, “You’re going to be in the Enquirer” I told her I didn’t want to get naked. Then she reminded me of when I was in Cheri Magazine. She had a point. Tom continued to film us. Roseanne swam around pulling on everyone’s bathing suits. The party went on until about midnight. The police showed up. But Tom got rid of them, I have no idea how. Maybe he promised them jobs as writers. Not far-fetched and totally possible. The next day in the enquirer there were a few blurry photos of all of us in the pool. The headline read “Roseanne and some of her writers get naked at bachelorette party” Nobody was naked...