Jimmy Kimmel: 'The Roseanne I know could probably use some compassion'

Washington Post

Jimmy Kimmel has seen his late-night profile skyrocket through his emotional pleas for health-care legislation, his impassioned calls for gun control and his fierce criticism of President Donald Trump. He has been referred to as "America's conscience," and, by all accounts, fits comfortably on the political left.

So it would seem unlikely that Kimmel would voice his support for Roseanne Barr the day after his own network, ABC, ousted her for posting what it called an "abhorrent, repugnant" tweet about former Barack Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett. But on Wednesday, Kimmel did just that.

"What @TheRealRoseanne said is indefensible, but angrily attacking a woman who is obviously not well does no good for anyone," Kimmel tweeted. "Please take a breath and remember that mental health issues are real. The Roseanne I know could probably use some compassion and help right now."

Amid the fury at Barr's racist comment, Kimmel's contrarian tweet was a risk - and it immediately prompted a barrage of criticism. By asking his followers to "take a breath," Kimmel managed to spur even more attacks.

Many critics, including some who professed to be his fans, accused Kimmel of being complicit, or of using mental illness to excuse racism.

"What she said is indefensible but you're going to defend her anyway?" the writer Roxane Gay responded on Twitter. "Mental illness, if that's what this is, does not excuse racism. It is not synonymous with racism. And critique is not attack."

"I really like Jimmy Kimmel, so this is disappointing," wrote Frederick Joseph. "Yes, mental health issues are real - as is racism. Roseanne didn't call Valerie Jarrett an ape because of mental health issues, and she didn't do a nazi holocaust parody photoshoot because of her mental issues."

Mental illness does not give a person a "free pass" for bad behavior, tweeted Michael Fischer, "signed the rest of us with mental illnesses who aren't lucky enough to have a celeb cape for us on twitter."

"I am sure the people who suffer daily because of racism could use some compassion right now too," tweeted Dani Bostick.

The comedian Livia Scott tweeted that while Kimmel might know Barr personally, "this is the time for a text to her, not a tweet to us. Stay in your lane Jimmy."

By not staying in his "lane," Kimmel showed the danger in sharing an unpopular, albeit nuanced, opinion in the midst of a national uproar.

Critics began picking apart the late-night host's own checkered past involving issues of race. They once again resurfaced a clip from his Comedy Central series "The Man Show," which ran from 1999 to 2003, branded as "a joyous celebration of chauvinism." In at least one episode, Kimmel appeared in full-body brown makeup to portray Utah Jazz player Karl Malone.

One collage of memes read: "Remember kids, America's Moral Authority used to make tv appearances in blackface to mock Oprah and black NBA players."

"I guess if you're Jimmy Kimmel it's ok though even when you know for sure . . ." the tweet stated.

As Barr continued tweeting well into early Thursday morning, she retweeted a post that defended her, saying: "While Kimmel, Olbermann, Behar, Sykes & the list goes on, vehemently attack & lie about all of us & @POTUS daily, others like Rosie are destroyed for far less."

But Kimmel did receive his share of supporters. The actress Andie MacDowell agreed with his call for compassion, tweeting, "The cream rises to the top with empathy and compassion . . . two wrongs don't make a right. I hear you. What had to happen happened. No need to be cruel."

MacDowell followed up by saying she is glad ABC canceled Barr's show, but at "the same time I don't like to see the Joy people are having kicking her. I want us to be better than that . . ."

While some accused Kimmel of making assumptions about Barr's mental health, Barr has been fairly open her battles with mental illness over the years. In an interview in Esquire magazine in 2001, she said she suffers from multiple personality disorder.

"It's like living in a maze," she told the writer, Mike Sager. "It's like that old woman who keeps adding on to her house . . . . But the parts don't get along and some of them have some real strange ideas about how to defend," said the comedian. But after a decade of therapy, she said at the time, she managed to integrate the personalities and achieve "co-consciousness."

In a 2012 interview with Pierce Morgan, Barr said "the issue of mental health is very near and dear to me." After many years, she said, "I'm more centered, I'm in the best place that I've ever been in. A lot of that is because I have done the work."

But Barr has also been known for her unhinged, controversial tweets in recent years. In fact, Kimmel discussed her Twitter usage when he invited Barr onto his show in March to discuss the reboot of her show "Roseanne."

When Barr mentioned her own campaign for president in 2012, Kimmel said, "you were kind of the original crazy tweeter running for president."

Laughing, Barr seemed to agree. "Trump totally stole my act," she said. "I ran my whole campaign on Twitter in 2012."

Kimmel asked her about her attacks on Hillary Clinton, saying "I think you accused her of being a murderer on Twitter didn't you."

"I did not!" Barr insisted. Kimmel responded with a chuckle, " Roseanne, you know I'm going to find that tweet in the next 40 seconds, right."

Barr cursed at Kimmel, as they both continued laughing.

"I'm getting in so much trouble," Barr also said.

"No you're not getting in trouble," Kimmel said. "Listen, you're expressing your views, as crazy as they may be."

"Jimmy Kimmel Live!" aired a re-run on Thursday night. But on Wednesday night, Kimmel addressed the news that ABC was putting an end to "Roseanne."

"You're not going to believe this, but she tweeted something outrageous," Kimmel said sarcastically. "I know, yeah, right, the president did it too, it's crazy."

He called the ABC show's cancellation a "huge blow" to his network.

"We don't have much on this network," he said. "We're hoping the NBA finals goes 11 games this year. We're still airing 'America's Funniest Home Videos' OK. 'Roseanne' was a very bigly hit for ABC, and we needed it."

But, Kimmel joked, "the show must go on."

"I have an idea that I think makes this work for everyone," he said. In a sketch, he suggested a reboot of the show without Barr, focused on her co-star John Goodman, who plays Dan Conners. Its title? "Dan."

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