On July 25, 1990, comedian and sitcom star Roseanne Barr shrieked out what many consider to be the most unpatriotic performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in history.
Barr stepped up to a microphone behind home plate at San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium during a doubleheader featuring the Padres and Reds. With her shirttails hanging out and sleeves rolled up she fumbled her way through the lyrics, missing notes on purpose. Here’s the original recording but you have been warned that it might make your dogs start barking.
Barr capped off her performance by grabbing her crotch and spitting on the ground. Later she explained that those final gestures were meant as a parody of ballplayers. But that’s not how many fans in the stadium saw it and they booed her off the field.
Roseanne makes headlines
All hell broke loose in the days that followed forcing her to take a short break from the stand-up circuit. Her performance was seen as a major dis of the national anthem and that did not sit well with many Americans.
She was blasted in the media too with New York Times columnist Russell Baker calling the comedian the “ultimate vulgarian.” While the conservative columnist and baseball author George Will compared the performance to Japan’s sneak attack of Pearl Harbor. President George H. W. Bush simply called it “disgraceful.”
At a press conference after the debacle, Barr was told that the president had called her performance “disgraceful,” and she responded by saying, “I’d like to hear him sing it.” Then she added, “I represent a certain part of America that probably no one else represents. And I came out of someplace, and got someplace, and I’ve got a right to sing the song.”
Barr’s persona was all about being a loud-mouthed, blue-collar mom. And that’s partly why she was at the stadium. Her appearance was part of a promotion called “Working Women’s Night” and was the idea of the Padres new owner, Tom Werner, who was also the executive producer of Barr’s TV show.
He thought she might be able to help boost attendance for the Padres who were ranked 9th in National League attendance in 1990. Keep in mind Barr was a big deal in 1990 — her self-titled sitcom was the number one rated show and averaged more than 21 million viewers a week.
The 90s controversy was just a blip for Barr. Her show stayed on the air until 1996. For all but two of its seasons “Roseanne” was ranked in the top 10. But things didn’t go so well for Barr when her show was rebooted 22 years later in 2018.
The show was quickly cancelled because of racist remarks Barr made on Twitter about President Obama’s advisor Valerie Jarrett. Barr later apologized for what she called “a bad joke.”
For more stories from the 1990s make sure to check out my podcast “History of the 90s” on ApplePodcasts, Spotify, Google Play and anywhere else you stream audio. You can also listen at Curiouscast.ca.