Outspoken comedian and LGBT icon Rosie O’Donnell is coming to Philly this week to perform a four-night standup gig at Helium Comedy Club. I caught up with her on the telephone to see what the show’s all about, how she’s doing after suffering a heart attack two years ago, and of course I couldn’t let her go without picking her brain about recent pop culture news. Keep reading for her thoughts on Ellen at the Oscars, John Travolta’s “lazy” Adele Dazeem flub, and whether or not those rumors about her taking over for Piers Morgan are true.
G Philly: Hi Rosie! Thanks for chatting with me. I've been so excited to talk to you.
Rosie O'Donnell: You bet. [With twang] Where are you from with that Southern accent?
GP: I'm from Kentucky.
RO: How did you get to write a blog from Philly?
GP: I came here for school — Temple. Plus, it's hard to be gay in Kentucky, so ...
RO: [Laughs] I imagine it is. You're more able to be gay in Philly.
GP: Are you excited to come here?
RO: I am. I've been doing standup since the beginning of December, getting ready for my HBO special, which is in April. This is one of my last few gigs of practice before I do the special, so I'm excited. I've always loved Philly. I went to [Dickinson College] in Pennsylvania, and my roommate was from the Main Line. We used to go hang out there, on South Street and 30th Street. It's a good comedy town.
GP: What will you be talking about in your standup show?
RO: Two years ago I had a heart attack, and I worked with a documentary filmmaker from HBO, Sheila Nevins, who wanted to do a documentary about women's heart attacks. She said, "You know, this really needs to be funny," so I said I'd try to put it in a standup act to see how it does. So I worked on this whole new routine and it actually worked. I talk about my kids, being a mom and being famous, and then I talk about the heart attack and how it changed my life — and how women can get the facts. Thirty-thousand women die of breast cancer every year, but 300,000 women die from heart disease, and yet we don't know that the symptoms for women are different than the symptoms for men. ... I want to get that information out there.
GP: How are you doing since your heart attack?
RO: Really well. I had weight loss surgery a year after my heart attack, because I was 230 when it happened. ... I had a newish kind of procedure, called the gastric sleeve, which removes like two-thirds of your stomach, including the hunger hormone. So not only are you not hungry, but you're really not able to eat as much as you used to. ... I can only eat a third of what I used to and be full. That's been really fantastic and kind of life-saving.
GP: Are there any LGBT issues you're particularly passionate about right now?
RO: I was very moved when the Supreme Court said we are in fact equal citizens and that we deserve the right to marry. Recently I saw two teenage girls holding hands in the parking lot. I stopped them ... and asked, "You're out and everyone knows?" She said, "Yea." I had tears in my eyes and said, "You know, when I was a kid nobody was out in high school. It was impossible to imagine. So much has changed in my lifetime." ... I think we're really looking forward. When I was growing up there were no gay characters on television. Zero. When people were accused of being gay they denied it. There was nothing but shame associated with homosexuality. We've come a long way.
GP: How do you think Ellen did on the Oscars?
RO: I thought it was fun. It's a thankless job, and I think she did really well. It's very difficult in four hours to be funny, entertaining, light and new, and I think she did it really well. I was happy with everybody who won. I thought people looked beautiful. It's pretty much the same gig every year.
GP: You had a lot of fun on Twitter after John Travolta called Idina Menzel "Adele Dazeem."
RO: Oh my god. I couldn't believe that. Until Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel became breakout stars from Broadway, there really hadn't been one since Streisand. I was so happy that she was getting to sing live. I was really waiting for that moment. To see him screw it up ... I couldn't believe it. I presented Animated Short and Foreign Film once. They sent you a cassette tape with the pronunciation. Even now I still remember [how to pronounce the foreign films]. It's not that hard: "Idina Menzel." It's not even a foreign name. It annoyed me. I felt like it wasn't nerves for John Travolta. I felt like it was laziness.
GP: There are some rumors you may take over Piers Morgan's job on CNN. I know you denied it but ...
RO: I denied it because it's not true. I read it online and was like, "Oh my God, that's so exciting." I called my agent and said, "Did you hear, I'm up for the Piers Morgan job." She said, "I would have heard, Rosie," and I said, "No, no, no, you've got to call them." So she called and they basically said, "We're not interested; we were never interested." It was never true, but I would have loved it.
GP: I guess you could always take over for Barbara when she leaves The View.
RO: [Laughs] I could. Stranger things have happened, but I don't think that's in the cards, either.
GP: Do you miss being on daytime TV?
RO: Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don't. I'm really happy that I get to be home with my baby — I have a new baby who's 14 months old. I'm happy not to have to be in the public discourse about whose opinion is right or wrong, issues of national security, you know those kinds of things. There really is no winning at that. You have your opinion, other people have their opinion, most people think they're right. And then the opposing views try to lambast you on every social media forum they can. It's exhausting. In the end I don't know how much it changes the reality anyway.
GP: You had a guest role on The Fosters recently. How was that?
RO: I loved it. I'm going to be on a few more episodes this year. This is actually a true rumor: We may do a spin-off of my character into Girl United, [about] a foster home for kids aging out of the system. I would love to do that. The only issue is that they want to do it in L.A. I'd have to fly back and forth [from New York], and that's kind of tiring at 51 with five kids at home. But we're going to see if we can work it out. I love that show.
GP: You're pal Boy George is coming to Philly next month. Do you still talk to him?
RO: I haven't spoken to him in years — since we did the Broadway musical. He's doing really well, he's sober. He's thin, he's healthy, he has a new album out. I'm happy for him. He's a good guy. He struggles a lot with addiction, but he's gotten his life together and I'm proud of him.
GP: What about Madonna?
RO: She's doing really well. She's a close friend. We both have a lot of children, see each other socially. She's amazing.
GP: Do you still talk to Cher?
RO: On occasion. I love her. I'm going to go see her on tour with Cyndi Lauper. I think she's pretty amazing. I'm excited that she's touring again.
GP: Before we go: Do you have any plans while you're in Philly?
RO: I'm bringing my 14-year-old son. I'm sure that means we'll hit up whatever video arcades there are and whatever places there are to skateboard and all those things that a 14-year-old boy likes to do. I'll also be seeing some friends and doing the show.
Rosie O'Donnell is playing six shows at Helium Comedy Club from Thu., March 6 to Sunday, March 9. For tickets, go here.