Rosie O’Donnell has an expansive comedy career of over 30 years. In that time, she has starred in movies, won several Emmy’s, and written a few books. As a talk show host in the late ‘90s, she transformed daytime television. She also has performed and produced on Broadway. The woman has worked with the best in the biz, including both Penny Marshall and her late great brother Garry Marshall as well as Oprah. The Queen of Nice is a game changer.
With an Irish immigrant father and an Irish American mother, the comic was born Roseann O’Donnell. She was raised in Commack, New York. When she was 10 years old, her mother died of breast cancer. Being left to raise herself and siblings, O’Donnell developed a huge interest in watching television. When she was in high school, she imitated Gilda Radner for a skit. This is likely the origin of her comedic bug. After she graduated, she toured around the country, having her hand at stand-up. She did this for a few years.
As legend goes, one night at a Long Island comedy club, O’Donnell was approached by a woman who claimed to be Ed McMahon’s daughter. McMahon was the host of Star Search, the OG of talent scouting and audience approval TV showcase. The woman asked the comedian for her phone number. Lo and behold, she got the call for the show and won it five times. In 1984, she used her prize money to move to Los Angeles.
Right away, she got a sitcom gig, but soon after, she scored a VJ, otherwise known as a video jockey, spot on VH1. When the network wanted to drop the VJs, O’Donnell convinced them to create Stand Up Spotlight, a show focused on the up-and-coming in stand-up comedy. From here, the comic began to get many roles in movies, such as Sleepless in Seattle, A League of Their Own, and Now and Then. Some Broadway came her way too, like Rizzo in Grease. She was working hard and getting noticed.
NBC came to O’Donnell in 1996 about creating The Rosie O’Donnell Show. Composed of celebrity interviews, Broadway numbers, and the comic’s charm, it was a hit. It was on air until 2002. Shortly after its end, she publicly came out as gay to help advocate for gay parents’ right to adopt. Since this time, the comedian has hosted on The View, Sirius Radio, and the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).
In 2012, she suffered a near fatal heart attack, and in 2015, she created an HBO special, A Heartfelt Stand Up, to create awareness of heart disease in women. The special is filled with jokes pertaining to parenting, her love life, celebrity friendships, and a recounting of her heart failure. While O’Donnell’s jokes on her romantic partners are a new topic, stories about her family and pop culture icons are not. Some of her early material includes personating a beauty queen pageant contestant. In the bit, she quips, “My talent is eyeliner.” While the pageants remain controversial, the joke is still funny a few decades later. Her act has always had a number of impersonations, frank candor, and an enjoyable manic energy.
Her stand-up has been a cornerstone for much of her career. She invented the daytime TV host who interviews celebrities and plays games with the audience. She is a bona fide hustler, and she somehow cheated death. Rosie O’Donnell makes her own game.