We haven’t seen the last of Rosie O’Donnell — as a talk show host, that is.
The funny lady tells Variety that the one-night-only return of “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” on Sunday may have just been the beginning of her talk show comeback.
The stand-alone show, broadcast on Broadway.com and the website’s YouTube channel, raised $600,000 for The Actors Fund. Produced by “Madam Secretary” star Erich Bergen, the event featured dozes of guests including Patti LuPone, Ben Platt, Kristin Chenoweth, Billy Porter, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Chita Rivera, Darren Criss and many more.
Variety caught up with O’Donnell on Monday afternoon to talk about her return, why she wasn’t bothered by the show’s audio problems and the possibility of more fundraising shows with guests like Barbra Streisand.
Congrats on a great show. You raised more than $600,000.
It was so fun. We raised so much money. I’m so glad it all worked out. It’s still running on YouTube and so you can watch the whole thing still. People are watching it now and still donating. People stepped up who weren’t just moved by the performances, but the feeling of the whole event. Even the little things that didn’t work sort of worked, like the audio dropping out. Poor Adrienne Warren in the bathtub for 10 hours. Someone wrote a review and said that the audio dropping was a running bit that we did. And I was like, “No, it wasn’t. It actually was the audio not working.”
Did it have you feeling nostalgic for the old show? Any chance you’ll relaunch it full-time?
I don’t know. We’ll see what happens. I do think in times like this people crave nostalgia and they crave to feel good. You put both of those together and somebody like me who wears her heart on her sleeve, it’s a good combination. So I don’t know what will happen. Maybe we’ll keep doing them on the internet or who knows what TV is going to look like when we get through all of this. You see all the late night people trying to come up with content now. In fact, the people from “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” called and said, “How did you do that?” [Laughs] How the hell does CBS not know how to do it? It’s an app you could put on your computer and anyone could broadcast from their house. It wasn’t like a big plot I was telling them. It’s an app, just a basic app.
At the end of the show, Barry Manilow said he hopes you’ll do more. You said you might for different causes.
Some people were saying, “Oh you actors, just taking care of your own.” I was like, “It’s not just actors, people. It’s this whole community and industry.” I really tried to push that during the whole three-and-a-half hour marathon. It’s not actors just taking care of actors. It’s actors taking care of their community. And it’s a community I am part of and have been so for so many years so that was my first instinct: let’s do it for The Actors Fund. But my heart breaks like everyone for all the suffering, the nurses on the front line, people who need babysitters and the grocery store workers, the armed forces. I’m willing to play with what cause it could be [next time] and how we can best get the money to people.
Let’s start planning the next show. Tell me your dream guests. Tom Cruise?
[Laughs] Everyone is so willing because first of all, everyone is free. Everyone is at home. Nobody is shooting, nobody is away. Every person who Erich asked said yes right away. That’s how we ended up with this huge list. I think that anyone would be willing to step up and help during this time of crises in any way. But the performances are what made this all worthwhile. We need people who would perform and not just be interviewed.
Do think you will have Barbra Streisand singing from her basement?
Wouldn’t that be fantastic! Barbra in her pajamas on, with a turban on, singing, “Papa, can you hear me?” She did send me a beautiful note last night and said she made a large donation and said that she was very happy with the she success of the evening. If we asked her, I’m sure she would do it.
You sound so happy. You were really in your element, aren’t you?
I know how to do that job. I remembered how long I did it and I remember leaving because my child was going into the first grade. Well, he’s now 24 years old and in the Marines. My whole world is different now but my instinct for doing that is still fresh as ever. I was happy it was still there. I thought it would be because that’s not necessarily about interviewing people as much as it’s just about being open-hearted and taking what comes out at you and dealing with whatever it is.
I was surprised you didn’t get political. Trump was only mentioned a couple of times, but you didn’t go after him.
I didn’t think it was the place. I was trying to uplift people in a time of terror and a time of uncertainty…I think anyone who knows me knows what my politics are. It’s not a big surprise. If I was on the Bill Maher show or the Samantha Bee show, I would of course talk about it. We did have the Broadway League call and say, “You know, try not to get into Trump.” I was like, “Listen, you are not ABC, this is not Disney. This the internet and this is a charity so mommy is going to do that best that she can but you’re going to have to deal with it.” In the end, they were quite happy.
Did you know Gavin Creel was going to talk about having coronavirus?
No. I was quite shocked. We’re all going to know someone who has it, starting with Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson and now Debi Mazar and Andy Cohen. People who are our friends and in our life, people who are our aunts and uncles, mothers, fathers…As the tests become more widely available we’re going to know people with it but 90something percent of people recover from this so that’s something to keep in your mind.