08/18/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT
Everyone likes to set goals with their personal trainer. Roseanne Barr was no exception. "I told him, 'Stop coming here,'" she says, recalling the instructor's second visit to her home earlier this year. "He kept thinking it was a joke and it wasn't." Finally, he got the message. "I told him it was nothing personal; I'm done."
Actually, she's just getting started. Again. After taking time off to get her personal life back in shape, Barr is back on TV in The Real Roseanne Show, an ABC reality show about the creation of Domestic Goddess, her second new series, a cooking show ("Well, more of an eating show," she admits) debuting Sept. 8 on ABC Family. Barr, 50, describes Real—which features everyone from her rabbi to her extended family—as "white-trash Martha Stewart" and says, "I thought it might be cool to make people laugh at how dumb we are. My real life is funnier than anything on TV."
But not as tumultuous as it used to be. After her syndicated talk show was canceled in 2000, she moved to a five-bedroom home in Rolling Hills, Calif., 40 miles from Beverly Hills, to detox from all things Hollywood. She also added Barr back to her name, after tiring of explaining to customs and credit officials why she didn't have a last name. And with the help of her rabbi and the Jewish mystical faith Kabbalah, "I've been concentrating on trying to grow and live a better life," she says. "Now I wish people well instead of going, 'that motherf..... owes me money.'"
The change has thrilled family and friends, who distinctly recall Barr's penchant for abruptly firing staff from her hit sitcom Roseanne. "She's mellower, but she's kept her edge," says comic pal Louie Anderson. She is also letting go of old grudges: These days her first husband, Bill Pentland, works as her handyman, and his wife, Becky, who married Pentland in 2000, is Barr's personal assistant. "I like to see what people do when I introduce her," says Barr with a laugh.
Still, notes Real Roseanne producer R.J. Cutler, "some days she's more successful at it than others. The days she's successful are very pleasant; the other days, you find the best way to get through. Doughnuts play a huge role."
So does her new boyfriend, musician Johnny Argent. The Tucson-based Argent, 54, began posting messages in an open forum on Barr's Web site in late 2001. They spoke for a year and finally began dating in January. "She turns into a 16-year-old kid when she talks about him," says Becky Pentland. Indeed, Barr gushes, "I never had a boyfriend or husband that thought I was really cute. I'm definitely in love. This is mature, it's not crazy."
Not so her three previous marriages. "As soon as I'd hate them, I'd marry them," says Barr, who divorced Pentland, 52, in 1990 after a 16-year marriage. She immediately wed Tom Arnold ("It was all crazy—I don't know why I thought it was okay") before splitting in 1994. A year later she married her bodyguard Ben Thomas. Their union produced son Buck, now 8, but Barr and Thomas "weren't a good match," she says, and they divorced in '02. In contrast, her relationship with Argent "is about two individuals who respect each other," says her son Jake Pentland, now a producer on Domestic Goddess, "whereas [with Arnold and Thomas], it was 'What can you do for me?'"
Barr (who has three kids with Pentland: Jessica, 28, Jenny, 27, and Jake, 25) might enjoy romance more at middle age, but raising Buck is a different matter. "We're not meant to be parents when we're 50," she says. "I can't go chasing after him like I did my other ones. I go, 'Let's watch cartoons,' so I can just lay there."
But she's put herself back into action, doing a few comedy gigs to hone her first stand-up act in 10 years. And if the career moves don't pan out, no matter. "I got great kids, a great boyfriend, and I'm gorgeous and thin," she says. "I can't do no better."
Monica Rizzo in Los Angeles