COMEDY HOUR "Rosie O'Donnell: A Heartfelt Stand Up"
WHEN | WHERE Premieres Saturday at 10 p.m. on HBO
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Rosie's back home here. Not in Commack, where O'Donnell grew up, but near her recent upstate abode, playing the Levity Live Comedy Club in "my mall," West Nyack's sprawling Palisades Center.
More crucially homey, though, is Rosie back on the stand-up stage, engaged in the craft that launched her career -- before the movies ("A League of Their Own," "Sleepless in Seattle"), before her daytime talkfest (in syndication 1996-2002, paving the way for current queen Ellen DeGeneres), before O'Donnell's arrival on "The View" Round 1 (2006-2007). And obviously before "The View" Round 2 (last fall through this week).
O'Donnell's abrupt exit from the ABC daytimer was attributed to health issues, under stress from separating with wife Michelle Rounds (since November) and caring for five under-20 kids, after suffering that near-fatal 2012 heart attack -- all of which becomes the raison d'être for O'Donnell's first big TV stand-up special in 20 years (since 1995's "HBO Comedy Hour").
Well, not the separation, necessarily -- Rosie is still warm on wife-and-marriage at this taping last April. But being a parent -- the love/hate/torture/joy/hilarity of it all -- is what animates the hour's first half. Later comes the confessional wallop of this self-described "tough woman's" terrifying odyssey to almost-dead: "I had a heart attack at 9 a.m. on a Monday morning, and I did not go to the doctor until 5 p.m. on Wednesday."
MY SAY Don't think her heart tale is merely cautionary, though Rosie does seem to be on a Blues Brothers' "mission from God" to spread the word on women's symptoms. (Relax, it's a catchy rap.) O'Donnell still knows how to make us laugh out loud. Indeed, well-honed stand-up feels like her true forte, more than the wing-it talkfest format in which she seems to make as many enemies as friends.
This hour isn't perfectly paced, but its segues usually wind their way somewhere smart. O'Donnell remains a master of comic timing and tenor, holding the stage through the perils of fame, helicopter mothering, circumcision, women who don't "look gay," doctors lacking bedside manners, the persistence of childhood faith training and more. Plus, there's some serious (funny) introspection here.