VIDEO: Rosie O’Donnell on Coping During the COVID-19 Quarantine, Visiting Michael Cohen in Prison, and What It Would Take to Revive Her Talk Show

Comedian and longtime TV star joins the Stern Show for the first time since 2017

April 7, 2020

Comedian, actress, and longtime talk show host Rosie O’Donnell returned to the Stern Show on Tuesday, sitting down with her friend Howard for the time since 2017. The two understandably had plenty to catch up on, including her recent visit to a federal prison, what it would take for her to revive her talk show, and how the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has upended her life.

Rosie connected to the show while self-quarantining at her New Jersey home and told Howard the COVID-19 fallout weighs heavy on her mind. “I’m freaking out. I have not been out of the house. I won’t go to the supermarket. I won’t go anywhere,” she said, adding “I’m a 10 out of 10 in terms of worried about it.”

She admitted she’s struggling to digest the news right now, too. “I don’t want to see the empty stores with no food on the shelves. I don’t want to see the people who are elderly and trying to get food,” she said. “It’s too much for me.”

Rosie has three of her children living at home with her and she said caring for them during the pandemic has also proven tricky in its own right. “They’re emotionally terrified as well,” she said, explaining her teenage daughter couldn’t have a Junior Prom, her 20-year-old son has been forced to quit his grocery store job, and her 24-year-old son in the Marines hasn’t been feeling well though he’s still committed to serving his country.

The Talk About “The View”

Rosie memorably hosted her own daytime talk show from 1996 to 2002 and enjoyed a short run as a co-host of “The View” a few years later before exiting the show amid a swirl of headlines. On Tuesday, Rosie shared additional details about her departure and her current relationship with those former colleagues.

“Was there an opportunity to come back on ‘The View’ at any point?” Howard wondered.

“No, I think we all agreed last time it was better for everyone,” Rosie said, adding that she didn’t believe her former co-host Whoopi Goldberg much liked her.

She told Howard the two were friends before she joined “The View” but struggled to maintain that relationship while working together. These days, they aren’t close at all. “I don’t hate her, but I feel very awkward around her now,” she said.

The two do remain cordial, however. They ran into each other during a night out and Rosie said Whoopi was “so nice” that the maître d assumed they wanted to be sat at the same table. They opted not to.

As one of “The View’s” outspoken liberal voices, Rosie also frequently bickered on-air with conservative co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck. But she told Howard the two remained friendly behind the scenes while Rosie was working on the show. “We went to theater together. She came to my house and swam at my pool with her kid. Her husband came to my house once. We were friendly,” she said.

All that changed in 2019 after a tell-all was published which suggested Rosie harbored a slight crush for Elisabeth. “I thought it was charming,” Howard said of the book’s revelation.

Elisabeth did not agree. She admitted as much last year during a return visit to “The View.”

Rosie told Howard she couldn’t understand why her former colleague seemed so put off by something so innocuous. “There was no sexual underpinnings to that,” she insisted. “That was not me trying to get Elisabeth Hasselbeck as a lover.”

“She played on a Division I softball team. She was the captain two of the years … she’s been around a lot of lesbians. I’m not the first lesbian who thought she had nice biceps, right?” Rosie added with a laugh.

Six Hours at Camp Cupcake

Another high-profile relationship Rosie didn’t shy away from discussing is the one she forged with Donald Trump’s former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, who is currently serving a three-year sentence at a federal prison in Orange County, N.Y., for crimes ranging from tax evasion to lying to Congress.

She and Michael became acquainted shortly after President Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives. She said she wrote him a letter that night saying she believed the punishment rendered against him was unfair.

“We became pen pals and then I went to the prison to visit him,” Rosie told Howard. She later added: “I’ve only been to prison twice. Once to visit Martha Stewart and once to visit Michael Cohen.”

Rosie spent over six hours with Cohen during their visit and their conversation covered subjects ranging from his relationship with President Trump to his relatively cushy surroundings at the prison’s satellite camp for non-violent offenders. “It was nearly all Jewish men—older Jewish men. ‘Camp Cupcake’ they call it, I think, because it’s an easier way to do your time,” she explained.

Howard wondered what kind of questions she asked Cohen during her visit.

“Everything,” Rosie said, explaining that at one point he even apologized to her for his involvement in her and President Trump’s long-standing feud which began nearly 15 years ago while she was still co-hosting “The View.”

Camp Cupcake may be luxurious compared to a maximum-security prison, but the men there are bunking close together and Rosie feared that might lead to coronavirus spreading quickly amongst them.

Though Rosie visited before the outbreak, she said Michael looked physically healthy to her. She did say he was emotionally distraught, however, over having ignored his wife and family’s pleas to stay far away from the current administration. “And then you ended up having to do horrible things for [Trump],” Rosie remembered telling Cohen, to which he apparently replied: “Yes, and I regret every single one.”

Porn-Hijacked Zoom Parties and Madonna’s Shirtless New Year’s Shindig

Like so many Americans practicing social distancing right now, Rosie has come to rely upon different types of communication to keep in touch with her friends. She talks to some on the phone, like her former “A League of Their Own” co-star Madonna, and has late-night Zoom chats with others, like Helen Hunt, Meg Ryan, Matthew Perry, Jason Alexander, and Rita Wilson.

“[It’s] 30 or so people. We go on every night,” she said, explaining that they talk for an hour or two each session and she gets updates on how everyone is handling the outbreak.

Rosie reported Rita and her husband Tom Hanks have made a full recovery since testing positive for COVID-19. “They’re fine and they have the antibodies now that can help doctors figure out if there can be some kind of vaccine,” she said.

She revealed Madonna is doing well, too, though she’s just as “freaked out” by the pandemic as everyone else. “She goes in the bath tub and tells you her feelings and there you have it,” Rosie said.

The bathtub conversation wasn’t Rosie’s only revealing Madonna-related anecdote of the day. She told Howard she had attended a New Year’s party at the Queen of Pop’s house and was surprised to find her hosting the event topless.

“I walk over and I hug her and I say in her ear, ‘You’re the most famous woman in the world: go put a fucking shirt on,’” Rosie recalled. “Did she put a shirt on? No, she did not. She did the rest of the party tits to the wind.”

Rosie wasn’t topless when she hosted a recent fans-only Zoom chat, yet somehow it proved to be more risqué than Madonna’s shindig. “I tried to do a Zoom room the other day for, like, fans … Well, we got hacked with porno,” she said, adding, “So, now I’m afraid to do another one.”

Rosie’s loyal followers enjoyed a more family friendly show last month when she hosted a one-night only, Broadway-themed, digital “Rosie O’Donnell Show” revival featuring an array of celebrity guests, from stage icon Patti LuPone to recording legend Gloria Estefan. The philanthropic event raised $600,000 for the Actors Fund, a charity supporting theater, radio, music, film, and television professionals.

Actor Erich Bergen organized the massively popular event for her, arranging the guests and figuring out the logistics so she could host it from the comfort of her own garage. “I’m like, are you kidding? No bra? This is the greatest gig of my life,” she said with a laugh.

Considering the revival’s success, Howard wondered if she’d be open to bringing her beloved talk show back every week.

“I don’t know what the world is going to look like when this is done,” Rosie said. “I don’t know if over-produced shows with, you know, big celebrities is going to be the thing people are looking for after all of this, but I would love to do that, Howard. If we got a sponsor I’d do it every Sunday night and raise money for different charities.”