"Our job is not to take care of people's feelings," Cummings, who serves as an executive producer on "Roseanne," argued at The Hollywood Reporter's most recent Comedy Showrunner Roundtable. "Our job is to make people think and make them laugh and make them talk."
The studio and network, however, are extremely concerned about people's feelings, and especially upsetting them enough to impact a show's sponsorships. Funny is funny until it impacts the money.
Cummings was joined on the panel by Pamela Adlon ('Better Things'), Amy Sherman-Palladino ("The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"), Mike Schur ("The Good Place"), Justin Simien ("Dear White People") and Alec Berg ("Silicon Valley," 'Curb Your Enthusiasm') for a free-wheeling conversation about the art of comedy and the challenges of trying to push the envelope against pushback from nervous networks.
"A big part of my involvement, because it stars a character and person who voted for Trump, is that I was the progressive libtard in the room," Cummings explained. Having different voices in the room is important on a show that strives so hard to be topical. At its heart, "Roseanne" has always been a show that tackled tough social issues almost without flinching, and that has continued in the new iteration.
One of the hot-button topics "Roseanne" touched on right away this season was gun responsibility, which they explored when Dan (John Goodman) realized he didn't remember where they'd hidden their gun. "I really wanted the 5-year-old kid to find it," Cummings said. "And the network -- well, everyone was pretty freaked out about it. And I fought really hard, and it was a hill that I died on. We didn't end up shooting that, and then Parkland happened and I was like ... I--"
"Should've done it," Simien interjected, to Cummings surprise.
"Should have done it?" Cummings asked. "You think I should have done it?"
Sherman-Palladino chimed in immediately, "Oh, I think you should've done it." Of course, these are comedy writers and showrunners. Even if Cummings had done it, there's no guarantee the network would have let it air ... especially after the Parkland shooting.
Another example of pushing against what is socially acceptable relates to a scene in the latest racism episode, in which Dan lamented losing a drywalling contract to a company that appears to be using undocumented workers. "There was a big issue about whether Dan Conner [can call] undocumented workers who are now taking his jobs 'illegals.' There was all this hullabaloo on set about 'Can you say "illegals"? That's an offensive word and we're not supposed to say that, that's not the PC term.' But this man would not know what the right word is. So if we have him saying 'undocumented workers,' it just feels false and you're not telling the story."
"Roseanne" came under fire for another scene where they tried to stay true to the limited perspectives of the characters. In that one, Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) and Dan fell asleep in front of the television and Dan lamented, "We missed all the shows about black and Asian families. Roseanne's response was, "They're just like us! There, now you're all caught up." The show was immediately blasted for being racially insensitive at best, and racist at worst.
"For us, there was all this feedback of like, 'This show is part of the problem.' And I'm just like, '[Trump] got elected before this show came back,'" Cummings said of the growing social and cultural divide that's helped catapult her series to the top of the ratings heap. "Like, [Roseanne Barr's] Twitter feed is her Twitter feed. But everyone just needs something to blame right now."
The network can't be mad at all the viewers tuning in to watch new episodes, though, as "Roseanne" continues to dominate the competition, Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.