In 1984 Whoopi Goldberg cracked up Broadway audiences-and ignited her career—with Whoopi Goldberg, a hit one-woman showcase in which she sounded off on hot-button topics in the guise of several characters, from a philosophy-spouting junkie to a pregnant teenage surfer. Now she’s back at New York City’s Lyceum Theater for a 12-week run of a revived and updated version. “Twenty years is a long time to try to do this stuff again-it gets harder,” says Goldberg, 49, who has weathered a few professional setbacks this year: Her NBC sitcom Whoopi was canceled in May, and in July Slim-Fast dropped her as a spokeswoman after she indulged in some bawdy bashing of President Bush at a fund-raiser for John Kerry. She spoke with PEOPLE correspondent Natasha Stoynoff backstage.
Why did you revive the show?
The characters—it’s time for them to start talking again. They were not ready to come out before now, I think because they weren’t needed. They are needed now, so they’re doing their thing. We’re talking about [abortion rights] again, we’re talking about all these different [issues] again.
And now you’ve added a middle-aged character who talks about topics like dieting and menopause.
The issues are ones that women of my age are facing. You go with what’s relevant for yourself and hope it’s relevant to other people.
You mention plastic-surgery reality programs like The Swan in your show. Do you ever watch it?
No, but I know so many people who have. It’s extraordinary to me that people feel so strongly, this idea that this is what our idea of ugly is and so then we’ll fix it and then have a beauty contest to reinforce it. It was a stunning moment when I realized that people really do take this stuff to heart—this idea that they are not acceptable. I don’t remember it ever being this out of balance before. And I think it’s because plastic surgery wasn’t open to just any old body. You used to have to have a lot of dough. So people aged differently and stores still carried your size.
You’ve always had your own look. Did you make a conscious effort with your daughter Alexandrea and your granddaughters to teach them that you don’t have to look like Barbie?
It’s like Sisyphus trying to push the boulder up. You can’t because it’s everywhere. You walk down the street and it’s on a billboard. You look in a window and it’s on a mannequin. What you have to do is just instill in people that it’s not necessarily for them.
Have you ever thought about plastic surgery?
But you did lose weight on Slim-Fast and even became a spokeswoman…
Oh, yeah! I lost quite a bit.
Enough to make me comfortable.
Then they dropped you…
That just seems so…odd. I made fun of Bush all over my sitcom. If you look at any of the shows I did during its run, I beat the s—-out of the President all the time! And nary a word from Slim-Fast. So you just kind of go, Okay. Cool.
And then you lost your sitcom.
It was a shock. Who knows?
You’ve just turned 49. Any worries about the big five-0?
Seeing Susan Sarandon working and Meryl Streep working it’s still all right. We’re still finding things to do as women. I don’t know where I’m headed, in terms of movies or things like that, because I don’t know where my place is yet. But I think I’ll be all right, ya know?