Independence Day in America is a perfect time to reconsider the political life and career of Roseanne Barr, the groundbreaking comedian and actress who gave working class American women a voice in her long-running sitcom Roseanne and famously sang the National Anthem with great screeching gusto, smiling in the face of a judgy, booing nation.
In 2012, she made her first bid for public office in a big way, waging a dedicated campaign for the Green Party’s presidential nomination that surprised a lot of folks in entertainment and politics—not the least of whom was probably party favorite Jill Stein, who won the eventual Green Party nod while the comedienne nipped at her heels. Even then, Barr refused to give up: She ran instead on the Peace and Freedom ticket and managed to get on the ballot in three states, garnering over 48,000 officially tallied votes.
Barr’s ambition for the White House is intimately documented in the film Roseanne For President!, a project six years in the making that balances delightful looks at Barr’s home life in Hawaii with her family and saxophone-toting boyfriend with her dogged attempts to launch a third-party presidential run without the benefit of being, well, Jill Stein.
The timing is prescient in that the film, directed by Eric Weinrib, finds uncanny parallels in the current chaos of our 2016 election—one in which Roseanne, 63, has again found herself embroiled in media firestorms of controversy and misunderstanding. Just last week, Barr went viral thanks to a Hollywood Reporter headline that suggested she was officially endorsing GOP candidate Donald Trump. “I think we would be so lucky if Trump won. Because then it wouldn't be Hillary,” she was quoted as saying in the interview. Even Trump himself took it as flattery, tweeting Barr a thank you.
The episode rankled Barr, who refuted the reports on her own Twitter account and clarified that she does not, in fact, endorse Trump—or Hillary, or anyone else for that matter.
“I don’t endorse anyone but myself,” she said in no uncertain terms as we met to chat last weekend in a Marina del Rey restaurant near her El Segundo studio, hours before she was scheduled to appear at her first Politicon convention. “I’m writing myself in. But because I didn’t say Trump is a racist and ‘President Hillary, there’s no other choice, Hillary, Hillary, Hillary, Hillary…’”
“They always put everything into a false dichotomy, which they did about me with Trump, because I didn’t demonize him,” she explained, ordering a glass of chardonnay. “I actually respected him as someone who is one of the candidates for the highest post in the country. But then the demonization begins by going ‘You’re a racist’ and all that other shit.”
I pointed out that criticisms of Trump’s messaging as misogynist and racist are well founded in the vitriolic rhetoric he’s used all election year. “I understand why people say that,” she said. “But I think when you look deeper at what he’s saying… I mean, everybody has to please the people who are in their party, obviously.”
Her THR quote, if not a direct endorsement of Trump, was more a critique of the two-party system that forces such a binary choice upon the American public, she allowed.
“I see it more as a commentary on our bought and sold press—and Hillary’s in bed with them,” said Barr. “She’s in bed with CNN and Saudi Arabia and everything else, and you’re not allowed to say anything except for ‘Hillary’s great and she’s going to win!’”
“People who are doing that shouldn’t be calling themselves Democrats or pro-democracy or anything else,” she continued. “They’re fascists. They are Stalinists. They allow one opinion. That’s so un-American. It’s no different than McCarthyism, but on the other side. I call them Demopublicans, because there’s no difference between them, they’re two sides of the same bankster-owned parties.”
“We don’t have any free choice,” she declared, “except me. That’s why I’m voting for myself.”
Roseanne can remember dreaming of being president as a young girl growing up in Mormon-dominated Salt Lake City, Utah.
“It’s been in the back of my mind since I was a little girl, just because they said, ‘You could,’” she said. “I found this thing I wrote in the third grade and we were supposed to write our own autobiography, and my mom saved it. Mine says that I cured cancer and brought about world peace by becoming the first Jewish woman President of the United States. So I’ve always had it in my head.”
That little girl grew up and suffered a severe brain injury as a teenager that left her institutionalized for several months, a part of her life Barr speaks of with solemnity and seeming reluctance in the documentary. When she left the hospital, she moved to Colorado where she began doing stand-up comedy in the ‘80s, then hit it big on the late-night circuit with the shrill-voiced, real-talking persona she’d become famous for. The rest was Roseanne history.
When Roseanne ended its celebrated run, Barr got her own syndicated television talk show, The Roseanne Show. Recently, she realized she’d had two very special guests come through her studio—and told one of them he should consider a presidential run.
“I interviewed both Trump and Michael Moore together,” said Barr, who says she “sort of” knows the GOP frontrunner and likes him “as a human being.” “I was watching it and I tell Trump, ‘You should run for president,’” she grinned.
Why did Trump seem so presidential back then? “Because of all of his views,” Barr said. “He was extremely progressive. He was saying we should invest more in education, and we need health care. He said all the things that Hillary’s saying. That’s why I know that it’s just a con. The whole fucking thing. It’s a scam, a con, and it’s rigged.”
Seeing a broken system in practice partially spurred Barr to consider running herself over the years. Her opportunity came when 2008 Green Party presidential nominee Cynthia McKinney reached out. “I thought about it for a really long time,” Barr recalled. “I was scared. But I said yes just because I had so much respect for her. And that’s how it all happened.”
When she decided to go for it, McKinney introduced Barr to Farheen Hakeem, the Minnesota political activist who would become her tireless and devoted campaign manager, “and then we walked right into the hell that is the Green Party.”
Barr tapped Weinrib, who’s worked on Michael Moore’s films, to document her journey. Along the way we see many sides of Roseanne: Roseanne the wisecracking comedian, Roseanne the adoring mother and grandmother, Roseanne the domestic goddess who folds her own fitted sheets on her nut farm in Hawaii, Roseanne the political dark horse who Skypes into primary speeches and fights to bring independence to the Green Party’s platform. It’s a revealing look at the reality of attempting a third-party campaign for the presidency—while not being the party favorite.
The experience gave Barr plenty of fodder to criticize the Green Party’s leadership and values, to say the least.
“They don’t want a third party—I mean the people who own this country,” she said. “They don’t want any third party, or if they do, they want to control it. I think that was why they were so afraid of me. Because I’m not a party line person, and I honestly think the majority of Americans aren’t party line people either and that’s why 40 percent of them don’t even bother to vote. They were the kind of people I thought were my constituents. I wanted to bring them in to effect a third party. A real third party, not a banker-owned one.”
The party also earned Barr’s wrath for actions they took against her not included in the film, which she suggests could fill an entire follow-up sequel.
“Matching funds mean more to them than being a voice for the people. And they did get matching funds, largely because of me,” she said. “They completely demonized me for helping me get on the Hawaiian ballot. But thank god they didn’t demonize me like they demonized Nativo Lopez, who they actually sent to prison. They had a candidate and they sent him to prison, and they tried to fuck with me like that. I had barely declared my candidacy when they sent somebody to tell me I had violated federal laws.”
“That’s what they did to Nativo Lopez, too,” she said of the Chicano political activist charged in 2009 with voter fraud for casting his 2008 vote in a district where he was not registered.
“They want to be tight and white,” she continued, referring to the Green Party. “That’s it, period. They want that tight, white message. Aging, privileged socialists telling everybody—telling, rather than representing. That will never work. A third party that doesn’t speak for the people, it won’t ever work. And that’s kind of what I was telling them. They have their agenda and it’s a worldwide, globalist agenda, which isn’t going to work here in the United States or anywhere else the Green Party goes because it doesn’t create jobs or wealth.”
In this year’s election Green Party nominee Stein has been tapped as a potential late-game threat who might give Hillary the competition Bernie couldn’t. Four years ago, as documented in Roseanne For President!, she quickly came into focus as Roseanne’s biggest nemesis in the party race. So it’s not terribly surprising to see Barr, relaxing at home in a quiet moment in the film, gleefully chanting into the camera, “Fuck Jill Stein, that fucking bitch. Fuck Jill Stein, that fucking whoooore.”
Barr flashed a mischievous grin when I ask what brought that moment on, and prefaced her reply with a compliment for her onetime foe. “Of course it was a joke, because I do admire her,” she said. “I think she means well…”
“My little niece was 8 at the time, and she’d just learned these bad words,” Barr explained. “She didn’t like this other girl in her class so she was sitting there one day and she goes, ‘She’s a bitch and a whore.’ We all just laughed so much. I did that for her. That’s a little inside family joke. Plus it’s, you know, what people say when they don’t like somebody.”
As for November: “Yeah, she’ll stir things up, sorta. She’ll stir them up as much as Michael Feinstein, the owner of the Green Party, will direct her to do,” Barr elaborated. “She’s not an independent thinker at all, and she’s a mouthpiece for a lot of stuff that isn’t good.” She paused. “I think I slam her pretty good in the movie.”
Still, Barr hasn’t closed the door to a return to the White House contest, or a reunion with the Green Party. “The Green Party has their convention in August and the guy who’s running against Jill Stein, Kent Mesplay, I like him a lot. If he gets the nomination, I agreed already to be his VP.”
The difference between Mesplay and a Jill Stein, she says, is vast. “I support him because he’s more of an independent thinker and he listens to people and is affected by what they say. He’s open to ideas. But also he’s been an activist for indigenous rights for more than 30 years, and I have been, too. I just think that’s the crucible of the third party.”
Israel, an issue Barr sees as one of indigenous rights, is perhaps one of the hot-button topics she’s most vocal about on Twitter. (She was also pro-Brexit, and predicts that in a year the world will prove her right—even if it never apologizes for doubting her.)
“I was pretty party line left on that issue,” Barr said of her stance of support on Israel, “but when I was speaking to the delegates in Florida I said you guys have a problem and it’s called Stand Your Ground gun laws. And it was right before Trayvon got killed.”
She lowered her voice, trailing into a tangent. “You know, he sued me, Zimmerman. That’s a long story and I’m not allowed to talk about it. And I won.”
“But I said you guys have a problem with Stand Your Ground gun laws in your state and a guy stood up and said, ‘That’s all well and good, but we want to hear your opinion on Israel-Palestine.’ It was like, ‘Boom.’ Okay. So it’s Palestine first in the United States, and then right after they do that they say Israel controls our country.”
“I’m like, man, they’re working this fascist bullshit, when they ought to be striking down their racist standard on gun laws,” she continued. “It’s all deflection. It’s scapegoating the world’s only Jewish state, in my opinion, just like all fascists always do. My campaign was for the legalization of marijuana and the end of all drug laws because my contention was that it was indeed the drug laws that locked this country down into a fascist structure, and that’s what we’re living with right now. All of those parts go into it. I also say, why can’t we make war illegal? It should be against the fucking law!”
“I don’t think it’s that hard to solve the goddamn problems of the world,” she added, “if you’re not making money and keeping them going.”
Roseanne repeatedly says she’s pro-people and pro-peace, which is partly why she also seems optimistic about the future in spite of the rampant corruption she sees entrenched in American politics.
“As they say in AA, democracy works if you work it. If decent people that care about their community, their family, their world get out and run for office and work democracy, rather than being bought off by hating other people that don’t look and think exactly like them, and embrace diversity of opinion and fact and data, it’s the most exciting time the world’s ever had,” she said.
Her agents, she admits, are still a bit trepidatious about her outspoken political commentary adversely affecting her showbiz career, “but as they say in Hollywood—just spell my name right,” she smiled.
Not that opportunities are lacking.
“I have six grandkids and I’m going to be 64. I can’t do 13 episodes. So that’s a problem, and it’s in my own head. It’s like, do I want to do two specials a year, a series of six, I can’t decide what I want to do. Sometimes you have too many options and not enough time.”
Most of all, Barr says, she’s excited to return to stand-up comedy, which she’ll be doing this September in a U.S.-Canada tour for the first time in a decade.
“My friends are mostly stand-ups. I’m thrilled to be back doing it, and my brain clicked open and I’m able to write,” she said. “Aside from any deal, the fact that I’m getting ideas and I’m writing is great because I had a little bit of a dry spell. Since making this movie I didn’t do a lot of stand-up, but I feel free again. I can do the thing that I really love. I’m enjoying it a lot. I’ve had a great life.”
As our time winds down I witness something that must be even rarer in that colorful and defiantly confrontational life that Barr has led: I see her heckled by a little, white-haired older woman who approaches our table to shout “Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!” at Roseanne.
On Twitter, in the press, and onstage, Barr is never one to mince words or back down from challengers, especially when it comes to politics. But here it’s the Hillary stan who comes off as rabid and a bit tacky as Barr calmly raises her wine glass.
The woman, spurred on by the attention, keeps going. “Hillary! Not Sanders.” She does the equivalent of a fist pump as she shuffles toward the exit with her husband, who remains silent.
Roseanne lifts her glass with enormous self-control and dignity without looking at the woman. “Okay, well, you have your opinion. Here’s to democracy.”
“We could ask Bill back!” the heckler rants on.
To that, the sharp-witted Barr can’t resist one perfect zinger: “Monica would like that.”