As with anything Roseanne Barr talks about, the comedienne does not hold back when it comes to the way the United States handles presidential elections. “It’s almost impossible to get anything that helps this country or anybody in it on the ballot,” she says. “Real people are going to have to decide for themselves whether it makes any difference to vote or not.”
But she’s not encouraging people not to vote … right? “A lot of people say if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain,” Barr says, laughing. “I love that one.”
In 2011, Roseanne Barr launched what became an unorthodox and often oblique presidential run — not unlike certain presidential frontrunners this year — but as a third-party candidate. She ultimately came in sixth. Now the comic’s attempted POTUS grab is the focus of an entertaining new documentary, Roseanne for President! (opening in theaters today).
The film chronicles her impassioned early speeches (“Can an intelligent woman win in a stupid, rigged system?” she asks), the way she made public appearances questionably via Skype rather than tour the country, her loss of the Green Party nomination and how she expected write-ins to be counted, all interspersed with commentary from her family and friends like Michael Moore, Rosie O’Donnell and Sandra Bernhard. Along the way, she learns hard lessons about third-party candidacy, the electoral system and the amount of work she needs to put into a campaign.
“I hope this film opens people’s eyes as to how our election system works — or how it doesn’t work is the better way of saying it,” she says. “It’s just the same BS as it always was. It’s all just theater. It doesn’t really matter about the candidates; it’s about the ballots, and that’s what I wanted to say in the movie. You can’t really get anything that actually serves the voters on any ballot. It’s eye opening, and Americans should think about it.”
Why did you originally want to run for president?
I wanted to be part of the conversation and affect it, and I wanted to witness for myself how our election system functions.
What was the most eye-opening aspects of it?
Oh, my God, just the way the electoral process works was eye-opening. I continued to learn after it was over. For instance, I had no idea that write-in votes are not counted. I knew I had gotten a significant number of write-ins, but they said they don’t count them at all unless it’s a tie. Like, wow, it runs deep how they’ve got this all fixed up.
People blamed Ralph Nader for getting George W. Bush elected. Did that bother you when you launched your third-party bid?
Yeah, they let Nader take the noose for that. It’s all predigested theater.
What do you make of the current election, where Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders — political outsiders like yourself — are shaking up the system?
I find it humorous that all of the candidates have borrowed so heavily from my campaign, particularly Bernie. But it’s great. It shows that people are ready to talk about socialist solutions — and by that, I don’t mean “socialism,” I mean socialist solutions whereby the government does right by the people. I think Trump borrowed heavily from my campaign, and Hillary, too. I said in 2013 if I did run again, I’d run as a Republican. That’s why I say Trump borrowed heavily from me, because that’s the party that’s up for grabs and he proved that. Democrats will be up for grabs in 2020.
Did you plan for the movie to come out during an election year?
I wanted my movie out last year, but it turns out that it’s coming out at a perfect time. If you see it, you’ll see firsthand that they borrowed a lot of what I said. And that’s fine. I was four years ahead of the curve, so it’s kind of depressing and encouraging that the stuff I’m saying now will be the stuff that everybody else will be saying in 2020 when Kanye West runs.
“I was four years ahead of the curve, so it’s kind of depressing and encouraging that the stuff I’m saying now will be the stuff that everybody else will be saying in 2020 when Kanye West runs.”
Do you think Kanye stands a chance?
I’m sure he’ll become president. Aren’t you? It’s going to have to happen. I might run against him.
What do you think of Trump?
I have to be careful what I say here so your headline isn’t “Roseanne Is in Trump’s Pocket,” because I’m not. I don’t endorse anybody except myself. I plan to write myself in for the rest of my life until I win. But I think that some of the things he has said about Clinton have been dead on, and I would say that some of the things she says about him are dead on, too. The only time these guys are telling the truth is when they’re calling each other liars.
I do think that he’s right on a lot of things. I wish that Clinton and Trump would join up to become my co–vice presidents, because of what’s needed in our country is a synthesis between Trump, who represents the rights of small business owners, and Hillary and the Democrats, which represent diversity. They need to join up rather than fight each other. So if they want to join up, I’d be happy to run as “Barr/C-rump.”
I understand if you don’t want to endorse Trump, but maybe you want to clarify what you like about him so people don’t get the wrong impression of why you like him.
For my second HBO special [1990’s Roseanne Barr: Live From Trump Castle], he drove me onstage in his Packard. And, personally, he’s a friendly person who’s done me some favors so I’m not gonna trash him. I think some of the things he says are right — meaning they ring true to me and seem like common sense — and some are not right. Nobody is 100 percent right. The same is true of Clinton. I’m not going to demonize either one of them so the other side can raise funds on it.
But I take it you weren’t an Obama fan.
I ran against him. And it’s too damn bad I didn’t win, because if I had we could have avoided a lot of shit.
In the documentary, you said that since you weren’t on the ballot in Hawaii, where you live, you ultimately voted for Obama.
Well, I don’t know if I really voted for him. I can’t remember. I think I voted for myself actually.
There’s a scene where you make fun of the other candidates’ joking ability, saying you were the only serious comedian in the race. Who’s disappointed you most, jokes-wise, this election?
There’s a difference between a comedian and a clown. A clown can make you laugh, but a comedian makes you think, laugh and face reality. Those guys are great clowns. I have to laugh when Trump goes off on Clinton because so much of what he says about her is true. But that doesn’t mean I’d vote for him. And she’s had a couple of good lines here and there, but she says the same jokes over and over. Trump does them off the top of his head, and that’s why he’s in so much trouble. He needs better writers.
Let’s talk policy. What does America need right now?
[Sighs] America needs to come to the middle and get out of the extremes. Most Americans are in the middle, and when you marginalize the middle — which is what our political system does, because it’s just about money — you’re going to have trouble. It’s not good.
But it seems like a lot of people are embracing the candidates that have polarized opinions.
Well, they’re being played. They’re playing the middle against the extreme, and that’s why 40 percent of Americans don’t even bother to vote. It’s stupid. These elections are irrelevant. Whether you vote for Trump or Hillary, whoever gets in, I don’t think it really matters. That only thing that would be good about, say, Trump or Hillary winning, is that maybe people will mobilize to work for this democracy and not just let it go to the extremists, the richest of the rich or the biggest jackals.
Our country needs the middle to become empowered, and that’s also why I ran. We need the regular people to run for office, people who care about their communities and children and reality. That goes especially for women my age. We’re going to be the last generation of women to be as educated as we are and to have as much disposable income as we indeed have. This is the end of that. Women my age, and men, too, need to step forward and do what’s needed for our kids and grandkids.
What do you think about the concept of a proportionally representative government, where if 10 percent of voters are members of the Green party, then 10 percent of Congress must belong to the Green Party?
What you’re describing is exactly right. We have a winner-take-all system, and that’s complete bullshit. For instance, 52 percent of our population is women, so we should have 52 percent of the representation – and we have 17 percent. That’s not representational government, so they should stop throwing that shit around. It represents nothing but the money class and Wall Street. It’s just about the banks. It has nothing to do with Democracy or freedom. It’s a lie to say otherwise.
Roseanne, the TV show, was a great example of a working-class family. Why is there no good equivalent today?
They wouldn’t allow it. I snuck through. I knew I was sneaking through, and that the window would snap shut when I was done. And it did.
But why is that?
There are billions in advertising. That’s the lifeblood of capitalism. … When I watch TV, I almost gag when it’s, like, three white sisters living in a house that coasts $100,000 a month. [TV producers] have got to hold that carrot out so you don’t know that you have a 90 percent chance of dying poor if you were born poor in America. They don’t want people to know that.
“I don’t endorse anybody except myself. I plan to write myself in for the rest of my life until I win.”
Shows like Keeping Up With the Kardashians are aspirational.
Yeah, it’s holding the carrot out.
Donald Trump has built his campaign around the slogan “Make America Great Again.” Where do you stand on America’s greatness or lack thereof?
I don’t think America has ever tapped into its greatness, and I don’t think it’s ever been allowed to tap into its greatness. And that would be the diversity of opinion. If we were able to get the diversity of opinion in this country under one big tent where people don’t demonize each other and call each other names then that would make America great. We don’t need two tents fighting each other.
Do you feel like the things you don’t like about the electoral process are fixable?
It’s easily fixable, but you have to have guts and determination and vision to make it happen. I came in sixth despite the fact that I was only on three ballots. Had I been on 50 ballots, which of course they would never let happen, who knows? Coming in sixth has given me great hope.
So would you want to run for president again?
From bankruptcies to policy issues, here are the stats on presumptive nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.