Roseanne Barr on Hillary 2016, the two-party system and the war on drugs: "I'm way past that bulls**t"

The legendary comedian on her 2012 presidential bid -- and how she "can't say no" to a 2016 run [UPDATED]

Published April 21, 2015 11:59AM (EDT)

This post has been updated.

In 2012, Roseanne Barr ran for president on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket, coming in sixth with 67,326 votes. Roseanne may be best-known for her comedy, but her run wasn't a joke. She came armed with a serious platform -- including women's rights, marriage equality, forgiveness of student loan debt, single-payer healthcare, marijuana legalization and increased opportunities for the working class -- as well as the desire to shine light on a political system that she feels has abandoned the country it is supposed to serve.

In a new documentary titled "Roseanne for President," longtime Michael Moore-collaborator Eric Weinrib chronicles Roseanne's brief foray into presidential politics and her unsuccessful attempt to unseat Jill Stein for the Green Party nomination. It intersperses her time on the campaign trail with snippets of her long and fascinating career, including her difficult upbringing and time spent in a mental institution, her fearless stand-up, her polarizing public persona, and, of course, her Emmy-winning sitcom "Roseanne," which broke ground on how working-class families and gay characters were depicted on television.

The film, shot on a shoestring budget, spends a lot of time with Roseanne at her home in Hawaii, as she candidly shares her views -- some prescient and clear-eyed, some predictably batty -- about our broken political system and how to fix it. It also provides an interesting insider look at the anachronistic world of third-party politics, pitted as an alternative to a stagnant and elitist two-party system. As Roseanne puts it, in her typically straightforward fashion: "The two-party system is a one-party system; it's the money party, and it has two faces like a coin has two different sides. It's a war business. That's it."

The day before her film premiered at Tribeca, I met with Roseanne and Eric Weinrib in a dark private dining room of a ritzy steak restaurant in the Meatpacking district. I barely recognized Roseanne when I came in; she'd undergone a makeover since the film, having forgone her long gray locks and bohemian silhouettes for a short blond crop, a metallic jacket, and a fistful of clunky costume jewelry. We didn't shake hands -- as the film explains, she doesn't like to -- nor did she greet me with her standard elbow-shake or "terrorist fist-bump," as she did with voters on the campaign trail. Keeping her oversize sunglass on for the duration of the interview -- she recently revealed to the Daily Beast that she suffers from macular degeneration and glaucoma, and will eventually go blind -- the erstwhile "working-class domestic goddess" spoke to Salon about running for president, Hillary 2016 and changing the face of society through comedy.

At what point in the process of figuring out you were going to run did you decide that you were going to make a movie as well?

I wanted to make a movie about running for president and I assumed it was going to be satirical. I asked my friend Michael Moore who he could recommend to help me do it, and Michael said, oh, you'll like Eric, and I did and he liked me. We started out on a kind of personal quest, but then it became, why don't we really do this? and I thought, well, why not? OK! I always wanted to run for president; since I was a little girl, I'd have fantasies. I found this autobiography thing I wrote in third grade— my mom kept it— and it was like, Roseanne Barr was the first woman president. She became president after she cured cancer and brought world peace... I had all these grandeurs and fantasies. So I'm living the dream, kind of.

Are you going to run again this year?

I can't say no yet, but I already sort of invented a political action committee called Americans Incorporated and I'm president for life— I declared myself that. Because of the sheer numbers, 350 million members of this corporation, I thought maybe Congress might be willing to hear what they said. So I went around the process, and just shortened it, and I'm already president.

I liked how the film was a personal story but it was also a really interesting critique of the two-party system, and explored the weird behind-the-scenes world of third parties. Why do you think a third party hasn't really been able to break into the U.S. political system?

Roseanne: The two-party system is a one-party system; it's the money party, and it has two faces like a coin has two different sides. It's a war business. That's it. There's no third party because they don't want a third party.

Weinrib: I think after what we saw in 2000 with Nader, I think the third parties got smeared and people bought into the bullshit of, you're throwing your vote away or if you're vote for this one candidate you're going to help their opponent. That's because we count our votes with a winner-take-all system.

Roseanne: That's right, and that's what's at fault. We did want to explore those subjects more, but the movie is only an hour long. We don't understand why it's winner-take-all, because we don't think that's really fair. If 3 percent of voters are socialist, then there should be 3 percent socialist representatives in the governing body, more coalition-style and parliamentary. The American system, like Michael Moore says in the movie, is a bit of a con. I hope to get people to go, whoa, we can step out of this matrix and create something better.

I take it you definitely don't believe in strategic voting. In the film, you said you ended up having to vote for Obama because you weren't on the ballot in Hawaii.

That was a real tough one. I wanted to vote for myself, but I helped the Green Party make it to ballot status in Hawaii because of my fame and people lining the streets to come and join the Green Party and make that possible. In the end, they split the delegate vote in my hometown in Hawaii, so every step of the way, only the people get in that they want in. They can change the rules at any time, and they do; they want it very controlled, because the last thing any of them want is a democratic election. That's their worst fucking nightmare.

What do you think of Hillary?

She's like any other Democrat.

Is there any part of you that would be happy just to see a woman in office?

No, no part of me at all whatsoever, because I'm way past that bullshit. Margaret Thatcher, she was a woman, and I wouldn't vote for her, neither. It's what the person is saying, not the shape nor the color of their skin but the content of their character that matters— as per MLK. I don't think that she is any different from Romney or Bush or any of them. They're all the same; they golf together for chrissake! She's got more in common with George or Jeb Bush than she has with me or any voter. I don't get to go to any of those dinners or any of that shit; none of us get to go to those tables where public money is apportioned. I had that in my one speech about if I were president. First of all, I wouldn't have winner-take-all, but there would be a token poor person at the table with the public money that they pay for and public wealth that they create. There would be a democratic process for that. As it is, the people who sit at those tables where public money is apportioned, they're just taking it off the tables and putting it into private pockets — it's all a fucking scam. The last thing they want is a decent election where the people's voice is listened to or serviced, and that's why I ran. Like, Jesus, you know? We're under such mind control that, in the words of Jesus, we'll swallow camels and choke on gnats. The truth just confounds people; they're like, huh? What? It's not in our Constitution that there's two parties who work for bankers? Huh? They don't get it.

Yeah, it's hard to get people to think outside the box.

They're not thinking inside it, either. They just regurgitate the program. To get people to think and to take responsibility for the world they create—because above the not-thinking thing are the people who say they're trapped and they can't change anything. We actually have the authority and the power to get the kind of government we want and deserve; all we have to do is take the action. Wow, nobody's ever heard anybody say that, but it's true. I think democracy works.

Do you feel it's important to have more women in politics in general?

I feel that it's extremely important that we have a party that likes women. That could be headed by a man, a woman, or anybody else; anybody could head a party that was woman-friendly, it wouldn't necessarily have to be a woman. It's the woman-friendly ideals that are desperately needed, so people are getting tricked a lot by thinking of Hillary as a woman. If she's not saying the right things, what does it matter? It doesn't matter. She might as well be a bear. A bear for president!

Earlier you mentioned mind control, and I know that in the movie you describe marijuana as a shield against mind control. You're obviously very pro-legalization; can you talk a little bit about why that's such a significant issue for you?

To me, it's the tip of the spear. It's the war on drugs that locked this country down, that's how they did it. It's a class war, and it goes along with privatized prisons and everything else like that. When you're locking up kids for pot— and that is most of their arrests, under the drug wars, teenagers smoking pot— and when you put kids in privatized prisons, they can work for corporations at 16 cents an hour, and that's exactly what's happening. Black and Latino and Latina and working-class kids are getting locked up because not only does the judge and the police force get a kickback for every arrest, but the fact is that 85 percent of all house paint manufactured in the United States is manufactured by prison labor at 16 cents an hour. If you really look at it in a huge context, these are labor camps and the war on drugs and keeping pot illegal is how it all runs. I thought, well, let's just legalize this!

I liked the line you had about putting a joint near the nuclear football. Like, chill out before you make any rash decisions...

Yeah, that's right!

I'm interested in the idea expressed within the film that comedians can help society see certain truths. I know you weighed in on the whole flap about Trevor Noah and "The Daily Show"...

Like I've said, I think he deserves a bit of a slap upside the head for the things he said, but I don't think he deserves to lose his job or be censored completely. He needs a little slap in the head, like nuh-uh, you can't do that. Look at Amy Poehler — her doing Clinton, Tina Fey doing Palin — the comedians are the ones who tell the truth. If you can make people laugh, that's huge. That's why all the people running for president are trying to tell jokes! It's all about getting people to laugh, because that's when they're open to things. I say in my one speech that some comedians, their job is to pacify the victims of power but others of us, we want to help laugh to scorn all the bullshit of this ridiculous system that makes no sense to anybody except for this little tiny bunch.

It's possible to effect real change through the arts; "Roseanne," for example, championed progressive issues like gay rights. In terms of trying to make a difference, what was the impetus to move out of the cultural sphere and into the political one?

Because that's the shock to the heart of the beast and that's what I always wanted to do. I'd be a little girl watching TV and it was like, man, to get on there and do the real story... that was the goal. That's the goal, to be president, to tell the truth and to kind of get people to laugh because when people laugh things to scorn, it's never the same. As soon as a large group of people or citizens laugh at something, it's never the same. That's the most powerful thing in the world. They say laughter is the best medicine but it's the best revolution, too.

By Anna Silman

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Election Film Politics Roseanne 2012 Roseanne Barr Tribeca Film Festival