It’s hard to be surprised by anything the legendarily outspoken Roseanne Barr does, but even by her standards, her presidential campaign generated a lot of talk. The Golden Globe-winning comedian turned more than a few heads when she announced her intention to run for President of the United States back in 2011. Barr didn’t emerge victorious, of course — though she did come away with about 50,000 votes in the popular election) — but her experience attempting to disrupt the American democracy did spawn a different kind of win: Eric Weinrib’s revealing documentary, “Roseanne For President!,” which tracks Barr’s campaign through its many highs and lows.
“The whole point of it is to shine a light on our election system, which is totally corrupt and fixed,” Barr told IndieWire in a recent interview. “That’s what I think of the system. That’s what I think of this election.”
She may not have won in 2012, but it did allow her to do what she does best: Speak her mind — and, to hear her tell it, the experience now provides her with some insight into the current presidential race.
“I think my whole campaign was very prescient,” she said. “I think that every candidate who is running now borrowed heavily from the speeches I did…Trump borrowed from my campaign, Hillary borrowed from my campaign, and particularly Bernie. Some of it’s word for word from the speeches I gave, but all of that really doesn’t matter. What matters is that I said it first, and it needed to be said.”
Barr isn’t actively campaigning in the current presidential election, but that doesn’t mean she’s entirely out of the game. For one thing, she wants to be absolutely clear that she is not supporting Donald Trump, though a series of attention-grabbing headlines that hit the wire earlier this month painted a different picture. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Barr was quoted as saying, “I think we would be so lucky if Trump won,” which she immediately followed up with the caveat that “because then it wouldn’t be Hillary.” Most outlets ran with the most eye-grabbing headline: That Barr supports Trump’s bid for the presidency.
“They use the most sensational line they cut out of an hour-long interview as a headline, as the press does,” Barr said. “No, I’m not supporting Donald Trump. Absolutely not. I’m supporting myself…I’ll be writing my own name in every year until I win.”
Despite the odds that are stacked against her — and, as she repeatedly notes, the “totally corrupt” political system — Barr is determined to keep fighting, if only for herself.
“I have to look at myself in the mirror, and that’s all that really matters to me, my own conscience, and how I stand before the things that I believe in, and the ideas that I hold dear,” Barr said. “That’s all that matters. I have to have a clear conscience that I did everything that I could do while I was alive. I’m not one of those people who gives up, and I just can’t allow idiots to win.”
For Barr, those “idiots” aren’t just confined to the political arena. They’re also in the entertainment industry, which she turned on its head in the late eighties with the creation of her seminal ABC sitcom, “Roseanne.” The show ran for nine seasons, earned her that Golden Globe and rocketed her to the kind of superstardom that many were perhaps not quite ready to see.
In the spring of 2011, Barr penned a first-person essay for New York Magazine that took the entertainment industry to task over its treatment of women and its feelings about the lower class. (A telling selection: “Hollywood hates labor, and hates shows about labor worse than any other thing. And that’s why you won’t be seeing another ‘Roseanne’ anytime soon. Instead, all over the tube, you will find enterprising, overmedicated, painted-up, capitalist whores claiming to be housewives.”)
For Barr, it was a very personal subject, and the long-form piece offered up plenty of examples of the kind of sexism she enduring during her own career, particularly during the height of that “Roseanne” fame.
A similar theme is echoed in “Roseanne For President!,” as scads of people — from potential voters to actual political rivals — continually reject Barr and her campaign. When asked if she thought that kind of pushback was more a product of her being an entertainer or of her being a woman, Barr gave a definitive answer.
“It’s mostly because I’m a woman, and because I can’t be controlled, and I suppose because I’m smarter than they are,” she said. “Those are three big strikes against me. “
The more Barr talks, the easier it is to see how she really did inspire Trump’s self-satisfied tone. “I completely transformed the dialogue of a culture, and maybe the world,” she said. “The greatest minds of comedy are always dismissed. They just don’t like people that are smarter than them. They don’t like truth-tellers either. They only like people who tell the truth about 500 years after they’re dead, and only if they were tortured a lot before they died.”
And, no, she doesn’t think the treatment of women has gotten better since she wrote that article. “Oh, it’s worse now,” she said. “It’s completely worse.”
But don’t look to Barr to disrupt the status quo by rebooting her old show, or creating a new character. She’s done with scripted entertainment.
“I just gave up,” she said. She considered going back to work in the midst of her campaign, and took some meetings with network executives. According to Barr, their reaction stunned her. “Here’s what I heard,” she said. “‘Well, do you have any samples of your writing?’ That’s what they’d ask me.’ Do you have any samples of your writing so that we could help you get a job?'”
The experience was jarring for Barr, and one that made it clear to her that her brand of comedy is not just unappreciated by the gatekeepers of the industry, but almost totally unknown.
“They’re like 14 years old, running the agency because their dad did,” Barr said of the meetings. “That was the last time I took a meeting. It was just unbelievable to me.”
Barr isn’t done with entire entertainment industry, however, and is invigorated about the possibilities of documentaries and other reality-rooted projects. (Her short-lived reality show, “Roseanne’s Nuts,” aired for just one season on Lifetime before the network pulled the plug on the series, which followed Barr and her attempts to run a macadamia nut farm in Hawaii.)
“I really enjoyed this documentary film thing a lot, even though it took five hard years,” she said. “I enjoy saying what I want to say and doing what I want to do. I just kind of got seduced into that whole world of one subject and 90 minutes.”
The comedian and actress is also intent on staying up to date on current entertainment trends, including running her own YouTube channel, which serves as a home for new comedic content and interacting with fans on her Twitter account. And Barr might be going a bit more lo-fi for what could be her brashest move yet: Writing a tell-all book about her time in Hollywood, especially during the often controversial run of her award-winning “Roseanne.”
“Right now, I’m flirting with writing a real book about those times. I always flirt with it,” she said. “There’s a real danger in being an outspoken person. It’s a real risk, so I have to think carefully about it.”
Barr imagines that the book would be close in tone – and content – as that New York Magazine piece from so many years ago. And she’s still got plenty to say about what happened during her storied sitcom run.
“Comedians like to dance right on the edge there, but when you are somebody who dances on the edge, there’s always the fear or the knowledge that you could go down, you could lose everything, and they could destroy all your work and your life even,” she said. “When people ask me about the show, I always say, ‘Yes, I did do that, and I did take the risk of that, and I was threatened. They said they weren’t going to show it.’ They regarded me as a troublemaker.”
Some things never change.
“Roseanne For President!” opens in limited release on Friday, July 1.