“I’m loving it,” said Roseanne Barr, recently announced presidential candidate. “I find that I can be more honest in politics than in Hollywood.”
Not that she’s ever been accused of demurring in either realm.
Seeking to run on the Green Party line, Ms. Barr’s presidential bid, she said, is primarily motivated by her dissatisfaction with both major political parties—in particular their candidates, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, whom she referred to as “total buffoons.”
“That’s what I say: I’m the only serious comedian in this race,” Ms. Barr added.
In a career spanning more than 40 years, including rollicking standup performances, a watershed sitcom and a memorable performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Ms. Barr has been at turns provocative, endearing, innovative and combative. As of February, she has turned her considerable personality toward the interests of the American electorate. In a pair of lengthy interviews with The Observer, she outlined not only her political aspirations, but the possibility of returning to television—and not necessarily in the way you would expect.
“I feel sorry for the American people who’ve been hoodwinked by both of these parties of nothing but criminals that sit in Congress there enriching themselves,” she began.
As it happens, legalization of marijuana is the first issue in the political platform posted on Ms. Barr’s website. She said she has a prescription to use the drug for glaucoma in California and vowed to smoke a joint at a public press conference if she is victorious in the Golden State’s Green Party primary this week.
“I don’t really smoke it, but I have a salve of it, you know, and if you rub it into your wrists, you don’t get high,” Ms. Barr said. “You’re not getting high but you feel release. I have salve and I have cookies.”
Other issues on Ms. Barr’s platform include ending the Federal Reserve, stopping “debt slavery” by “forgiving all school loans,” withdrawing military support for Israel and making war “obsolete.”
“Wars make the stock market go up and are fueled by profits. Where one puts their money is where one puts their energy,” Ms. Barr explains on her site. “The Military Industrial Complex is our shadow government.”
She also is concerned about preserving the environment, particularly water resources.
“Those that lead us have allowed the corporations to cross over the web of life and they have destroyed the genetic code,” she wrote. “They have befouled our food and water supply.”
She describes her economic policy—if that’s the right word—as a synthesis of free enterprise and the social safety net.
“We can have a really great world. We can have a world that was at peace and was prosperous and efficient and just … I just think, wow. I think we’re really in that cosmic space where we can actually command our group will to make something change very quickly. I think we’re just so on the verge of that,” Ms. Barr said. “I just like to encourage people to jump off, man. Jump off and start thinking clearly.”
Another point Ms. Barr emphasized is that being a woman makes her a more insightful leader.
“This is a post-patriarchal age, and that’s what I represent; it’s a return to actual values of the Earth like growing food that we can eat. Not tomatoes made of fish skin,” Ms. Barr said. “We know how to get things done and we know how to get them done cheaply and efficiently.”
The problem with that notion, however, is that Ms. Barr’s main opponent, and the favorite for the Green Party nomination, is also a woman, Dr. Jill Stein, an academic and environmental activist who has been representing the Green Party in political campaigns at the local level since 2002, when she ran (against Romney) for governor of Massachusetts. Though Ms. Barr says she agrees on many things with Dr. Stein, she believes she is the better candidate—and took a shot at her opponent from the left, or at least from left field.
“I think I have far more to say than she does,” Ms. Barr said of Dr. Stein. “Some of the things that I say, they’re not out of a book and they’re not out of the party bible.”
For her part, Dr. Stein, declined to comment.
“They’re resisting me and the message that I’m bringing in a big way,” Mr. Barr doubled down. “To ask working people to show up and then go get their ballot notarized is nothing but voter suppression. That’s making me very angry, and I really beseech the Greens to be who they say they are and get their act together.”
Based on the most recent numbers provided by the Green Party, Dr. Stein is currently leading the race for the nomination with 143 party delegates compared to Ms. Barr’s 40. There are two other candidates, Kent Mesplay, who has 7.5 delegates, and Harvey Mikkelson, who has won just 1.5 delegates.
“I don’t know what the outcome will be. I know it’s a possibility that I could receive 99 percent of the vote. I also know that it’s a probability that I will not,” Ms. Barr admitted. “I’m just trying to encourage people to look at the whole picture, the whole big picture, and I want to bring up subject matter that isn’t covered in other presidential platforms.”
Should she not make it to the White House, she is more than willing to return to her day job—or at least to her job playing someone with a day job. During the final two years of her career as a the star of her eponymous show, Roseanne, Ms. Barr ranked as the second-highest-paid woman in showbiz (behind only Oprah Winfrey). The sitcom ran on ABC from 1988 until 1997 and, for its first seven seasons, held a spot in the top 10 on the Nielsen ratings charts. That’s a bankability the networks don’t soon forget
And though she’s done a couple of short-lived reality shows, including one entitled Roseanne’s Nuts, she may soon be reprising the form that made her career. Her latest effort is another sitcom, a pilot called Downwardly Mobile, in which she portrays the owner of a trailer park whose denizens include a “young Hispanic boy” adopted by the residents after his mother was deported and “a Wall Street couple that lost all their money.”
“It was about cooperation rather than competition, the key values that I hold dear and America needs,” Ms. Barr said emphatically. “I just wanted the American people to once again see themselves as heroic on television.”
Downwardly Mobile, which Ms. Barr wrote and executive produced, would reunite her with John Goodman, her husband on Roseanne. She says she “patterned each character” after the family she and Mr. Goodman headed on her successful sitcom. NBC picked up the pilot for Downwardly Mobile last fall, but according to Ms. Barr, the show was initially shelved because of her outspoken political views.
To hear her tell it, Downwardly Mobile tested well in California, but days before it was scheduled to be shown to audiences in New York, the conservative entertainment website Big Hollywood published an article based on leaked reports the show was testing poorly due to Ms. Barr being a “leftist.” Ms. Barr complained to NBC about the reported leak.
“I got really mad and I said, ‘Why would you release that information?’ And I was told, ‘We didn’t, that’s just a fake website,” she said. “Well, it turned out to be completely true.”
Once the show tested with audiences in New York, Ms. Barr says she was told it wouldn’t be picked up because network executives deemed it too “polarizing.”
“How they figure what is polarizing is blows my mind. It really has blown my mind,” she said. “I guess it went back to the sponsors on the East Coast and some of them are—they don’t like me no matter what I do and they don’t like the things I say, so it’s kind of like blacklisting or something. But the fact is that I still think it’s weird to blacklist, or whatever you want to call it, in Hollywood, someone who has a huge—whose show had a huge audience and still does after 20-something years.”
Downwardly Mobile may have foundered at first, but the pilot is apparently still alive, despite Ms. Barr’s fears of being blacklisted. During our first conversation with Ms. Barr, she said the show had been killed. When we spoke a few hours later, she told us NBC was giving it another chance as a potential midseason replacement.
“The Downwardly Mobile thing, I just kind of heard that it’s not completely dead,” said Ms. Barr. “Since I talked to you I got a phone call and I might be getting a chance to retool it, which I hope and pray I would get.”
But in her own estimation, even her television career has been a political effort, in many ways.
“I really hate to toot my own horn, but since I’m a woman I feel I have to,” she told The Observer. “I not only pushed the boundaries, I introduced the subject of gay characters on television,” said Ms. Barr, whose brother and sister are both gay. “That was at great peril to my own career and against all of my advisors. I brought the whole issue of gay to television.”
And just as her television career was politicized, she plans to bring her political career to the screen.
“I am making a movie of my campaign. I’m making a documentary of it for many reasons, and it is funny,” she said. “I am using the crew and the team of my friend Michael Moore, and I am documenting running for president and how hard it is.”
There’s another area of the political realm Ms. Barr says she could potentially get involved with—cable news punditry. Despite her obviously liberal leanings, Ms. Barr says she’d be interested in doing a show with Fox News.
“They’ve always been so fair and nice to me at Fox,” she elaborated. “I just don’t like Fox when it doesn’t get the complete fair and balance, but I do think they do try to, even though some of the people like Sean Hannity and stuff, the things they attack are just ridiculous. But yet, they have the right to do that. You can’t discount that people have the right to freedom of speech. I told Fox I’d sure like to have a show on there, because the people who watch Fox News are people like me also. So, it would be good to be really fair and balanced and have a nice left point of view on there.”
Ms. Barr told us she has been in talks with the network and, at one point, Fox News was ready to give her a show.
“They do talk to me about it … We’ve had beers and laughed about it and stuff. Offers have been made and I just didn’t get on with it because I was trying to just do that sitcom,” Ms. Barr said. “It could happen. Stranger things have happened. It could happen definitely.”