What did you want to be when you grew up? Many people focus on just one thing, but Roseanne Barr had many goals — and she worked hard to achieve them all. From standup comedy to creating one of the most iconic network television shows ever — Roseanne, which ran from 1988 to 1997 — to writing books to playing opposite Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep, she’s done it all. She even ran for president in 2012.
Her campaign was documented in the new film Roseanne for President!, which opens Friday, July 15, at the Sie FilmCenter. In an election year with more twists and turns than we've seen before — it’s not over yet — Roseanne for President! displays an amazing amount of transparency, showing just what it takes to get on the ballot and what happens when the deck seems stacked against you. A woman who got on the ballot before Hillary did, and a non-politician who jumped in the race before Trump, Barr seems very prescient in launching a campaign that got a lot of wheels rolling that are stilling spinning today.
We caught up with Barr while she was preparing to bring her whole clan back to Colorado this weekend for both the local debut of her film and her triumphant return to the comedy stage that launched her career decades ago.
Westword: To get to talking about your new documentary, Roseanne for President!, let’s get started with everyone’s favorite subject: politics. What’s your opinion on the news that Bernie Sanders is officially giving his endorsement to Hillary Clinton?
Roseanne Barr: I don’t really care. I’d really just like people to watch my movie so they can see where a lot of the ideas of Bernie, Trump and Hillary started, in my campaign in 2012 — particularly in talking about socialism and the end of the drug wars and a whole bunch of other important issues. I think people will see in the film how my campaign influenced this election more than any of the actual things going on. As for any new news going on, I really don’t care.
Did you always want to run for president, or did the idea of documenting the process of someone in your non-politician position through a candidacy come first?
I’ve always wanted to run for president, my whole life. If you remember Roseanne, my character always talked about running for president, and that was my deepest wish coming through — but I’ve always been very interested in politics and becoming president. The 2012 election, I felt, was a very important election, more important than this one in my opinion, and so I just decided to do it.
What did you hope to get out of documenting your campaign from soup to nuts?
I just want to shine a light on our election system so that Americans know what’s happening to them, because we need to know that in order to get control of it. And I think we did a great job with the movie, and I can’t wait for people to see it and have those conversations.
It seems that Donald Trump really liked your non-politician status, because he sure uses that a lot in his campaign.
Yup. And almost everything in Bernie’s platform is stuff that I came up with four years ago, also. Even Hillary, too. Which just goes to show how starved they all are for any ideas, especially progressive ideas. In 2012, I wanted to influence all of the conversations that we can have in an election year, and you know what? I did that.
Seeing how much traction those notions are getting now, do you wish that you’d waited to run this year instead?
No, because if I had waited, we wouldn’t have Bernie or any of those things now. I knew 2012 was the last real hope we had, the last real election we were going to have in this country.
What were the biggest problems going on in the United States that you saw back in 2012 that you wanted to change?
All of them! Economic injustice, the War on Drugs, women’s rights, equality, end to war-for-profit. The whole system itself — the whole corrupt, rigged system. It hasn’t changed in hundreds of years.
What have you thought about President Obama and his time in office?
Well I ran against him in 2012, so I think that says it all. I was never a fan.
Donald Trump told Megyn Kelly that if he doesn’t win the election, it will all have been “a total and complete waste of time, energy and money.” When you didn’t win in 2012, what was your first thought, and aside from the presidency, did you reach your goal?
Ha. No, I had reached my goal. I made it to the ballot in three states, which is impossible for anyone to do who doesn’t have a billion dollars, but I did. And I did it self-financed — with a few minor contributions but not a ton — and that’s unheard of in this country that you can make it to three state ballots and come in sixth of out of fifty candidates, and I did. I think I exceeded what I hoped for, and also proved that in the end, you don’t need money to get votes.
I’m happy to share that I voted for you in 2012 when you were on our ballot.
Oh! Thank you, THANK YOU. I appreciate it very much. And I was very excited to see that Colorado legalized marijuana. I’m so proud of the state for that. California still hasn’t even legalized, so that’s a great thing.
You lived here quite a while and built your standup comedy roots here. Do you still consider Colorado your home?
I do. I have a bunch of family still there, and my comedy roots are very important to me. That aside, Colorado is a real independent-thinking state. It doesn’t follow party lines; people are conservative on some issues and really progressive on other issues. That’s how I am, too, and that’s how I think most smart people are, and Colorado is a very smart place.
I recently heard that you’re working on opening a dispensary in Los Angeles.
I’m still getting that off the ground, and that’s a lot of hard work, let me tell you.
What made you choose to do that in L.A.,where it isn’t legal yet, instead of Colorado?
Well, Colorado kind of got flooded for dispensaries once the law passed, as you know, but California really doesn’t have that many opportunities, and I was lucky enough to get one of eight licenses in the whole state. I’m a crusader for legal marijuana wherever it can be, and I wanted to help influence the vote by having a dispensary here, and we did just get the issue put on the ballot for 2016, so that’s a big deal.
Are you campaigning for that issue in California?
No, but I’m an activist for it, which is just as important, and so are a lot of other people.
If the White House press room was open and the mic was hot, and you could give your own State of the Union address today, what would you point out about America?
Well, I can’t tell you off the top of my head, but I am actually in the middle of writing that — and I’ll put that on my website and tweet about it once I’m done. I’m also actively writing about what has happened since I ran in those four years, and what I feel really changed and hasn’t in that time.
Would you ever consider running for president again in the future?
I would consider it. A lot of change would have to happen, though. I’m not interested in wasting my time or anybody else’s, so I’d like to see a strong third party actually emerge, one that has the people’s interest at heart. But that kind of change takes a long, long time — ten or twenty years — and it’s at a snail’s pace. But I’m trying to put work in on that, and I won’t give up, and neither will a lot of other good people I know who are working on that, too.
You’ve always been a crusader for the middle class. Your show Roseanne was legendary for its voice and the reach it had that other shows didn’t. You tackled so many issues, including class, women’s rights and feminism, gay rights and equality, racism. Since it’s been off the air, do you think that anyone has picked up the baton and made as powerful a statement on television?
Well, it hasn’t actually ever been off the air. It’s on five times a day on most channels and has been since 1993. I honestly think it feels like it never left, and I hear from a lot of people who just started watching it in the last few years — either they were too young at the time or not even born yet — but I think it continues to be relevant to people.
But do you see other voices out there coming out as strong as yours for the middle class?
I don’t think there’s any real voice that talks about class these days, no. [Roseanne’s daughter interjects by yelling “Bernie!”] No, on television. Sorry, my daughter says Bernie is that voice. She loves Bernie, but he doesn’t have a TV show.
If only he did.
Yeah, right? Can you imagine?
I recently had the opportunity to sit down and watch Roseanne from beginning to end over a long week, and I loved it now as much as I did growing up with it. The final season was always controversial, though: Dan has a heart attack and recovers, and shortly after, the Conners win the lottery and become millionaires, which sent the show off in a different direction that many didn’t like, almost a hyper-fantasy world with musical numbers and over-the-top comedy, like a fever dream that someone from the lower class might have. What was it like painting with that brush but finding that audiences weren’t responding?
I really wanted to make sure that the show was layered for people who were going to watch it again and again, so that it wasn’t just the same thing the whole time. That last season was a big example of that.
It always makes me sad that folks fell off and seemingly missed the final episode, which I think wrapped up the series in a beautiful way.
In that episode, it’s revealed that the final season was indeed a fantasy dreamed up by Roseanne, who became the writer she had always wanted to be, to cope with the fact that Dan had actually died from his heart attack and that there was no magic lottery ticket to fix all of the Conners' problems. Do you get mad when people write off that ending as an “it’s all just a dream” cop-out?
Yeah, it was a bummer, and I think some people lined up just to attack that aspect, but it wouldn’t be the first time I lived through that. I’m proud of the whole series, and I think that last season said a lot of things about my life — going from being poor to being rich — and I put that in there, and I’m very proud of that final episode. I wrote that with some really great writers and two of my daughters, and it was a really cool experience to be able to do that.
In that last season, you even had a cameo from Patsy and Edina from Absolutely Fabulous. At the time,you were trying to produce an American version of that show — à la The Office, before that was a thing.. Are you excited to see the new AbFab movie and revisit that world?
Oh, man, I still love it! I can’t wait to see it. It was just so great. So modern, edgy and just hilarious, and I really wanted to bring all of that over here. That show and Strangers With Candy were the next level of sitcom, in my opinion, just like now I think that Orange Is the New Black is on that level. All them are just indicative of great writing, which we sure need more of in comedy these days.
Speaking of comedy, when you come out this weekend, you’re also doing standup at Comedy Works. [The show is sold out.] How long has it been since you’ve been on a stage here?
Just a year. I played Comedy Works’ bigger venue, but this will be the first time I’ve played that downtown venue, which is where I started, since 1985.
What is it about doing standup comedy that still excites you?
I just love the writing. I love writing jokes and telling them and the whole art form of standup. I love doing it, and I’m a big fan of everyone who does it as well.
What current events are you going to dive into with your set?
Well, the election, obviously, but I talk about having kids and the regular stuff I’ve always talked about: aging, being a grandmother, the world around me, all of the things and all of my own personal issues that are good for a joke. I’m very excited, VERY excited. It’s just the greatest thing to get on a stage with an audience and make them laugh. I love that more than anything. It’s just so fun and transcendental.
You’re reaching a point in your career where the word “legacy” is probably starting to be trotted out.. Do you know yet what you want your legacy to be once all is said and done?
You know, I’m not really sure in the end, but I hope that people get that I want them to really question, think and stay true to having independent thoughts.
So you’ve conquered standup, created one of the most influential shows in television history, acted opposite Meryl Streep, written books, had your talk show, operated a macadamia farm in Hawaii, you're getting your own dispensary off the ground, and you've even run for president. What’s next for you to do?
My next goal is to take over the Internet with little videos, promote new up-and-coming comics and really just have my own television network. I’d really like to see that come together.
How do you feel about the newer generation of comics coming through?
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There’s some really, really good ones. I think comedy is changing in very exciting ways, and there’s some amazing talent coming through that’s doing some exciting new stuff.
If you had been elected in 2012, right now would be the end of your first term. What do you think our world be like after four years of President Roseanne Barr?
They say it really takes eight years to put your changes in; your first four years, you’re kicking out the opposition in Congress and the Senate and stuff, so after that battle, I’d like to think that we’d be marching into my victorious second term right about now. I’d have a bunch of really smart grandmas in Congress and parents, smart people, young and old, rich and poor, every color, 52 percent female — just like real representational government should be. How do we grow the right food and get that food to the hungry? How do we make sure that Americans stay free, and that involves health care? I think we’d really start kicking ass with independent thinkers in positions of power, and we’d really be looking at actually solving problems in this world for once.
Roseanne for President! opens this Friday, July 15, for a weeklong engagement at the Sie FilmCenter, 2510 East Colfax. Roseanne will be at the 7 p.m. show on Saturday, July 16, for a Q&A. Tickets are $11 ($8 for Film Society members), and you can get yours at denverfilm.org. She'll be at the Comedy Works on Monday, July 18, but that show is sold out; find out more at comedyworks.com. You can also keep up with the outspoken comedian via her website, roseanneworld.com; on Twitter at @TheRealRoseanne; and Instagram ,@OfficialRoseanneBarr.