Roseanne Barr may be 60, but she’s got more energy and ambition than most comics half her age. After a failed—but, she says, serious—bid for president last year, she’s back to doing comedy full-time, with a residency at the Tropicana in Las Vegas, and a return to NBC’s The Office as talent agent Carla Fern, helping Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) chase his show business dreams.
I initially called Barr to talk about The Office, but after a perfunctory discussion (the cast and writers are great! The food on set is amazing!) we moved on to other, more pressing topics. Like mind control and weed.
How long have you been in Vegas?
I came out twice. First it was from the middle of January to March 1, and then I came back for all of April. I’ll be here until early May.
Does being in that city mess with your internal chemistry? There are no clocks, it’s always daytime. It’s like being in Alaska during a month when the sun never sets.
I love it. It’s one of the reasons why I like coming here. It makes me more productive. Maybe it’s because it’s not a vacation for me. It’s all about work when I’m here. I actually get more conservative when I’m in Vegas.
So you’re not the kind of person who likes to take some peyote and go out in the desert to talk to your spirit animal?
I’ve already talked to my spirit animal. He’s got nothing else to tell me. I’m 60, I’ve done it all. I’m totally over it.
But you still smoke weed, right?
Oh yeah, absolutely.
What are you like stoned? Are you mellow and introspective, or super hyper?
I’m very introspective, and I mostly don’t talk to people. I get into a real quiet, meditative place. Kind of the opposite of how I am when I’m not stoned.
Can you be productive on weed? Do you write or perform under the influence?
No. You just get a bunch of shit if you do that. And you definitely cannot perform under the influence. It messes with your timing. You’ll wait two minutes before you say the punch line. It’s altered reality, so it doesn’t work for that. I use it mostly for relief from anxiety. And because it makes you question things.
Everything. Pot enables you to think clearly without any fear or any limits. It’s a mind-expander, which is part of why it’s illegal and why drugs like Vicodin are legal.
You’ve been a longtime supporter of pot legalization. Are you happy with the progress we’ve made?
I think it’s amazing. It’s sweeping across the country. It’s such a great thing for American families and for freedom and liberty. When I ran for president last November, I ran on the legalization of pot. So I was on the right side. By the time I run again in 2016, I think it’ll be legal in most places.
You’re gonna run again?
I’m going to keep running till I win.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to start smaller? Take the Arnold Schwarzenegger approach and run for governor somewhere?
People say that to me all the time. They tell me, “Why don’t you move to Alaska, you could be governor?” The real truth is, I just want to keep the voice of dissent alive in all of our elections. I don’t really want to hang out with politicians. I’d rather go straight to hell, and not collect $200.
So you don’t actually want to be president?
No, I think I should be the president. I definitely believe that. And in some ways I think that I am.
Think you are what? The president?
To a lot of people, I am their president.
The people who voted for me. And the people who worked for me, for my campaign, they worked for free. I owe something to them and I’ll always be true to them. And they’ll always be true to me.
You came in, what, sixth place overall?
I think I came in fifth. Which is impressive because I was only on the ballot in three states. What we’re doing now is, we’d like to get a lot of people in our party—the Peace and Freedom Party—elected to various state posts. I’m going to be making a push for somebody from our party to run against Chris Christie in the next election.
I only know about your position on weed. Where do you stand on other hot topic issues? Like, gay marriage?
I believe in equal rights for all citizens. One law for all.
What about the showdown with North Korea? How would you handle that?
I just wonder why we’re talking about attacking Iran for maybe having a nuclear weapon, while North Korea threatened us and we don’t seem to do much there. It just seems like something else is going on that we don’t really know about.
Dennis Rodman said that all Kim Jong-un wants is a phone call from the president.
I’d give him his phone call. And the first thing I’d say is, “Are you shitting me? Are you shitting me?! Do you seriously want to take on our military?”
You were at Occupy Wall Street in 2011, and you told protestors that “guilty” Wall Street bankers should be forced to give up any income over $100 million, be sent to re-education camps, or be executed by beheading if they resisted. Were you being ironic?
I was being very ironic. That was before I became a real candidate. That’s when I was a candidate at-large or a humorist at-large. But a lot of people listened and a lot of people are saying the same thing now.
That bankers should be executed?
Well, not exactly those words. But there should be a punishment. What exactly is the penalty for destroying an entire community? Is there a penalty for that? There doesn’t seem to be. We should take a look at really broadening our definition of the word terrorist.
Do you think your background in comedy makes you more or less qualified to lead the country?
Definitely more qualified. I think that all comics or humorists, or whatever we are, ask questions. That’s what we’re supposed to do. But I not only ask the questions, I offer solutions.
But the thing about being a president is, you can’t be ironic. Like ever. Nobody wants to hear their president say “just kidding, folks.”
Well, the current president doesn’t have to. His administration is already such an obvious joke.
But you see my point.
I do, and I don’t really agree. In this country, the people who affect things the most—how the rest of us think and feel—are comics. It’s true. Because a comic needs to understand the big picture in order to fracture it and present it to people so they can see it more clearly. Comedy is the only hope for humanity.
That’s actually hard to argue against.
When I was a kid, that’s how I saw comics. When I used to watch comedians with my dad, he laid it all out for me. He wanted to be a comedian himself, and he was so funny. We’d watch stand-up on TV, and he’d tell me the subtext of what they were saying. He’d say, “This guy just says funny things. He doesn’t want to rock the boat. But this guy, he’s really bringing the revolution.” That’s the kind of dad I had, and he made me a comic. I still think that way.
It’s still a long shot that a comedian could ever become president.
What about what happened with Beppe Grillo in Italy? He’s a comic too, but the Italian people were smarter than the Americans and they elected the guy. It’s just they could see when somebody was telling them the truth. So they have a comedian as their president.
Actually, I think Giorgio Napolitano was re-elected president.
Well, Beppe got close then. And that counts for something. I still have hope that the American people could become as intelligent as the Italians and elect me. Beppe is out there, telling the powers-that-be, “That’s not how we’re going to do it! That’s not how we want it. Listen to us! You are our servant, we’re not your servant!” That’s what got me when Chris Rock said that Obama was the father of America. Hello, he’s our elected representative. We’re not his subjects. What the hell is he talking about?
I think he meant like a daddy figure, not a king.
Either way, Obama totally ignores the people who sent him there. Totally and completely ignores them. That’s what America voted for. They voted for deaf leaders. Instead of voting for me. So I want them to wonder why once in a while, wonder why they did that to themselves.
A few weeks ago, you were being interviewed by a cable news show and you mentioned MKUltra mind control in Hollywood. You didn’t really get into the details.
You know about MKUltra, right?
Vaguely. I know they were CIA psychiatric experiments during the ‘50s and ‘60s.
It’s a lot of programs for creating a certain class of citizen. The basis of it is that they did experiments on people and didn’t get their consent. I’m not going to be able to go into it too much, but people should really take a look at mind control, and how it works, and how it’s been used on them.
On them personally?
Generations of people, not only here but all over the world, are still being affected by it. It’s pretty interesting.
But what does this have to do with Hollywood? You’re saying the government is using mind control to tell celebrities what to say?
It would take me way too long to get into.
What’s the short version?
A lot of people who are actors and artists who work in Hollywood come from a background of abuse, and you can make abused people very fearful and they’ll do what they’re told. Hollywood definitely has a point of view that it sells. I remember when we were little and we used to make fun of communist Russia in school. We’d say, “Their military tells their television stations what they can show.” I remember when I was a kid, we used to think that was just horrible.
It hasn’t come to that, has it? Is the U.S. Military secretly running the upfronts?
No, but there’s definitely a control of the artist. You can’t break through Hollywood formulaic points of view. I’ve tried, and I think I was more successful than anybody at doing it. I’m still trying, and I’ll continue to try. Because if you have something like a media, and truth doesn’t come through it, what does that say? That’s not good. But I still have hope that the truth about the real issues that most Americans face can be on television. I’m trying anyway.
But isn’t truth, or at least political truth, in the eye of the beholder?
Not at all.
Bruce Springsteen is just a puppet for Obama, or Victoria Jackson is just a puppet for Fox News, depending on your personal politics. How do you tell the difference between somebody having opinions you don’t agree with and somebody who’s been coerced into saying something?
You can tell. You just listen for two minutes. If you have a brain, if you’re aware, you’ll know. Like they say, truth is available to the ears that can hear it. Just listen for two minutes and you can tell who’s working for who, who’s speaking for who, and why.
And everybody in Hollywood is in some way being controlled by the government?
The basic thing is, people want to get paid, so they’ll say the things that get them paid, in entertainment or politics. For me, I just gave up all hope of being paid, and moved into a place of just doing what I do for free, and not paying people to help me but asking them to volunteer. Once you get away from wanting to get paid, you can actually say some true things. To me, that’s what’s great about America, we can do that. If we get off our lazy asses and stop doing everything to get paid.
With the mind control thing, it’s just hard to take seriously. It sounds so insane.
Yeah, it sounds insane. But do you think it sounds insane that a message bounces off a satellite and goes everywhere in the world at the same second? We live with that kind of technology. People say things are insane because they don’t fit a Hollywood script.
Or it’s too close to a Hollywood script.
These are times where someone, a company, owns the patent for human life. That sounds pretty crazy too, right? But we’re doing it, with cloning and all that stuff. In China they invented a bulldozer the size of a pin or smaller that they can inject into people and it’ll eat the plaque out of an artery so the heart can pump blood. Does that sound insane?
That actually does sound insane. A tiny bulldozer?
That’s a reality. Look it up. Crazy is to go “That doesn’t exist.”
But some things really don’t exist. Some conspiracy theories really are bonkers.
Well that’s also MKUltra at work. Calling people who are whistle-blowers dissenters or crazy, that is MKUltra. And you notice how they rush in to fill all the silence? People should just read. They can read and find the information for themselves. But a lot of them can’t. Illiteracy is a huge problem in America. One in three adults in our country is illiterate. So people aren’t going to read.
In a 2001 interview with Larry King, you told him “I believe the government has implanted some kind of a chip into my head.” Does that mean you’re being controlled by MKUltra too?
That was complete satire. I was just playing with Larry King. I always did when I went on his show. I would say things like that just to see what kind of reaction I could get out of him. Of course I don’t really believe the government put a chip in my head.
That’s good to hear.
Sometimes when you’re face to face with somebody who’s been programmed—and I did feel like all of Larry King’s questions were programmed, everything he asked was programmed—I like to fuck up the program. Like the group Anonymous, it’s fun to fuck shit up. It’s our duty to fuck shit up.
You don’t think Larry had any control over his own content?
Not at all. By the way, I’m a big fan of Larry King. I think he was a great broadcaster. But the questions he asked me were the questions that the media wanted him to ask. And they’re confrontational, and they’re anti-artist, and they were always very sexist, and classist, and racist: the three big points of media. It was my duty as a comedian to fuck with him.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on Esquire.com.)