Sandra Bernhard Keeps It Fresh
Sandra Bernhard has come a long way from a young comedienne bursting with talent at the famed Comedy Store in Los Angeles in the 70s. And, her journey has been loud, upfront, in your face, witty, musical, theatrical, maternal, matrimonial, public, and yes, gay.
With an almost unbelievable 40 years in the business of making us laugh, Sandra seems as fresh today as she was when she was untamed, unafraid, and unleashed. Hell, she is still that.
Always working under a no-holds-barred policy, Bernhard’s 2013 kick-off show at Joe’s Pub in New York was a prime example that 30 plus years have not done much to change what we have learned to expect from her. As New York Times’ film and music critic Stephen Holden noted, "just below the surface, you sense the same roving critical eye that misses nothing."
It has been nearly two years since Bernhard released her acclaimed live album "I Love Being Me, Don’t You?," which has remained her touring show’s name even though the material continues to evolve and change.
Sandra Bernhard returns to Provincetown on July 5 and 6 for performances at the Crown and Anchor.
The 30th Anniversary of Bernhard’s break out film, Martin Scorsese’s "The King of Comedy" played in its restored version in New York City recently, and gave Bernhard an opportunity to reflect over the past 30 years. Not surprisingly, she saw what we have seen develop... a mature and experienced comedic singer and actress with the same "fire, piss and vinegar" with which she came to L.A. 40 years ago.
EDGE’s BeBe Sweetbriar spoke to Bernhard during her recent San Francisco gig.
Mixes it up
BeBe: You know I just realized that it has been almost two years to the date since I last spoke with you when you were in San Francisco for your series of performances during Pride 2011. I didn’t realize how long it had been since you have visited San Francisco.
Sandra Bernhard: I know! I think this is the longest I haven’t been in San Francisco since I don’t remember when. You just get in your groove. There’s been so much gong on that I’ve just been doing so many things. Sometimes it is good to stay away for a while. Then people miss you and are glad to see you again.
BeBe: You have such a fan base, as you know, that when we don’t see you, we really do miss you. I guess it’s like we consider San Francisco your home. You always seem to remind of us of the spirit of our community that we sometimes let get away from us.
Sandra Bernhard: Well, thanks!
BeBe: Now you have enjoyed over the past two years the success of your live album ’I Love Being Me, Don’t You?.’ And that of course has roots here because you recorded the album here.
Sandra Bernhard: Exactly! It is wonderful because the show kind of kicked off there in San Francisco. But, it has evolved so much that it is completely different show though we are still calling it ’I Love Being Me, Don’t You?,’ the name of the album. The show now is so much different. So people can come see this show and still buy the album and have two different experiences, which is what I like my work to be about. Never the same. Always mixing it up. Always giving people freshness and new possibilities.
Kick in the pants
BeBe: 2013 is kind of an extenuation of what has been going on for you over the past 18 months or so because 2012 was definitely generous to you. And, you kicked off 2013 closing out the last year with a two-day New Year’s Eve and New Year’s performance at Joe’s Pub in New York.
Sandra Bernhard: It was great. It was funny because I had not been reviewed in the New York Times in a very long time, so Steven Holden came out to the show, and he gave me a fabulous review. It gave me the kick in the pants that I needed in a positive way. He really gave it up to me. It was a perfect way to start out the year. It was just the planted seed to a lot of great things.
BeBe: Sandra, you have been doing what you do for quite a long time, and know, as I do, that this business called show has a lot of ups and downs in it where there seems to have more frequency in the valleys than on the top of the hill. But, it seems that you, right now, are standing on that hill. Things seem to be rolling right along for you. You are about to get back on TV with ABC’s ’The Neighbors’ in a guest role, and I know that was a big goal of yours to get back on television when we spoke a couple of years ago. And, that seems to be happening.
Sandra Bernhard: My friend Cheryl, who has been doing my astrological chart now for over 30 years says it’s all hand-in-hand because I’m going through this sort of Jupiter thing happening where I have had this Saturn return hanging over me (we both laugh).
For those that believe in the stars, which I do to a great extent, I’m definitely in a new 7-to-11 year upswing! This is the time to really capitalize on it. I think my maturity, my sort of insight into the business has all come together to give me the impetus and forward motion to take advantage of this time. You don’t get that many chances. Listen, I don’t want have to do this every freakin’ day for the next 30 years. I’d like to have my time to relax and enjoy. It is really important for me right now to be with my daughter. She’s in high school. I gotta make my money. I gotta take care of my family. There’s a lot on the line. It’s a different world from 10, 15, 20, 30 years ago. I love my life and it’s fabulous, but there’s a different kind of urgency to it now.
Fire, piss and vinegar
BeBe: You been speaking about all this time, 30 years. When I hear you say that, in my mind I’m thinking.... wasn’t it just like 5 years ago that Sandra was in her break out film ’The King of Comedy’ (starring Robert DeNiro and Jerry Lewis, directed by Martin Scorsese)? But, it was a long time ago (1983). And, there was just a viewing of a restored ’The King of Comedy’ that you were apart of in celebration of its 30 year anniversary. Revisiting that film, which was where it all started for you, and you look at where you are now, what is that reflection like or you?
Sandra Bernhard: You know I really tend to beat myself up a lot. My friend who is like this really strong, smart lady from St. Louis ( much younger than me, but in many ways, much older than me because I’m perpetually an adolescent person in many ways) is always saying to me, ’you can sit on the curb and kick cans all your life and you’ll accomplish only so much.’ After seeing the restored ’The King of Comedy’ film for its 30 year anniversary, it really gave me chance to look at myself as a 26-year-old women and where I was then, the fun sort of crazy sprite that I was. And, I was feeling so proud. I came to L.A. in 1974 with this crazy dream and a lot of raw talent, and managed to parlay it into a career that spans almost 40 years which is like crazy to say. I sound like Sammy Davis Jr. (we roar with laughter).
It’s nuts! But, I love it and I think it’s the best I’ve ever felt. Now I can stand back and go I’m just full of fire, piss and vinegar as the day you came to L.A., but (now) you have the maturity and the philosophical leverage that I didn’t have then. I can say I was a good kid and I’m really proud of me. I’m really excited about the next 10 years. I have a 10-year plan to really kick it into high gear.
BeBe: You know I think we, or most people, forget that you played the first out gay character (Nancy Bartlett) on sitcom television on ’Roseanne.’ And since then, so much has happened with gay characters on TV now, not to mention, how many more out gay actors there are now. I’m sure people have wondered why you haven’t been given your own show to this point. Do you think that the time is right, and your maturity has put you in a place to receive that now?
Sandra Bernhard: Absolutely! I have actually written two or three very funny and interesting projects for myself and pitched them over the past 10 years. And a couple of times Showtime almost bought one of them, but it didn’t work out. I was in L.A. a few weeks a go with my friend David Brind (screenwriter of ’Dare’ (2009) film co-starring Bernhard), and he has created a project for me and Melanie Griffith that we pitched around to the cable outlets, but I think it is much more of a network television show. So, he is going to go back out and pitch again. People are creating things for me. I’m creating things for myself. It’s just matter of all the pieces coming together, and I think that’s all going to happen.
BeBe: With the success of ’I Love Being Me, Don’t You?’ album, are there more live albums planned in that 10-year plan of yours?
Sandra Bernhard: Oh, I think there will be several. I actually recorded the (New Year’s) show at Joe’s Pub, and we’ll probably release that stuff for the New Year’s coming up this year. There was some really good stuff that became this new show that I will be doing in San Francisco at Bimbo’s. There will definitely be many more live albums, and hopefully, even more musical studio albums thrown in there along the way.
Sandra Bernhard appears on July 5: The Richard B Fischer Ctr., Annandale-on-Hudson, NY; and July 8/9: Crown & Anchor, Provincetown. MA. For updates on Sandra Bernhard’s tour, visit her website at visit Sandra Bernhard’s website.
As an actress, BeBe was introduced to film with a lead role in the independent film "Under One Sun" with her character dealing with religious, racial and gender issues. Additionally, she appeared in the campy musical "Devious, Inc" (Australian Film Festival, San Francisco Short Film Fest) also adding additional vocals to the musical soundtrack. Both of these performances led to her selection for a lead role in Aisha Media’s next short film series, "Con-tin.u.um" to be released in 2012.