Sandra Bernhard still has plenty to say. The tireless comedian/actress is currently at La Jolla Playhouse for a five-show stand and hasn’t lost any of her appetite for critiquing politics or pop culture.
Perhaps it's because it’s that same pop culture loves to highlight her one-time relationship with Madonna or her Playboy pictorial as much as her brilliant turns in Scorsese’s The King of Comedy or as Nancy on Roseanne, but Bernhard doesn’t care. She lets her work speak for itself.
From appearing on The Richard Pryor Show to her incredibly popular multitude of appearances on David Letterman’s shows, the Michigan-born entertainer has parlayed a sharp wit and the most famous diastema since Lauren Hutton into a nearly four-decade career. She’s appeared in something like 40 films (and as many or more TV shows), released 13 albums, and written 3 books (with another on the way soon). Her current show, “I Love Being Me, Don’t You?” finds the 56-year-old mother still raging against the machine, but with a lifetime of experience behind it.
I recently spoke with the affable and easygoing performer during a day of press, and she had this to say:
Scott McDonald: Hi. How are you?
Sandra Bernhard: Very well. Thank you.
SM: So you’re doing press all day. That doesn’t sound like much fun.
SB: It’s fine. I want my shows to be sold out, and you want to come to a market where you haven’t been for awhile and make sure that they know you’re still there. You want to remind them of what you do. It’s fun. It’s exciting to let people know you’re out there and that your work is still vital, important and relevant, and that’s how you do it.
SM: Absolutely. You just haven’t had many lulls in your career.
SB: True. But there’s something very personal about coming to a city you’ve been to many times but a couple of years have gone by. It’s just nice to remind people that you enjoy that place, you’re happy to be there and there’s something inspiring about it. It’s nice. And what I do is so personal, I just want to go that extra distance.
SM: When is the last time you played here?
SB: I’m not exactly sure. But it’s been quite a while -- way too long.
SM: Tell me about “I Love Being Me, Don’t You?”
SB: Well, it takes on all the contemporary issues of the times -- and obviously the political landscape that is changing day to day. I try to stay up on that and meld everything in the political and pop-culture platform, and weave it into my own day-to-day life. Then, I wrap it all up in music as the exclamation point to everything that’s happening.
SM: Are you the kind of performer that if you saw something interesting on TV last night, that it could make it into the act today?
SB: It would never be from watching another performer, more like reading something on a blog or Twitter or something, but, yes. And, hopefully, it would be something that hadn’t already been commented on. I never want to talk about something that’s been talked about a million times. For me, I like things that are a bit more obscure. I draw more from things I see on the street or little scenes. I try to write little scenarios and turn it into something more textural.
SM: Sure. Just with that 24-hour news cycle ...
SB: I just don’t find a lot of that interesting. They talk about the same thing over and over, and just repackage it. And then they talk about it all over again three weeks later. Most of the time, those are the types of things that are best left to dissipate into the ether.
SM: What is the structure of the show this time around?
SB: Well, I have my band with me -- music is always a part of it and always will be -- but it’s also monologues, it’s stories and funny one-offs, and I craft it in such a way that it’s nontraditional, but very interesting and compelling.
SM: Your daughter is a teenager now. Does dealing with that process inform the act these days?
SB: I do talk about it, but I try to keep it not so focused on her but make it more of an experiential thing. I don’t want to make her uncomfortable. But I definitely draw from it. I keep it thematic, but it’s a big part of the show. I never talk specifically about her, but I draw from the experience and take it to another level of irony and craziness that makes it universal.
SM: Do you have any pre-show rituals or do you just let it fly?
SB: I certainly get into the right head space. As a performer, you just have to be there. Your energy levels have to be at a certain place, and you do, kind of, psyche yourself up to get out there and do a great show. And in that sense, I do have a certain kind of ritual. But I also leave some of it open-ended because I tend to be very stream-of-consciousness and never too tied down to the material. There has to be room to breathe creatively when you’re onstage.
SM: Well, the comic fodder from politics certainly hasn’t deteriorated much from when you first started.
SB: I think people still haven’t even forgiven the Democrats for beating Nixon back in the day. He was so informed by his insecurities -- as so many Republicans are -- as well as the fear of not being intellectually competent. So I think a lot of what we’re seeing in the Republican race right now comes from that. So much of it is regressive. But that said, I don’t think even half of it really reflects what actual people are thinking. People just vote the way they should across the board.
SM: Satirist, actress, comic, author. Do you identify with any kind of title for what you do?
SB: I always refer to myself as an entertainer. That covers all the fun parts, and I really do like to have fun, and I like to engage people in a crazy and alternative fashion.
SM: Beyond the show, what’s on the horizon?
SB: Well, my episode of Hot in Cleveland aired in December, and I’ll be on the season finale of GCB with Kristin Chenoweth, where I’m playing an ecoterrorist. Then I’m on weekly with Andy Cohen’s Watch What Happens Live,and hopefully it all segues into my own half-hour show of pop-culture rants.
SM: Any more writing?
SB: Yes, that’s in the works as well. They just re-released my first three books, and a new one is on the way.
SM: Great. Thanks for taking the time.
SB: Thank you. It was wonderful. I appreciate it.
Blogger Scott McDonald covers music in San Diego for a few different publications and is the editor of Eight24.com