Sandra Bernhard Returns with a New Live Show and Same Sassy Attitude
In every possible way, Atlanta’s City Winery is a long way from Ye Little Club in Beverly Hills, but that incredible path has led Sandra Bernhard on an amazing journey. Working as a manicurist in a ritzy salon on Canon Drive, the then-19-year-old comic/actress/singer/writer played her first gig just down the street from her day job. Now, after a career that began one fateful evening in 1975, Bernhard is looking back on the travelogue of her life with “Sandra Monica Boulevard: Coast To Coast,” her newest live performance piece.
The host of Sirius radio show Sandyland stars in a cabaret-style routine that blends stand-up comedy and challenging social commentary, slathered with pop-culture snark and a surprising amount of live music, accompanied by pianist Mitch Kaplan (of L.A.’s Uncabaret revue) and erstwhile combo the Flawless Zircons.
For the uninitiated, the show is authentic lounge humor featuring the raw inventiveness of one of alt-comedy’s true pioneers. During a recent conversation from her home in New York City, she’s every bit as funny, caustic and opinionated as one would expect - infused with the underlying sweetness and empathy that fuels her best work.
Last time you were in town, your show was called Sandyland.
Right and this time it’s Sandra Monica Boulevard, it’s all-new material. Now my show on Sirius is Sandyland on Radio Andy [daily at 12 p.m. on channel 102].
How do you work up new material for both the radio and live shows?
Both shows keep evolving. I’m constantly working on new material, often from things I see as I’m travelling or just day-to-day ideas from the news and my life. I just jot things down and use that as a springboard.
Does having a daily radio show burn up a lot new ideas?
You know, it really doesn’t. I do my opening, which is kind of stream-of-consciousness for 10 to 15 minutes and then I curate songs. I also have set pieces that I do, like “Small Town News,” “The United States of Sandy” and “Throwback Thursday.” Then I have a guest every day, so that’s almost a half-hour right there. The great thing about having a show like this, is people want to hear what’s going on in your life that day, which is what I like talking about anyway.
Social and cultural commentary has always been a staple of your work.
Right, since I’m not doing a political show per se, I think people really appreciate that I can do smart material as well as call people out on what they’re doing to pull apart our country.
You’ve always been a fearlessly outspoken performer, but it seems that so many average people are really finding their voice, probably now more than ever.
Definitely. Well, the switch got flipped overnight and now everybody is mobilizing and everybody’s just on top of it and that’s how it is. If you care, you’re there.
People need to laugh and speak out.
Oh honey, do we ever! For sure.
But you’ve never been afraid to speak out, even in the mid’70s L.A. scene. Jim Carrey is producing the new “I’m Dyin’ Up Here” series for Showtime about those days. It’s been romanticized of course, but what were those times like for a working female comic?
Well, being a woman in that world was very different that being a man; remember this was the ‘70s when they’re weren’t very many women doing standup anywhere. The men were predators and misogynistic. It did have its good points because if you could survive in that atmosphere and make the best of it, you learned a lot from it. It was not where I wanted to be it was a means to an end and I had fun with it. It was totally sleazy with everyone all coked-up and crazy and I wasn’t. So I sorta came and went. I did my material and sang a song and everybody went “uggh,” and I just got out of there as fast as I could every night.
Your early work really paved the way for the whole alt-comedy movement - which didn’t even have a name at the time.
I think the people who are doing that now is a result of the kind of stuff I was doing in the ‘70s and ‘80s, yeah. And now everyone wants to tell their story and do their one-person show. But maybe not everyone should, you know?
When you began, there weren’t any easy marketing labels for comedy brands. It was, as Bill Maher says, “either funny or not.”
Here’s the criteria: are you funny? Are you compelling? Can you hold the audience, or can’t you? And that’s it, really. I think it’s just a gimmick people use to sell their shows because there are so many different venues and outlets and festivals.
There’s so much content now, due to the demand of all those outlets.
Absolutely. The airwaves are clogged with crap. But there’s still some great stuff, too.
With so many choices, there’s no real sense of community connection anymore.
That’s why performing live is the best antidote for that experience. For the audience as well as the performer. I always say to people go to a show. It’s well-worth it for your mental health. There’s nothing like it. You’re in the moment and it’s unedited. It’s a great, wonderful high.