Sandra Bernhard gets cosmic
OPIONATED, BUT . . . “I’m not a political
If comedienne and singer Sandra Bernhard hadn’t invented herself, a hovering mothership beaming her down might have been acceptable. Her new show, Sandra Bernhard Is Plan B From Outer Space, is coming to the VMA Arts & Cultural Center in Providence on June 13, and maybe such a cheesy sci-fi movie solution to the world’s mess wouldn’t be so far-fetched.
Before her standup comedy career was launched in 1974 at age 19, Bernhard was a local attraction in Beverly Hills as a funny, Mick Jagger-mouthed manicurist at a ritzy salon. By 1983 she was a sex-obsessed wacko kidnapping Jerry Lewis in King of Comedy, and she subsequently became an outspoken late-night talk show regular.
Her current trio-backed show opens with songs of Jennifer Holliday and ends two hours later with a musical shout-out to musicians from Guns N’ Roses to Prince, in between appreciating making out with Britney Spears and taking on Paris Hilton, celebrity adoptions, and George and Laura Bush. (The VMA show is a benefit for AIDS Project Rhode Island. Call 401.272.4VMA or go to www.aidsprojectri.org.)
Caught up with at a Miami hotel last week, she spoke by phone about this and that.
I imagine it would have been more convenient to package performances as either a singer or a comedienne. Was there any disjunction in the beginning of your career in trying to merge the two?
Well, you know, I always wanted to do both. I loved to make people laugh, but I loved being dramatic and singing and getting people’s attention that way. So I’ve always had to do both because I’ve always wanted to be a musical comedy star. But then as time shifted and I got more rock ’n’ roll, I realized I could kind of write my own musicals. That’s how I think of my shows: as postmodern musicals.
What personal or political concerns are you emphasizing on this tour?
It’s a myriad of things. It’s the government that hijacked the thinking people and has taken us down this really ugly, bad path of a war that’s been terribly wasteful, and turning the culture upside down, destroying the culture, destroying the lives of so many families here in America. The environment. Healthcare. These are some of the broad strokes of some of the things I’m thinking about. But of course I never try to beat people over the head. I’m not a political comic.
You can’t succeed as an observer of life and culture without having a skewed take, without being an unconventional thinker. How did that start with you? Were you encouraged by your parents? Were you a rebel?
I think both. I grew up in a household where my mother was an artist, and she was very iconoclastic and unique. My father in his own way was also. We all learned how to express ourselves and be funny. We all enjoyed being the center of a good discussion or a debate. That was second nature to me — being an iconoclast, someone who was not afraid to say what was on their mind.
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