Raise your hand if performance comedy stylist Sandra Bernhard is an ever-present entity in your cultural firmament. Is she the voice of your internal monolouge when you're feeling powerful?
Bernhard's mark on popular culture is everywhere. Remember her cameo in Truth or Dare, in which she encourages Madonna to go ahead and meet that young Spanish actor Antonio Banderas? I like to imagine that Bernhard (“Sandra”) and I have it like that -- I can fly her out to my hotel room when I'm just sooo bored of hanging out with the back-up dancers. I want her always sitting on a stool with that wall of '90s hair, gold hoops, knotted silk button-down, a la 1990’s Without You I’m Nothing. May she drawl about tambourines and poppers 4eva.
Presented with the opportunity to speak with the comedian on the phone last week in advance of her Thu/16 and Fri/17 shows at Bimbo’s [UPDATE: THURSDAY'S SHOW HAS BEEN CANCELED -- THU/16 TICKETS HONORED AT FRI/17 SHOW]– her first in SF in two years -- I swooned, without a particular Bernhard performance in mind to warrant my weak knees. After 30-plus years of feminist -- she sometimes takes issue with this descriptor, at-times positing her work as “post-feminist” -- one-woman performances, movie roles (Tribeca Film Festival recently re-released 1983's King of Comedy, in which she acts alongside Robert Deniro and Jerry Lee Lewis as a deranged celebrity stalker), Bernhard needs no cultural footnote nor highlights reel. She’s just impressive.
Finally, our phone interview. We wind up talking about getting naked for Playboy, which she did for a pictorial at the magazine’s urging in 1992.
“I was an early Lena Dunham,” Bernhard tells me. “I was saying here I am. I’m not the girl next door, bottled blonde. I’m a fierce, intense woman and they let me be who I am. That was a real, post-feminist statement, when I did Playboy.”
Those pages of boobs and defiance were published many years ago, of course. But please ignore the New York Times, because Bernhard has not mellowed out, despite the fact she’s booed up at 57, with a 15-year daughter she cites when I ask her for her feminist heroes.
“I’m just not snarky – I certainly haven’t lost my edge,” Bernhard affirms. She counts herself, however, as savvier, perhaps a bit warier of celebdom amid the all-access, run-your-mouth Twitter era. These days, she's focusing her energies on the I Love Being Me, Don't You? tour, and on recruiting promising young filmmakers to write her some worthwhile movie roles. "Something multi-dimensional, that have more heft to them," she specifies. "It'd be fun to do something akin to a Catherine Deneuve, Helen Mirren vibe. Maybe I don't have the chops for it... Something with deep emotion and mystique."
I already know Bernhard's take on Sarah Palin and gang rape, but there is so much to cover in our precious 20 minutes of being phone friends. Talk about… this moment in feminism!
“I see a lot of women in comedy who do this weird, morning-after drunk, sexualized spiel that they have,” Bernhard says in a thinly veiled dig at the Chelsea Handlers of the world. “I don’t really relate to it or find it particularly interesting. But then there’s great people like Kristin Wiig and Amy Poehler, these women who are really comfortable in their groove – they don’t feel the need to be redundant.” When I press on about her female heroes, Bernhard tells me about her daughter's assured group of friends, the young woman she met at the raw food store, teachers, nurse practitioners.
Even me! She thinks I am “young, smart, and groovy,” if only for asking her “the right questions,” which I think meant questions about ladies and things. This is high praise, and I will no doubt still be blushing at her Bimbo’s show later this week.
About that show. “It’s a road map of my life and where I’m at,” says Bernhard, who has been working and developing that particular routine for the last year and a half, tweaking it until I Love Being Me, Don’t You had morphed into what could almost be counted as a different production.
“It’s like adding onto your house, and before you know it you have a brand-new house,” the comedian reflects. Can I come in?
I Love Being Me, Don’t You?
Thu/16-Fri/17, 9pm, $45
Bimbo’s 365 Club
1025 Columbus, SF