If you’ve ever had the good fortune to see Sandra Bernhard in concert, you know she does stand-up in a way no other performer could. Her one-woman shows (most famously “Without You I’m Nothing” and “I’m Still Here ... Dammit!”) blend comedy, sarcasm and show tunes into a provocative mix that stays with viewers long after they leave the theater.
For her current “Sandyland” tour — a fun ride along the highways and byways of where she’s at culturally and personally, which you can see October 23 at The Kessler — the self-professed “new and improved” Bernhard promises a mellower take on her particular blend of snarkiness. With a 15-year-old daughter and supportive long-term relationship, Bernhard says she can afford to be “a little more relaxed.”
“There’s too many people talking at once, and that creates a universe clogged up with crap,” Bernhard says. “Everybody needs to shut up.”
“I enjoy myself more than I did,” she says. “I feel less frenetic, and that makes you a new and improved person. It gives you room to increase your edge. Just because it comes from a place of frustration or anger doesn’t make it more compelling.”
Still, don’t think for a moment Bernhard has dulled her sharpness. She’s made some inspiring choices in her career — from her star-making role in The King of Comedy to her guest-starring spot as the first primetime gay character on Roseanne — and she’s not about to jump on any trend train just to keep in the public eye.
When American Horror Story is suggested as a potential venue for strong actresses, she reacts with total disdain. “Absolutely not! It’s exploitative. It’s disgusting. It’s very cavalier about women, and it’s not where I stand. I like shows about emotion where there’s space and room, and it takes you there. I’d ultimately like to end up on a show that has a great ensemble, so it’s not all on my shoulders.”
Still active in both independent film and TV — she’s gearing up for a guest spot as an art instructor on Switched at Birth — Bernhard keeps her work in her own hands as much as possible, self-releasing albums of her performances and selling them directly to fans while she’s on tour.
With such a unique career, she admits it wouldn’t be as easy for her iconoclastic performance style to make the impact today as it did when she was starting out in the late 1970s. Surprisingly for someone who makes her living sharing acute observations about politics, celebrity and pop culture, her solution is for our media-obsessed world to STFU. At least for just one moment.
“There’s too many people talking at once, and that creates a universe clogged up with crap — everybody needs to shut up. It becomes overwhelming for an established artist, let alone someone who’s starting out. I’m trying to promote my day of silence, where no one’s allowed to talk or get on the Internet.”