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The Catalyst interview: Sandra Bernhard

Bill DeYoung

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Sandra Bernhard will be onstage at the Palladium Theater in St. Pete this Sunday, June 12. Photo: Sliman Media.

Sandra Bernhard called Thursday afternoon to talk about what’s going on in her life. The comedian, actress, singer, social commentator and ever-stylish celebrity maven had just finished another edition of Sandyland, her live interview program on Sirius XM, on which she shot the breeze with fellow comic Margaret Cho.

Bernhard’s coming to St. Pete Sunday, for a Pride Month performance at the Palladium Theater. It’s almost sold out – news she was very happy to receive.

Out this week on Netflix is Stand Out: An LGBTQ+ Celebration, which carries this authorized description: “Comedy legends and red-hot rising stars share the stage for a historic night of laughter and queer joy.” The special features a standup set from Bernhard, who’s introduced by her biggest influence, Lily Tomlin, along with Cho, and Eddie Izzard, Wanda Sykes, Tig Notaro and others.

We began with a discussion of Sandyland.

 

St. Pete Catalyst: Today’s opening monologue was serious – you talked about gun laws, or the lack thereof, and abortion rights. You literally have a microphone – do you think people are listening?

Sandra Bernhard: Yeah, I think people are listening to what I’m saying. I try not to be too heavy-handed and hit people over the head with the obvious, but you also can’t ignore what’s going on. It’s not responsible. That’s part of who I am as an artist, as a performer, telling the truth. And making people think and do something about it. We’ve got to do that. We’re in a crisis.

The country’s in a mess. So I guess whether people agree or disagree with what you’re saying, it doesn’t matter …

No, it doesn’t matter, and I don’t think most people that listen to my show disagree with me – so maybe I’m preaching to the choir, but I don’t care. There’s always a few people who enjoy my work who are on a different kind of political viewpoint. I think in general what I say gets across. And it’s important, and I’m very, very happy that I can do it.

Do you think there were fans out there going “Oh no, Sandy, no more of this hard reality … just make us laugh”?

I think I did both. I mean, that’s what I’m good at. I’m good at telling the truth and I’m also good at making people feel good and being entertained. It’s not like “Here she comes again beating us up.” I don’t feel that I do that. I think I know how to strike that balance.

You’re a good interviewer. Would you say you’re a curious person?

Yeah, I’m very curious and I love talking to people. And it doesn’t have to be somebody famous. If I meet somebody and they’re a character and interesting and compelling … which is why I like taking calls, because I talk to people that I don’t know. And we go off on tangents. I love hearing what people have to say and I love drawing them out. I’ve never stopped being a curious person, and never not wanted to make new friends in my life. I think that’s something that’s just really important to me.

Why was the Stand Out comedy special significant for you, and for the world?

Netflix was doing this big huge comedy event in L.A. in May that encompassed every kind of comedy, so they thought, naturally there’s going to be an LGBTQ+ arm of the festival. I mean, I didn’t necessarily think that’s where I completely belonged, but that’s what they offered me, so I was like “I don’t care, fine, great.” I do what I do. I don’t really do, like, gay humor, per se – I never have – but there’s a couple things that work. And it was fun. It was good company.

Is it important? I don’t know if it’s important. It’s Netflix! Any of these outfits are going to jump on the bandwagon. I don’t know how groundbreaking it is. It’s just part of, y’know, Black! Latina! Asian! Gay! Women! Everybody gets to be a part of the comedy extravaganza.

You’ve talked about how Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner were big influences on you. Lily’s a pioneer.

We’re great friends, Lily, Jane, myself and my girlfriend. I’ve known Lily for many, many, many years and have gotten to be closer and closer. She’s a pioneer as a performer. The gay aspect of it is a separate issue. She’s one of the greatest performers of the past 80 years. I mean, there’s nobody like her. She’s funny and smart and brilliant, and Jane Wagner writes the most concise, funny stuff in the world. They’re amazing together.

When you were starting to do those one-person shows in the ‘80s … can you draw a direct line from what Lily and Jane were doing? Did you say to yourself “I can do that”?

Well, I think my thing is very, very different from that; I don’t do characters, per se. But the idea of doing a show that I created, and was completely my point of view, yeah, that made sense. Obviously that was something that was a big inspiration to me.

Your show is a mix of comedy and music. I know you sing a few torchy ballads, but how does rock ‘n’ roll fit into what you do onstage?

Rock ‘n’ roll’s been one of my go-to outlets since I was a kid. I love rock ‘n’ roll. I love the Stones. I love Tina Turner. Just to name a couple of people. I love that energy, I love that light, I love that rebellion. Rock ‘n’ roll was invented to kick culture out of its complacency. And that’s what I love doing.

Check here for ticket availability.

 

 

 

 

 

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