Sandra Bernhard On Night Of A Thousand Gowns, Acting, And The LGBT Community

On Saturday, March 29th Sandra Bernhard headlines this year’s Night of a Thousand Gowns. The benefit raises funding and awareness for God’s Love We Deliver, and for Cyndi Lauper’s The True Colors Foundation. The event will be held at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square (1535 Broadway). The gala is presented by The Imperial Court of New York. In addition to Sandra, Martha Reeeves (from the Vandellas) will perform along with Expose, Kelly King, and the cast of Pippin.  I am lucky to chat with Sandra Bernhard from time to time and I caught up with her and asked her all about it.

You’re doing this Ball, The Night of a Thousand Gowns Event, benefitting the Cindy Lauper True Colors Foundation and God’s Love We Deliver. It’s helping The LGBT community. 

Yes exactly.

You are headlining, but I notice that Martha Reeves of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas is slated to perform. I thought to myself, Sandra must be totally psyched!

I know, I said I bow down to Martha Reeves, I mean, Jesus Christ! A billion years ago in New York at some venue, I can’t remember what it was, Darlene Love opened for me and I was like, what is Darlene Love doing opening for me? When you have these types opening for you, when you’re in a show with these incredible icons, groundbreaking talent, they challenge you always. I grew up on these people, they’re amazing I will be excited to watch Martha Reeves… I’ll tell you that much.

When I saw that, I knew you would be excited by it. This is an amazing event… it’s going to raise a lot of money. Tickets are not cheap, ranging from $150 to $400. How did you get involved with this? 

Steven McHale who’s designing my gown that night was the conduit to it, and I met with him a while ago to do some clothes for me, and he said he would you be interested in doing this, and you know of course I would. So he brokered the deal and he came back to me and it all worked out. I’m so excited to be a part of it. To me, drag and the whole scene that I’ve been involved with since I started my career back in the seventies… I kind of toy with the idea of gender and what does it all really mean anyway, ultimately. So for me it makes sense and it’s a natural place in my career and my work.

Johnny Dynell from Mother is DJing, Exposé is performing, and the cast of Pippin is involved, this sounds like a bunch of fun…

I just love how culture and society has evolved now when all of the exposure to the mainstream America, the gay community and drag and everybody sort of embraces it. It’s very entertaining. It’s on it’s way to the next level which its also like people aren’t cartoons; people have lives and emotions and at some point you like to think not only are you entertained by it, but accept people in and out of drag. Wherever they’re at an exploration of their sexuality which is what I’ve always taken it not just “this is fun and campy and crazy” — no its life, this is what inspires people where they’re comfortable. They’re full of love and relationships and all the rest of the stuff that consolidates being a human being. I think that’s where we’re headed and that’s, to me, the most exciting part.

Who would have thought this ten years ago? We have discussed this many times before. We have come so far. Is it getting harder to shock people now? What is your material like for this event?

I’m working on it right now. Everything’s been said in that realm of like being super campy and super bitchy. Yeah, it’s fun and I’m sure I’ll have my moments, but its also great to turn things on their ears in a way where I can talk about the whole picture in life and characterization. I’m very in the moment in those situations. I’ll have an open view on what I’m gonna do, but I’ll improvise a lot depending on who’s sort of around you and what happens when I get there. I like to leave things open-ended so it really has some sense of the moment.

Tell me about last year for you. What was Sandyland like, Joe’s Pub, the tour in general.

I was doing a recurring role on this ABC Family show called Switched At Birth, playing an art instructor. That’s what I mean about life evolving. If I would have ever imagined someone writing me a role on a ABC Family show I would’ve laughed, but my work and where I’m at in times of being ahead of the curve for so long, I guess culture is sort of catching up with me, and I try to surpass it and do things that I think are groundbreaking. And not in ways that are cheap but ways that are real and in depth and that’s where I constantly get inspired and try to move forward and always do things that take it to the next level. Wherever were at culturally, you’ve got to always keep moving the dial.

I’m glad you are acting. I’m a big fan and I thought you were amazing in The King of Comedy which had it’s 25-year retrospective last year. I thought you stole that movie from Robert DeNiro and give me a break from Jerry Lewis. As time goes on do you see acting for you? Do you find that very rewarding? 

I have these great two managers, these two young ladies in L.A. and they are really amping it up for me. They get me and they believe in me – it’s been a long time since I’ve had a team around me for my acting. It’s really been focused and I’m really excited about that, and that’s where my head is at — getting back into TV and film in a big way and in the next year or two we will deal a lot more of that for me.

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