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.

Chatting With Sandra Bernhard on Her Upcoming Shows at BAM & Joe’s Pub

Tomorrow night, BAMcinematek will screen Sandra Bernhard’s 1990 film Without You I’m Nothing, an adaptation of her hit off Broadway show. Sandra is in town and she will do a Q&A moderated by Hilton Als of the New Yorker. This year, as is the tradition, Sandra will perform her annual holiday show at Joe’s Pub, from December 26th through New Year’s Eve. She will also guest star in ABC’s original drama series Switched at Birth in a recurring role.Sandra Bernhard is amazing. When I used to book things and open clubs, I would often turn to Sandra to set a tone. She is smart, chic, and sassy. She has a reputation. She has an attitude. People pay to catch all that and never leave unsatisfied. Her act is called Sandyland and according to the release, it sharply blends theatre, rock and roll, and stand-up with a little burlesque and cabaret. I have always loved Sandra. She is hilarious and intelligent. She gets it, and I can’t wait to see her this time around. I caught up with her and asked her all about it.

What’s going on now, why are we talking today?
Well for a couple reasons, I’m doing my holiday show at Joe’s Pub from December 26th through the 31st, SandyLand its called. Sort of my year end wrap up of events, personal and local. Oh and we’ll open with my fabulous band The Flawless Zircons walking music and tunes, it’s a six night party.

Joes Pub is one of the hippest places in New York—from the day it opened till today.
That’s right, yeah. Its maintained its hipness it’s celebrated its 15th anniversary and actually two shows a night expect Monday- there are 11 shows in 6 nights.

How do you get booked into a place like that? Do they ask you or…?
Well I think that they obviously wanted me—this has become sort of a standing yearly tradition where they go in there and I do the holiday show for them because I fill it out and they love it; everybody has a great time. Its just fun, you know? It’s a fun, fun personal intimate evening. People dig that, New Yorkers like to go out and be one on one with people they enjoy the form.

Yeah it’s a really intimate club situation. And what’s your band like?
It’s piano, drum, and guitar. My music always leans towards rock and roll and a touch of cabaret. You know, keep it rocking all night long.

Do you ever go out in NY anymore? When’s the last time you actually went to a club and hung out?
I can’t say I’ve done it anytime recently. I was in Chicago performing the pass two nights and went to a place called the Paris club which is a restaurant, but its also part of a club. When you see people who go out to clubs these days, were not talking about the 80s or 90s, it’s a whole other kind of you know, people going out to dance. Your not gonna bump into anybody groovy, that’s for sure.

You reach a certain point in your life where you wanna be in a more intimate surrounding and have conversations with people rather than just look across the room and say “I wanna sleep with you.”
Yeah, I mean everybody kind of grows. Now I love to dance but there’s just not a lot of great places to dance anymore. The kind of music that gets me up and moving, you know? Ill invite people to my party.

Well Brooklyn is pretty nowadays Sandra, there’s some sort of renaissance going on out there in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, you should check it out.
Yeah, I know that, I know. But I am a mom, so I spend a little more time in the home front for now.

In 2014 almost, we have a mellower, nicer—I mean I’ve always found you to be nice and cool and all that but tell me about the Sandra Bernhard in 2014.
Well I can tell you one thing I have a recurring roll on ABC family show called “Switched at Birth”- apparently I’m much mellower if ABC Family wants me.

What’s your New Year resolution?
You know something Steve, I don’t do new year resolutions. I get up every day and I reassess the situation in front of me and I adjust my thinking for that day. Because, you know everyday brings a new surprise and you’ve gotta be on your toes. One over arching idea doesn’t work for the whole year.

How did the revival, or the re-launch of the Jerry Lewis movie go?
It was kind of a narrow- in cast- event. It was at the Tribeca Film Festival. I did a lot of stuff leading up to it and I had to go on the road and do a show that night at the Andy Warhol museum in Pittsburgh so I wasn’t at the actual event- I’m kind of glad I think Jerry was in a mood- it would have been hard to deal with. But of course, the film is perennial and people still love it for how far ahead itself was. It was a very precious moment. It talked a lot about fame and the price people pay to achieve it.

It’s a brilliant movie…
Yeah, it’s a great movie.

Goals…
Lots of fingers crossed, TV and film in the new year that’s my goal.

Sandra Bernhard On Sharing ‘The King of Comedy’ Set With Scorcese & De Niro

When I was running clubs, I had the pleasure of booking Sandra Bernhard a number of times. Her talent – and the inevitable and often uncomfortably wonderful swirl of controversy that defines her every move – makes her a tone-setting choice for a big night. You always know where she stands, and sometimes you better be sitting down to hear it. I chatted with her last month, and we did a phoner earlier in the week to help promote the 30th anniversary of The King of Comedy – a restored version of the 1982 Martin Scorsese flick, starring Robert De Niro and Sandra – that’s closing the Tribeca Film Festival.

Where did your character Masha from The King of Comedy come from? Is it a combination of your childhood friends and memories, or is it you?
No. It’s totally based on who I was as at the time, which was a very, you know, super-energized person (laughs). I fit the bill, and the kind of crazy, neurotic aspects of the character Masha. are me. And of course, as an actress, I brought other elements to it, but it was not a stretch for me to play that role. 

So Jerry Lewis was actually a second choice to Johnny Carson, who actually had his own talk show. But Jerry did what I thought was one of the best performances of his career in this film. There’s one scene where De Niro started yelling racial epithets at him, trying to get a rise out of him, which really set the tone. What was it like working with Jerry? 
Well, for me it was very intimidating and intense. Everything that kind of felt natural between the two of us as people also worked for the role because, as I’ve often said, I don’t think he’d [Jerry Lewis] ever worked with a woman like me before who was from a post-feminist era. I think every woman he had ever worked with was kind of just there, as a foil. So this is a new experience for him. Of course, I grew up on his work, you know, and looked up to him, so it was a funny relationship but it worked for the characters. 

The incredible scene where you have him duct-taped to the chair, and you’re playing with him – and it’s all sexual — 
Right.

Basically he’s threatened and not enjoying it, and you were just in heaven. Did the two of you talk about it in advance or did it just unfold?
Well, it was a combination. We had rehearsed some of these scenes, but a lot of it was just improvised. Jerry was sort of watching it all unfold the first time, as I was just there in the moment. It was all very new and fresh, so I think all the reactions everybody had were very genuine and organic, since a lot of the stuff was not written. It just kind of came from me, so it was a combination of being truly kind of surprised and engaged in the scene. 

I’ve met a lot comedians in my private life, and a lot of them are just on all the time. You talk to a guy like Gilbert Gottfried, and he’s just non-stop. There’s no difference between the character on stage, and the character himself as a person. Is the Jerry we saw in film natural? More like the real Jerry?
Yeah, yeah, he is. He likes to pontificate and tell people his opinions. He’s a little bit, you know, well, you know – he’s Jerry! He’s been around. He’s an auteur. 

It’s been 30 years – that’s a big chunk of time! When’s the last time you saw the film?
In its entirety?  I can’t even remember. I’ve seen bits and pieces of it, but I have not sat and watched it from stem to stern in quite a long time. 

Are you attending the premiere?
I actually cannot attend the premiere. I booked a performance months ago that’s in association with the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburg, and I can’t get out of it. I’m doing a lot of press and a few little, surprise things to promote the event that I can’t talk about right now cause they’re surprises!

There was a report that it took De Niro seven years to work with Scorsese again. Since then, they’ve done a number of films together. Both said the set was full of so much tension. Do you recall that kind of tension?
No, I didn’t sense any tension at all. The material was intense and the roles were intense, but I felt like everybody got along really well, and I had an incredible time. I didn’t get caught up in any drama, but I don’t remember any… you know?

That was Wikipedia talking, so…
OH! They don’t know – they’re nobodies! (laughs) Never draw on anything from Wikipedia! 

“Research.” Really though, the film was very uneasy to watch. It was a comedy with some chilling scenes in it. I remember not knowing what to say when I walked out, and every time since.
Right. It hits you from a lot of different levels, which I think is amazing, because that’s what filmmaking should do. 

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Sandra Bernhard On Her NY Shows This Week, Happiness, & Her Legacy

Sandra Bernhard will perform tonight at Carnegie Hall at a fundraiser to raise money for music education programs for underprivileged kids. The Music of Prince show produced by Michael Dorf has Elvis Costello, D’Angelo, Talib Kwell, Bettye Lavette, Amos Lee, Devotcka, and many others performing Prince hits. The Roots are the house band. And on Saturday, Sandra will appear at the Tarrytown Music Hall in the namesake NY suburb. This is part of her national tour which will take her through the summer. Sandra was the go-to gal for me when I opened two clubs back in the day, She wowed them on New Year’s Eve a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away with an all-star cast that she assembled when the Palladium entrusted me to fill it. She also set the tone for me at Life when I first launched that fabulously famous joint. In both cases, I enjoyed the consummate professional who wowed us off and on the stage. This week, I caught up with Sandra and asked her all about it.

First of all, let’s begin where we first met. I booked you two times when I was running nightclubs. I booked you at the Palladium for New Year’s Eve, which was an amazing show. And then I booked you at the opening, or right after the opening at Life, a nightclub I ran on Bleecker street. 
Yeah! 
You were incredible. The first one was you, and you brought along Gianni Versace, Robin Byrd,  André Leon Talley, and there was one other..
It was Donatella Versace.

And we had Debbie Harry open, or after you performed because that’s the way it works. And the Psychedelic Furs performed for the first time in 10 years, and we had PM Dawn perform at dawn. 
Oh my God. 

So it was the biggest booking I think I ever did. 
Those days are gone. And sadly, cause I miss The Palladium. It was a great club. 

 
So you’re playing in Tarrytown this Saturday. Is the show the exact show that you’d do in Vegas or New York, or do you tone it down a bit for the local hoi polloi ?
I might just pull it back a bit, because you’re not gonna do a New York-style show in a place that doesn’t call for it. So in the sense of bringing all my wardrobe? No, I’m not gonna do that. But, I’ll be there with my band! We’ll have a great show. Apparently, a lot of NYers have moved to Tarrytown, as with all the surrounding areas of NYC, so you’re always gonna get a good audience wherever you are.

Tonight you’re playing with Elvis Costello, who’s amazing, at The Music of Prince at Carnegie Hall. What is the music of Prince? 
It’s a fundraiser for music education and it’s like 20 different people covering Prince songs. I’m covering “Little Red Corvette” with the band The Roots. You know, Questlove, it’s his band that’s the backup band. And other people are bringing their own bands, but I’m performing with Questlove. They’re backing me up.

You’re right in the forefront of the movement for LGBT rights. Under this administration, there seems to be exponential strides. Even Dirty Harry himself, Clint Eastwood, came out for gay marriage. Are you running out of material? 
That was never my thrust, the gay movement per se. That was certainly the backdrop, because that’s just sort of where the smart, forward-thinking people have always existed, and still do to a certain extent. But my material is much more eclectic than that and always has been. I mean, I never identified myself as, you know, a “gay performer." That’s just not where I’m at. My work is about taking all the things that I thought were sophisticated and important from all the different worlds. From the art world, from the music scene, the underground scene, from vaudeville, to Broadway, to rock ‘n’ roll, to burlesque, to the Black movement. I’ve always melded my shows together. I’m postmodern, honey. I don’t get caught up in one thing. Never have. 

I booked you back in the day because you know how to make a statement. 
And that’s what I’m still doin, honey, cause there’s plenty to make statements about. Now the statement is: how complacent can our culture be? How lazy can we be? How dependent are we on social media? And the lack of people putting themselves out there, meeting new people face-to-face, being inspired, which is the real human experience! That’s what makes people great and interesting. You can’t do that by hiding behind the veils of social media. I mean, it just cuts off people’s ability to grow as people. 

You have this band called The Flawless Zircons, which I think is an amazing name. Tell me about them.

Well, some of the stuff I’ve written and some of the songs are covers. I have a huge musical repertoire that I draw from depending on the night. I switch it up. I love that element of surprise, just the way I’m sure if you talked to The Stones the night before they did a set, they wouldn’t tell you their set-list  Nobody wants to hear ahead of time what they’re gonna be hearing, you know what I mean? And the name – I love to “wow” you with "the big rock" and it turns out to be diamond-wannabee Zirconia. It just makes me laugh.

You do so many things in your career, but what would you like to be remembered as? What is Sandra Bernhard’s legacy? 
As somebody who constantly breaks down the walls of complacency. I love being somebody who can command attention on stage. Who demands attention. Who earns attention. Is somebody who not only entertains you, but makes you walk away at the end of the night and think, “wow, here’s somebody who shares my emotions, my fears, my hopes." There’s a wave that carries us through life, and throws us on to lots of different shores of interesting, exciting, ongoing, inspiring circumstances. But life should always be inspiring. It shouldn’t suddenly drop off the cliff and not be fun anymore, no matter where we’re at culturally or environmentally. We still gotta find ways of making life inspiring. 

How far is the real Sandra Bernhard from the stage Sandra Bernhard? Are you always on? Is it always you? 
No, not at all. I think I can drop into entertaining mode at the drop of a hat. But day-to-day, it’s work! You gotta roll up your sleeves, deal with so many different elements of this business. I’m on both sides of the live-performing and the creative side, and I’m also on the acting side. You can’t just throw it into somebody else’s lap because it’ll just fall apart. At different junctures, I’ve been with the wrong people, and you just gotta wrestle back control of your career, and be collaborative with people. 

Are you happy, or happier?
I’ve always enjoyed my life. As an artist and creative person, you’re always struggling to find level footing because you see things other people don’t see. If you didn’t see them, you would have nothing to talk about. You may lift up corners of rugs that are filthy, and no one wants to look at the filth, but if you don’t look at the filth then you’ve got nothing to talk about. So, when you look at things that are a little shocking or a little scary, they affect you emotionally and physically. That’s what artists do – painters, sculptors, writers, singers, funny people –  we look at things that other people aren’t willing to look at, and then talk about it in a funny or interesting creative way. 
 
So what’s the future? What comes next? 
Right now, a friend of mine is developing a great television series idea for me and another actress I don’t want to talk about because we’re right in the planning stages. We’re setting up meetings to go out and pitch the idea, and there’s nothing more irritating than when things are in transition. You just gotta let them fall together. But it’s a great idea with another fabulous, highly-visible actress who needs to be seen again, so it’s the two of us. I feel very positive about it, and that’s my next thing that I really wanna get done. 
I remember when you came in for sound check at Palladium, I hadn’t yet met you, and people were saying, " Oh my God, she’s gonna eat you up, and don’t do this…and that…" Then we heard you walk in, and from then on, you were just a joy. You were a joy to work with. So professional.
Thank you, and that’s what you gotta be. I mean, there’s no excuse for being anything less, and there’s no reason not to be. If you’re not professional, you don’t get anything done. You know that, and I know that. And thank you for that gig! It was a great, great night. That was the most fun night. 
 
Transcribed by BlackBook’s superstar intern Nicole Pinhas. 

Let Prince Wake You Up With His New Track, ‘Breakfast Can Wait’

Even when Prince is being absolutely ridiculous, it’s hard not to love everything he does. Following up on his driving, blues-rock single “Screwdriver” released at the end of January, His Royal Badness has released “Breakfast Can Wait,” a smooth, funky little ode to the most important meal of the day, or rather, delaying the most important meal of the day for more intimate activities.

And you’d better believe there’s food imagery happening: “Hotcakes smothered in honey, I’mma have to pass / fresh cup of coffee, no no, I’ve gotta have you in my lap.” The first two thirds or so groove, but then Prince goes into this chipmunk voice pitch distortion thing at the end, which totally kills the mood. But maybe that’s what he was going for. He’s Prince, after all. Still, it’s definitely worth a listen and hopefully an indicator of even more Prince.

If that’s not enough Prince (and it’s never enough Prince), the all-star Prince tribute show at Carnegie Hall is right around the corner on March 7th, featuring an impressive and varied lineup including D’Angelo, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Talib Kweli, Sandra Bernhard, Bettye LaVette, The Roots and Princess with Gretchen Lieberum and Maya Rudloph. Yes, please. And tickets for the show will benefit a number of arts and education programs for New York children. What’s not to love?

Have a listen to “Breakfast Can Wait” below, or if the video doesn’t work, you can download the new track for the low, low price of 0.88 over at Prince’s website.

Sandra Bernhard Returns To Joe’s Pub For New Year’s Eve

"Joe’s Pub always turns it out," Sandra Bernhard told me last year when I talked to the comedian and performer about her eight-show New Year’s run at the venerable downtown performance space. And Bernhard turned it out as well, offering her regular mix of cultural and political observations with a selection of songs both old and new. In an amazing encore, the performer came out on stage wearing a Candy O t-shirt, fishnet stockings, and a jaunty black hat and proceeded to belt out a mash-up of "Sex Shooter," "Pumped-Up Kicks," and "Janie’s Got a Gun" for a room full of her fans. And that’s the kind of thing one can expect this year, as well, when Bernhard takes the stage again this year.

Doing an amazing run of ten shows in five nights, Bernhard also gives a hip alternative to your regular Near Year’s Eve plans. Why not celebrate with the glitz of the newly renovated Joe’s Pub rather than a packed Brooklyn house party? And as a bonus, Joe’s Pub is offering an early-bird special for her two New Year’s Eve performances if you buy tickets before Thanksgiving. 

You’ll definitely see me ringing in the new year with Sandy. Check out the aforementioned encore performance from last year’s show below!

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Sandra Bernhard Celebrates New Year’s Eve in New York

Sandra Bernhard is a consummate performer, blending elements of cabaret and stand-up comedy while examining the personal and the political. The tall, lanky, outspoken comedienne has been skewering the notion of fame and celebrity long before that other famous redhead Kathy Griffin stepped up to a mic. She’s also been proving the existence and relevance of funny ladies for years (the late Christopher Hitchens even gave her a pass in his infamous essay for Vanity Fair, which sparked a debate concerning the gender inequality in the comedy world).

Bernhard is a brash yet contemplative critic of popular culture who has crafted several venerated one-woman shows both on and off-Broadway, immortalized on countless recordings (most recently I Love Being Me, Don’t You, released this summer) and in films. Bernhard returns to the New York stage next week with a string of New Year’s Eve-themed shows at Joe’s Pub, where she’ll be celebrating herself and touching on a variety of pop-culture and political topics. We spoke with Bernhard about what she has planned for her run at Joe’s, her performance style, and her musical theater ambitions.

Let’s talk about your upcoming shows at Joe’s Pub. You’re doing eight of them in four nights, right?
Eight in four nights. I usually do two hours and this is like an hour and ten. It’s appropriate for the venue and the holiday season. People like to come in and they don’t like to be tied up all night long because they always have somewhere else to go.

Are you doing anything special for the New Year’s show?
Yeah, Joe’s Pub always turns it out: the champagne, the glamour of New Year’s Eve for those who brave being out. I always try to tie in a year-end wrap-up and make it fun and festive and also a little introspective.

That’s what’s so appealing about your act. You not only have standard stand-up fare, but you also include a lot of music, performance, and introspection. Is that something you’ve been doing since the very beginning when you started in L.A. in the ‘70s?
I think naturally that’s how I am as a person. I can be full of hilarity and really out there and then I kind of come back to neutral and recharge. I think that’s just people in general. We work at a lot of different levels as people within our own minds and in our relationships with friends and lovers, and I like to show all sides of that way of being we all experience every day.

I see your material as more of a conversation between you and your audience. Do you try to incorporate that a lot?
I do! I like to really bring people in and have it be kind of a cocoon of fun and, you know, just kind of cover all the different topics that people find interesting and that I love to expose about myself.

You’re very active on Twitter, as well.
Twitter’s good because it’s the same thing: I can throw an idea out there, or something that really made me laugh, or something that’s provocative. You don’t lose the momentum. Sometimes if I go a month without performing I’ll keep a notebook and journal. But it’s just so great when it’s so ephemeral. You know a week later nobody will care, but in the moment it’s a great outlet for all those thoughts.

Looking back on what you’ve done throughout your whole career, who would you say are your biggest influences, in both the comedy and music worlds? I know you’re a Laura Nyro fan, which I was thinking about today because she was just inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
I know! I wish she was still here doing her thing. It’s interesting because I was watching some of [Lady Gaga’s] performances on TV and—I don’t know if Lady Gaga is familiar with her, [but] I’m sure she is because she’s a very smart person—I thought, I’m sure that was another influence on her, sitting acoustically at the piano and playing. Something about their energy is very similar. Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, Carole King. All the rockers. Stevie Nicks and Nina Simone and the Supremes and Aretha Franklin—it goes all over the place. When I was little [I loved] Carol Burnett, Carol Channing, Mary Tyler Moore, and Barbara Streisand, and when I was a little bit older starting my career, Lily Tomlin. That’s a good cross section of people that I drew from when I first started performing.

You may be tired of talking about “women in comedy” and being compared to other performers, but something I find fascinating about your act is that you’re not self-deprecating at all. Is that something you’ve always tried to be conscious of and achieve?
Yeah. When I first started performing it was a very conscious decision because I was kind of a product of the feminist movement and it was so liberating at that time. Like, I don’t have to put myself down, I don’t have to be a victim of what society thinks women are supposed to be, and it was a real conscious decision and…made for an interesting approach to comedy that I was really happy I got to experience in my formative years.

Do you think the self-deprecating style may have hindered women who perform comedy?
I think people in the early days who I adored and still do, [like] Joan Rivers [who] is obviously still amazing, [wrote material] that was a reflection of the times. I don’t necessarily think that they felt that way but I think that’s what people related to and it was comfortable—a realistic jumping-off place. That’s what these women experienced in their lives. What else were they supposed to talk about?

Do you think you’ve surrounded yourself with other kinds of groups and scenes and that’s where you get your energy from? 
I mean, listen, I’m post-feminist, I’m post-gay liberation. I’ve kind of come through all of those movements and be able to blend in the political and the emotional aftermath of all of them and put them into a new context. Certainly my friendships with people are all over the place, and I have friends in a million different places and directions. I guess that’s just my life in general. I enjoy people who are smart and funny and provocative. 

Occasionally you poke fun at celebrity friends or make jokes at the expense of famous people whom you may or may not be friends with. Do you ever run into people who are aggravated with that material? 
I feel like what I’ve done is disseminate pop culture and fame, and the fine line…of [people] just being who they are in the world and longing for fame—the same kind of fame [examined in] King of Comedy. I didn’t write that movie; I was just fascinated by the juxtaposition of being who I am, which is a real person [who is] friends with famous people and [is] in the public eye, so I always played with those notions. And most of my work when I’m talking about celebrities, you know, is kind of made up, fictionalized. I don’t go for cheap shots; it’s not like I’m there to rip people apart. It may be a veiled critique, but it’s not just a critique of the performer. It’s a critique of what made that person and what people on the other side expect from fame. It’s very layered and never like, “She’s fat, she’s ugly.” That’s not even in the realm of what I do, so I don’t think people ever are offended, and if they are they don’t understand it. It’s rare…I haven’t gotten too much blowback from people about it. 

On the last album you recorded, you talk about the musical you’re writing with Justin Bond. Do you have any more details about that?
We finished the first draft of it and he got kind of sidetracked [so] it’s been a bit stalled out. I hope we can revisit it, but right now it just seems like we’re off both off in our own directions. Hopefully we’ll get it back together again and try to get it done, but right now we’re kind of in a holding pattern.

Is it a narrative musical or is it more of a cabaret act? 
It’s a narrative musical. We play these estranged cousins who reunite at a wedding and it’s kind of like this journey. The music’s great and the story’s cool. It needs work and it needs a director and a collaborator to help us finish it. But we both have so much going on, it’s kind of crazy. Is that something you’ve always wanted to do? Originally when I first started off I wanted to be a musical comedy star. I got sidetracked into doing my own work, [but] I kind of feel like my live performances are like mini-musicals. So if the right thing comes along, absolutely I’d love to do it.

I saw this week that you were on Andy Cohen’s Watch What Happens Live and talked about being one of the original actors who were considered for Sex and the City.
I was offered the role and at the time it wasn’t right. In the first place, when most shows start up, there isn’t necessarily a buzz like, “This is going to be the next big show!” Maybe if I’d been able to project a little more into the future, or maybe if I’d been in a different headspace it would have been something I wanted to do, but at the time it just wasn’t the right fit for me. I think Cynthia Nixon did a great job in that role. Honestly, I could have done it but it would have been a much different approach to it. But everything’s meant to be; there’s something else waiting for me whether I’m creating it or I just get cast, but it was a fun show for sure.

Have you felt that working on your own stuff opens up more doors than auditioning for things?
Well, I audition for things, too. I kind of go at both approaches, but you know, I’d be very happy to be cast on a great ensemble show. Tonight I’m on Hot in Cleveland, and in the spring I’m on [Good Christian Bitches] with Kristin Chenoweth. I just filmed that. That’s the kind of show…I’d love to be on; [part of] an ensemble but not [carrying it] all on my shoulders. There’s a lot for good stuff that you get to do, so that’s what I’m looking for right now.

Classic Late Night TV: Sandra Bernhard Spars With David Letterman

Sandra Bernhard is a comedy legend. She’s got an extensive discography (with a new album I Love Being Me, Don’t You? currently available), has played memorable roles in films like The King of Comedy and TV shows like Roseanne, and is pretty entertaining on Twitter. She’s made a career out of mixing cabaret performances with hilarious pop culture observances (think Kathy Griffin, but with musical talent), and she’s been proving that women are indeed hilarious. So let’s take a look back at some of her best moments on Late Night with David Letterman, on which Bernhard was a regular in the ’80s.

Bernhard appeared on Letterman’s NBC show over twenty times. What is most entertaining is her interactions with Letterman, who frequently insisted that he had “no idea what she is talking about” as she ignored him and continued with her bits. Nowadays we have Amy Sedaris who frequents his CBS show, but it’s hard to replicate the late-night talk show magic that Bernhard conjured up during her visits to the show. Here are a few favorite moments:

Sandra to Dave: “The last time I was on the show I felt so destroyed by you, so here’s what I’ve been reading: Men Who Hate Women, the Women Who Love Them…”

Dave to Sandra: “Have you noticed every time I try to say something, you start talking?!”

In this clip, Bernhard plugs her one-woman show Without You I’m Nothing and plays a recording of Village Voice writer Laurie Stone, who had given her show a bad review, leaving a message on her answering machine:

In a continuation of the previous clip, she brings out her pal Madonna!

Here she touches on the Divinyls’ “I Touch Myself,” the classic documentary Paris Is Burning (“Do not throw shade at me!”), and her role in Hudson Hawk.

Clearly Dave needs to think about bringing her around more often!

Where Celebs Go Out: Hugh Jackman, Parker Posey, Reshma Shetty

At the premiere of City Island:

● ANDY GARCIA – “In New York there are so many great restaurants. There’s an old one I’ve gone here for many years that I like to visit, just out of nostalgia. It’s a very good restaurant. It’s called Il Vagabondo. It has a bocce court in it. It’s just a very picturesque place; very, good food. Cipriani’s. There’s a new one called Nino’s. Scalinatella — a lot of Italian restaurants, you can tell. I always pop my head into Victor’s Cafe. And then, I’ve got to have a Gray’s Papaya hot dog here.” Any plans to visit Cuba? “Oh, I dream about visiting Cuba every day. But some people have to leave there first.” ● HUGH JACKMAN – “I’m a real junkie for Jean-Georges Vongerichten. I love his cooking. I just went to his place up in The Mark, and I was lucky enough to go to his new restaurant down at ABC Carpet and Home — all organic, every ingredient’s within an 100-mile radius. The food is just unbelievable there, so … Any special dish? Chicken. He told me his secret: brine. You got to brine your chicken.” ● VERA WANG –“I like Morimoto, and I like Bar Masa, and I love the new Mark Hotel, and Sant Ambroeus, uptown and downtown, Mr. Chow’s. I go out to eat a lot — you can tell.”

● SANDRA BERNHARD – “I love Cookshop, which is downtown. I love BLT Fish, one of my favorite restaurants. Babbo. Of course, I love 2nd Avenue Deli. I’m very into trying to eat locally, sustainably grown food. I’m doing more and more cooking at home because of my daughter. And I’ve always eaten very balanced and healthy, but, to me, it’s about really preserving the environment, as well.” ● ZOE KRAVITZ –Five Leaves in Brooklyn, in Greenpoint. Delicious.” ● PARKER POSEY – “I’m trying to give a good recommendation for something. Mary’s Fish Camp.” ● DOMINIK GARCIA-LORIDO – “Oh, wow! I’m, like, so not a club person anymore. I’m pretty much a homebody. I live in L.A., so … I like more dive bars and chill spots where you can hear good music. I don’t like really sceney places. I don’t like where you have to dress up. I’m more, have a beer and chill; watch a game. I have to give a shout-out to the guy I work for, as a waitress. I still work there. It’s a lounge in Studio City, California, called Next Door Tapas. It’s attached to an Italian restaurant, La Loggia. It’s a really chill, tapas bar in the Valley. It’s got good drinks and good food.” ● STEVEN STRAIT –The Smile on Bond Street — really, really cool place; a little coffee shop that’s got great food, great coffee; really relaxed, cool place. I grew up here, but I don’t live here anymore. I love staying at the Chelsea Hotel. It’s got so much character; really, amazing history; inspiring place. It’s really kept to its roots. The city’s expanded around it. It’s really held firm. I appreciate that.” ● RESHMA SHETTY – “My favorite restaurant, at the moment, is Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar. I love that place. Bar-wise, the Russian Vodka Room does a mean apple martini. And they have a fabulous happy hour: $5, 4-6.” ● GRAHAM PHILLIPS – “One thing that’s been fun is that I’ve noticed is that all the best pizzerias are in Brooklyn, and I used to never really go to Brooklyn, but now that the show [The Good Wife] films in Brooklyn, I’ve been going to all these pizzerias. I have a list on my phone. Someone sent it to me. I’ve just been trying to check ’em all off my list. Joe’s Pizza, Bleecker and Carmine, unbelievable! Di Fara, Brooklyn, Avenue J — I tried that. That was unbelievable! I also tried Grimaldi’s. And they were all unbelievable. They’re all in the same genre of this authentic New York pizza, but they all have their little twist to it.”