Nightlife » Features

Sandra Bernhard @ Bimbo’s

by Jim Provenzano
Thursday May 9, 2013

One would think that Sandra Bernhard, the feisty comic actress and chanteuse, would have mellowed as she moves into her second decade as a spouse and mother.

One would think so. And while Bernhard has certainly matured, and said that she views the world, and life, differently as a mother, fortunately, the opinionated performer still has a few skewering points for others in celeb land.

Bernhard will premiere her new show at Bimbo's, the North Beach nightclub, May 16 and 17. On May 18, she'll perform at the Center for the Arts in scenic Grass Valley. Her tour continues east and to Canada.

"I think the last time I performed at Bimbo's was about seven years ago," said Bernhard in a phone interview. "I've since been in about a million other places." Her upcoming tour includes several U.S. cities and Toronto, Canada.

Known in my New York days for her solo show "Without You I'm Nothing," which ran for six months Off-Broadway in 1988, Bernhard has had rave successes with subsequent shows, several of which became CDs and DVDs.

She also had some wild TV appearances, include this chat on the David Letterman Show in 1989, and the 1988 infamous "Cubbyhole" gig with Madonna.

Her music albums include "I'm Your Woman," "Excuses for Bad Behavior" and "Whatever It Takes." And don't forget the books, "Confessions of a Pretty Lady," "Love, Love and Love," and "May I Kiss You on the Lips, Miss Sandra?" Some of these items will be available at shows at what Bernhard called "the merch table."

Along with her stage shows, Bernhard's contributions to film and TV are notable. Who can forget her over-the-top role as a wild stalker-fan in league with Robert DeNiro's "Rupert Pupkin" in 1983's "The King of Comedy?"

Her roles as an out lesbian in "Roseanne," and as herself in the later lauded extra-gay "Will & Grace," won accolades while spreading her unique persona to wider audiences.

Asked what songs she’ll be performing at her cabaret show, Bernhard demurred.

"It changes, so I never tell anyone what I’ll perform," she said, but did add that her new repertory will be "eclectic; everything from rock and roll to Broadway to Blues. It’s all over the map."

And Bernhard will blend her storytelling monologues in between songs. "So, it’s not just a list of songs. They’re interwoven."

With her daughter Cicely, and her partner Sara Switzer, Bernhard now enjoys a family life as well. Has her darkly comic world-view softened, combined with a perspective as a parent?


"Of course, when it’s a direct reflection that affects her, I see things differently," said Bernhard. "Do I look at the world the same? My politics and my stance is the same; revolution, baby!"

Bernhard retains that sincerity. "I’m a left-wing liberal who wants equality for everyone; women’s reproductive rights. Rights are always going to be the most important thing to me."

Her artistic interests reflect that, and despite the trend of today’s youth being lost in a world of technology and self-absorption, Bernhard says her daughter defies such trends, particularly those of the child of a celebrity.

"She’s a wonderful cook, an excellent student; she’s about social inclusion and fairness," said Berhard. "And she’s very respectful of other people."

Bernhard mentions a balance in her personal and professional life, where her daughter and partner occasionally join her on a part of her tour, but do not travel with her on the road.

As for technology, Bernhard tries to find a balance. "She grew up in a situation where there’s a lot of talking, so she’s able to keep her talking skills. But you can’t stop the kids from being on it."

Her comedy still defies convention, and an accurate definition, which is part of her charm.

"My shows have never been stand up, but more conversational; telling stories, fictional ones interwoven into it," explained Bernhard. "I will do my occasional version of a one-liner, but it ends up sounding a bit crazy."

Bernhard also clarified my own attempt to describe her act.

"It’s not sarcastic, but ironic," she corrected. Her use of kitschy songs, ranging from Neil Diamond to The Doors and Prince, show a reverence that’s simultaneously funny. How is it that she can inspire such multi-layered reactions?

"I think it combines a reference to the time when a certain song was popular, and the emotions we have for it; like Prince, the madness of his songs," she explained. "I leave it in without making fun of it."

And while it’s an ’adult’ show with a few naughty words sure to be tossed about, Bernhard hopes to attract a new audience who may not have enjoyed the past few decades of her performance style. "They may not get all the historical references, but it’s a fun show."

Among the newer yet timeless topics, the one that finally got Bernhard on a roll was the subject of coming out as gay.

"I never did ’come out,’ and yet my work spoke of total revolution and anarchy," said Bernhard, who’s been out and proud for decades. I think it should just be there."

"When republicans come out, like Ken Mehlman, who was honored by the Human Rights Campaign after he made a substantial donation to them, Bernhard considers such gestures useless.

"I don’t give a shit; go back in!" she said. "For people who remain closeted, and are cheap in their giving to the world, I don’t want to know that they’re gay. Their excuses are despicable."

Instead of honoring late bloomers and recalcitrant adult gays who come out only after a scandal exposes them, Bernhard said, "The gay organizations should be saying, ’Look at all the harm you did. You know what? You’re not included! Why should we celebrate you?’"

As for seeking out or receiving similar awards and celebrations, Bernhard brushed that aside. "I don’t want to be a part of that. I don’t want to be celebrated. Everybody should just go out every day to be best person they can. Uplift! Do good! Everybody needs to make it that easy for themselves."

And speaking of uplifting, Bernhard added a reminder. "Buy a ticket to my show! There won’t be any awards, but you’ll have a great time!"

And, with a final burst of energetic poise, she said, to sum up, "I’m Sandra Bernhard, someone who believes in total freedom. That’s how I define myself."

Yep, the old Sandra is still there.

Copyright Bay Area Reporter. For more articles from San Francisco's largest GLBT newspaper, visit


  • Williamnsf, 2013-05-14 08:50:41

    Very cool! Sandra Bernhard that is! Total freedom! Be whatever u want to be; however u want to be it!

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