She’s been in the comedy game for over forty years, starred in a handful of big-budget movies (Madonna: Truth or Dare), revamped prime time television (Roseanne, The L Word, The Sopranos), published three books (Confessions of a Pretty Lady , Love Love and Love), and released several albums of music and mirth (I’m Your Woman, Without You I’m Nothing, Excuses for Bad Behavior).
Now Sandra Bernhard’s bringing it all to Cleveland, wrapped up in ribbons and a bow.
The frequent Howard Stern and Late Night With David Letterman femme fatale will make a rare visit to the North Coast next Saturday, April 30th, with a gig at Trinity Episcopalian Cathedral on Euclid Avenue. The show—entitled Feel the Bernhard—will feature a mix of Bernhard’s signature wit (scathing social commentary and hilarious reflections) and music.
A comedy show and concert…in a church?
Don’t worry, this isn’t Trinity’s first go-around. Working in conjunction with The Elevation Group (Steve Lindecke and Denny Young), the church overlooking CSU has been hosting rock, jazz, and folk artists beneath its historic arches for over two years now. Previous acts to grace the altar / stage include Mary Chapin-Carpenter, Marc Cohn, Bruce Hornsby, Colin Hay, and Belinda Carlisle.
But Sandra will be the first cathedral star to thrust the funny front-and-center.
Raised in Michigan and tested in California, tough cookie Bernhard appeared in The King of Comedy (1983) with Robert Deniro and Track 29 (1988) opposite Gary Oldman. She also popped up on Sesame Street’s Follow That Bird, cameoed in the Bruce Willis adventure Hudson Hawk, and showed up in Fugitive parody Wrongfully Accused and Ben Stiller supermodel spoof Zoolander.
‘90s couch potatoes will remember Sandra as Nancy, the feisty neighbor on ABC’s Roseanne. But Bernhard also put in plenty of face time on Will & Grace, Reel Wild Cinema, Ally McBeal, The Queer Edge, and—more recently—2 Broke Girls.
Feel the Bernhard will combine Sandy’s best unscripted, off-the-cuff comedy and singing. Backed by her Flaming Zircons band, the fashionista and SiriusXM hostess (Sandyland on the Andy Channel 102) will zigzag from intellectual observations, celeb culture scatology, and powerhouse punchlines to the mellifluous musical stylings of Motown and Broadway.
Speaking with us by phone last week, Bernhard wouldn’t dish on precisely what songs she’ll cover. However, she did hint that her show is arranged so that the comedy bits and cabaret numbers will flow together naturally so that it’ll all make sense.
Cleveland is just one of a dozen or so stops on Bernhard’s current tour. She honed some of the new material during a recent three-night sellout at Joe’s Pub in New York.
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: Hello, Sandra! Thanks for talking with us. We’re looking forward to your show at Trinity Cathedral in a couple weeks. We just saw Belinda Carlisle there last night.
SANDRA BERNHARD: That’s why I ended up doing Trinity. Belinda’s a friend, and when I was looking at her dates I saw that venue and thought, “That place looks really cool!” Because there are just so many crappy clubs and casinos and performing arts centers. And that looks like a really unique place. How was her show? Was it good?
EXAMINER: Oh, yeah. Lots of fun.
SANDRA BERNHARD: Great!
EXAMINER: So tell us about your show. Word has it you’re going to mix up the comedy with a bit of cabaret.
SANDRA BERNHARD: I’m coming with material that I’ve been curating over the past couple years. There’s music, and I’m using local musicians for my band. And there’s a lot of improvisation in my shows. There’s always so much going on. I just did a gig in Skokie, and basically the entire show was improvised. Then I threw in the songs, which was really fun. I was on a roll! When I perform, I’m just not ever show. I’ve got a lot of solid pieces that I’ve written and crafted. And sometimes that’s the zone you’re in, and sometimes it’s like, “I’m going to touch on everything!” and you do a stream-of-consciousness thing. But I do touch on everything. I do a little bit of a journey through my world, you know? It’s my personal place—the world as I see it!
EXAMINER: You’re taking people to Sandyland.
SANDRA BERNHARD: Yeah, it’s Sandyland! Exactly. It’s for fans who listen to my show on Sirius, they kind of know the wide range of topics and the passions that I cover. So it’ll be compelling, at the very least!
EXAMINER: With the election coming up I’m sure there’s a lot on your mind, politically speaking.
SANDRA BERNHARD: Well, sure. Of course! There will definitely be some light musings on what’s happening politically. Although, I think that trying to get a few jokes politicians in might fall a little flat. In my estimation, people are covering all that stuff night after night on the talk shows. And I don’t find that particularly sexy or interesting. But it’ll be there. And my opinions will be duly noted [laughs]!
EXAMINER: With respect to the music, what kind of songs will we be hearing?
SANDRA BERNHARD: It’s very eclectic. It’s kind of rock, its pop, there are ballads and some original songs I’ve co-written. I never like to talk about specific songs, because it’s also kind of the tapestry of the show. Some of the songs are actually about the pieces, or the pieces are about the songs, so I like to leave it a little ambiguous.
EXAMINER: They lead in and out of each other, all tied in?
SANDRA BERNHARD: Yeah, exactly.
EXAMINER: I don’t have satellite radio yet. What kind of stuff do you play on your Sirius show?
SANDRA BERNHARD: It’s so eclectic. Here, I’ll grab one of my replay lists. To try to remember everything would be nearly impossible. I’ve been doing the show for seven months, and I try to come up with new songs every day. So for instance—this is my set list for the week I was in L.A. doing the show: “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” by Dionne Warwick; “Going Out of My Head” by Sergio Mendez; “Blue Rondo” by Dave Brubeck; “A Love Supreme” John Coltrane; “Mr. Bojangles” Nina Simone; “Ain’t Got No Life” Nina Simone; “Aquarius / Let the Sun Shine In” by the Original Cast of Hair; “Hosannah” from the Original Cast of Jesus Christ Superstar; “Try to Remember” by the Original Cast of The Fantastics; “I’m Going Home” from the Original Cast of the Rocky Horror Picture Show; “California Dreaming” The Mamas & The Papas; “Dream a Little Dream of Me” Ronna Brown; “California” Joni Mitchell; “Songbird” Christine McVie; “Ladies of the Canyon” Joni Mitchell; “Bennie and The Jets” Elton John; “What’s Goin’ On?” Marvin Gaye; “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me” Linda Ronstadt; “Landslide” Fleetwood Mac; “Lose Again” Linda Ronstadt; “Stand Back” Stevie Nicks; “Crazy On You” Heart; “Cryin’” Aerosmith; and “Is This Love?” by Whitesnake. So that gives you a little indication, but then—you know—it’s all over the map!
EXAMINER: Can I switch gears for a bit and talk about your acting career?
SANDRA BERNHARD: Sure.
EXAMINER: You played Nancy on Roseanne, and your character later came out. That was a first for network television. How do you feel about the impact that’s had on T.V. over the years?
SANDRA BERNHARD: The character was very much a…she was a work in progress. She started off married to Tom Arnold. So she was straight, but then the whole punchline was, Roseanne asked if I wanted to stay on the show. I said sure, so we had to decide what to do with her character. And we decided she wouldn’t stay married to Tom Arnold, to Arnie—because he’s a pig! We were like, “What will happen to Nancy? She’ll probably end up gay.” So that’s how it happened. It was never like this big huge statement. That was the beauty of Roseanne and the show, and her sort of cultural impact. She would approach things and make them funny. It had to be funny, and it had to be part of the story. Then it became this landmark thing. So Nancy was just this nutty character who was like, “I guess I’ll just be gay now.” So that was the knee-jerk reaction. Are we glad it had this impact and influenced other people? Of course we are! But we didn’t set out to do that. Good, important work never sets to hit people over the head with the obvious. That’s always what I try to do in my work, and what Roseanne does in hers.
EXAMINER: Nowadays you have LBGT characters everywhere, like on Modern Family, and it’s just part of the norm.
SANDRA BERNHARD: Yeah. It’s part of the American experience.
EXAMINER: You worked with Martin Scosese and Nicholas Roeg on a couple early pictures. Those are some big names in directing. What were they like?
SANDRA BERNHARD: Just that they’re really open and interesting people to hang out with. So many of the younger directors are a little insecure. Those guys had a lot of philosophical stuff to talk about and reflect upon in their work. They steep themselves in film history, and they’re interested in history in general. It’s always great to talk to people like that. You learn a lot from that kind of talent.
EXAMINER: Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth is a fave of mine, the one with David Bowie.
SANDRA BERNHARD: Nick Roeg I adore and love. He’s just a really…I don’t even know how to describe him. He’s just an iconoclastic, different, all-encompassing person. He’s quite brilliant.
EXAMINER: So you grew up in Detroit? When—and why—did you head out to the West Coast?
SANDRA BERNHARD: Actually no, there was a stop in between. I’m from Flint originally. My parents—my dad—he moved us to Scottsdale, Arizona in the ‘60s. I went to high school in Scottsdale, and then I moved to L.A. when I was nineteen to start performing. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I took a manicuring course so I could work as a manicurist in Beverly Hills and support myself. I kind of just fell into the standup world. But music and singing, that was my first love. And very soon after, I incorporated those elements to create my one-woman show that had the music and the comedy and the commentary and the characters. It’s a real hybrid of everything.
EXAMINER: In the Eighties?
SANDRA BERNHARD: It was the Seventies, honey [laughs]. It was real early on!
EXAMINER: You had regular gigs at the Comedy Store, where almost everyone in standup starts out. Were you close with Robin Williams or Garry Shandling? Those were a couple tough losses.
SANDRA BERNHARD: I knew Robin. We were on the Richard Pryor show together. I was friends with his wife. And I was on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, and The Larry Sanders Show. I don’t know if Garry was at the Comedy Store so much; I think he was more from the improv background. But yes, I worked with all of them.
EXAMINER: You mentioned growing up in Flint. You’ve got to be upset about the water crisis up there.
SANDRA BERNHARD: It’s horrible. They should all be arrested and thrown in jail. They’ve gutted that city and poisoned the people, and they haven’t made it right. It’s outrageous, it’s an abomination. It’s racist. Just awful. I talk about it on my show and done everything I could do to kind of raise consciousness about it, but they’ve seldom gone in and placed any infrastructure in that town. It’s sick.
EXAMINER: You’d think government would have learned after Hurricane Katrina, how to respond better to crises like that.
SANDRA BERNHARD: Well, I mean, it shows you the cynicism of most of the politicians, certainly the right wing politicians—the ones who think people are expendable. That the people are there just to do the dirty work, and if they die, they die. It’s terribly disturbing. It’s gotta change.
EXAMINER: I know you love animals. Didn’t you adopt a dog, Georgie?
SANDRA BERNHARD: He’s sleeping in front of me right now. He’s a rescue from Tennessee, a mix of border terrier and Russell and splash of something else. But he’s very much a terrier. He’s rambunctious and hysterical.
EXAMINER: You have a daughter? What’s she now, twenty?
SANDRA BERNHARD: She’s seventeen.
EXAMINER: Mine will be seventeen this month. What do you think of kids these days, raising them in a “wired” world where everything they say and do might be recorded and posted online for posterity? I made a lot of stupid mistakes as a kid. I’m so glad the internet wasn’t around to preserve them. How do you handle it with your daughter?
SANDRA BERNHARD: Yeah. Well, hopefully the kids are smart enough where they don’t feel like they have to exploit themselves like that. I think you just have to have frank conversations. You either have a smart, savvy kid, or you have a kid who gets sucked in. Occasionally they all have their missteps. But I think if you’re there and you’re present and you go, “Hey, what’s happening here? Let’s talk about it.” I think you can work it out together, work through the whole confusing terrain.
EXAMINER: Well, Sandra, thanks so much for speaking to us.
SANDRA BERNHARD: It’s been my pleasure!
EXAMINER: We’ll catch you in church on April 30th, then!
SANDRA BERNHARD: I’m really excited about it, and I look forward to seeing everyone there. Thanks, honey!
Sandra Bernhard and Flaming Zircons. Saturday, April 30, 2016 at Trinity Cathedral in downtown Cleveland. Tickets $47.50 / $65.00 / $125.00 VIP meet-and-greet. No opener, doors at 7:00pm, show at 8:00pm. Tickets here: http://tinyurl.com/hjguub2