Sandra Bernhard on Top

  • by Sari Staver
  • Sunday February 12, 2017
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Sandra Bernhard: "I try to take care of myself."
Sandra Bernhard: "I try to take care of myself."

At age 61, she takes the subway to work every day and usually flies coach, but pop culture icon Sandra Bernhard talks like a celebrity, even if her lifestyle doesn't scream "diva."

"I'm at the top of my game," Bernhard told the B.A.R. in a recent telephone interview about her new show, Sandra Monica Blvd: Coast to Coast, playing the Regency Ballroom on Thurs., Feb. 16. The show, which Bernhard's official biography describes as a "unique, sharp blend of hysterical insight and outspoken views, with rock-n-roll, cabaret, stand-up and a little burlesque," also features her band, The Sandyland Squad.

The one-woman shows she's been presenting for almost three decades have been "thematically similar, weaving together" the global news with personal stories that reflect pop culture. "We're just one week into this new government debacle," she said, and "we're all feeling like we're under siege." Given that reality, the main goal of the show "is to be uplifting and compelling," she said. "I'm really good at doing that."

When Bernhard isn't traveling with her show, she's boarding the M line in NYC every morning in her second year hosting her SiriusXM show Sandyland on Andy Cohen's Radio Andy channel 102. Last week, Bernhard even tweeted a photo of herself, bundled up, waiting on the subway platform. She also recently appeared on the Hulu series Difficult People, guest-starred on several episodes of the CBS sitcom Two Broke Girls and on episodes of Fox TV's Brooklyn 99.

Bernhard, who made her mark by riffing on the Hollywood culture, continues in that vein. The new show, which has played to sold-out audiences in NYC and LA, is getting great reviews. Among those gushing at her performance was Variety, which wrote, "What makes Bernhard's comedy so rare is that within every keenly observed pop culture rant, there's an element of piercing truth. Bernhard remains as brash and brazen as she was in the 1970s."

Bernhard agrees, pointing out that at 61, "I have the same energy I did at 25." That drive "is typical of people who work in entertainment and the arts, who live on one of the coasts. We don't stop. We work until we die. Staying engaged is the secret" to keeping youthful energy and mental sharpness, she said.

While she is happy to discuss details of her professional life, Bernhard remains somewhat secretive about her personal life. She lives in New York with her partner of more than 17 years ("Marriage is not something that works for us," she explains), and her daughter now attends college on the East Coast. She said, "I don't like to use details about my family to promote my career."

She is quick to explain that she doesn't consider her performance comedy. "I have never been interested in stand-up comedy," she said, either performing or attending. "Nobody else's work has been more reflective of the hipness factor. I don't beat people over the head with the obvious. My work appeals to smart people" who understand irony. With a longtime following from the gay community, Bernhard said that's "easy to explain. The gay community is sophisticated. They appreciate hip, smart material."

Bernhard has performed in San Francisco many times, and it's been one of her favorite tour spots. "San Francisco has changed a lot," she said. "The homeless situation is untenable, and the city just does not have the same vibe it had in the 70s and 80s. But of course it's still a beautiful city, and like all the big cities, it's harder and harder for young artists to live there. The world is just not as fun and groovy anymore." On this trip, Bernhard and her band have rented a three-bedroom house through AirBnB, where they will stay for a couple of nights. "It's going to be fun," she said.

Bernhard will be taking her show to Atlanta and Florida in March. When she's at home, Bernhard reads The New York Times, The Washington Post, Vanity Fair and The Daily Kos. Although she avoids watching TV news, she says the programing on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon is "excellent."

She recently participated in the Women's March in NYC, marching with people from the publishing industry. She loves to cook and entertain, and has a circle of friends "from every imaginable walk of life," including a number of artists who live in the same building.

Other projects on the drawing board include several pending proposals for scripted television shows, one based on her experiences when she first moved to LA working as a manicurist, the other a collaboration with drag performer Justin Vivian Bond.

Bernhard travels frequently to LA for business meetings, typically staying with friends. The travel, including cramped legroom in coach, "isn't exciting anymore," she said. "But I manage to bring along some nice food, bring a good book, and try to take care of myself.

"I plan to keep working in television and film and of course my live performances," she said. "Eventually, I'm hoping to someday do a Broadway play. I'm open to anything. If it sounds right, I'm going to grab it."

Tickets: axs.com/events/329001/sandra-bernhard-tickets