Sandra Bernhard plays Feinstein's for Pride

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday June 14, 2022
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Sandra Bernhard photo: J. Graham
Sandra Bernhard photo: J. Graham

Way back before the turn of the century, in 1998, Sandra Bernhard mounted her one-woman Broadway show "I'm Still Here...Damn It!," On one hand that title reflected the sort of spotlight-addicted celebrity that the queer actress-singer-raconteuse —who will appear at Feinstein's at the Nikko next Thursday through Saturday— has always half-been and half-satirized.

On the other hand, that title encapsulated the frustration of an angry, compassionate queer woman who, after nearly two decades of comedic banshee-cries against misogyny, homophobia, Hollywood self-absorption and unbridled capitalism, realized that her screeds had become no less urgent.

Now, yet another quarter century down the road, while she may be more recognized her for her tart TV roles on "Roseanne" and, recently, as Nurse Jackie in "Pose," the spitfire standup Bernhard is still here.

And damn it, while one wishes one could fondly consider her schtick "retro" or "old school," its doesn't just remain of the moment: With the imminent overturn of Roe vs. Wade, the red-state red-meat political theater of "Don't Say Gay," and the trumped up mischaracterizations of critical race theory, it's become urgently so.

Staying in the now

"There's no nostalgia to my performing or my life," said Bernhard, 68, in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter last week. "I know that there are people who have been coming out to see me forever and that it might be attached to memories of their past, but that has nothing to do with how I feel when I write my material or when I walk on stage.

"I'm moving ahead. I'm never out of the present. And I never will be. Because there's always somebody lurking, ready to pull the rug out from marginalized communities. Women, queer people, people of color."

Asked whether crafting and performing a finely honed version of her personal rage on stage is exhausting, Bernhard said, "Of course it is. We all get depleted sometimes. But honey, I enjoy a good life with my friends and my girlfriend and my daughter."

Sandra Bernhard photo: J. Graham  

Modern family
Bernhard and writer/producer Sara Switzer, who have been partners for nearly 30 years, co-parented Cicely Yasin Bernhard, who turns 24 next month.

"She has excellent taste," said Bernhard, when asked whether her daughter shares her mother's fascination with popular culture. "She's gotten me into some things I hadn't really known about, like "Broad City." She was into that before it was hip. She's not queer, but she's up on everything next-level queer in her generation. She's very plugged in and very respectful."

As her daughter was growing up, Bernhard said that in addition to contemporary media, she exposed Cicely to pop culture that she'd enjoyed in her own younger years. Tellingly, Bernhard singles out a sly touchstone of 20th-century women's empowerment:

"She grew up watching 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show.' She started out with everything that I once loved and branched off from there," said Bernhard, noting her daughter's fondness Nick Kroll and John Mulaney's "Oh, Hello!" and "RuPaul's Drag Race."

Satellite dish
Bernhard, who memorably appeared as a talk show host's stalker in Martin Scorcese's 1984 "King of Comedy" has, in recent years, spent much of her time hosting a talk show of her own, "Sandyland" —a live weekday hour of free-form musings, interviews and music— on the Sirius XM radio channel curated by her friend Andy Cohen.

"The immediacy of it is great," said Bernhard, "Because I can comment on whatever is happening in the culture so quickly. When I'm working on putting together my stage act, I always have to be aware of the lag time between when I write something and when the performance will be.

"I love that live-ness of radio. That's why I have no interest in podcasts. I can have glitches and trip all over myself. I think that makes for the best reflection of life and the best art. I love those beautiful glitches."

Sandra Bernhard in "Bern It Down," June 23 through 25. Feinstein's at the Nikko. $140. 222 Mason St. 886-663-1063.

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