Some might call Sandra Bernhard the Siren of Snark, the Snide and the Snarl, but the celebrity comedian is so much nicer and kinder and sweeter than anyone would ever suspect when she’s not on stage. And that’s her secret.
When she’s on, channeling the moment, she can be so sharp that a laser would be a blunt instrument in another’s hands. Yet the truth is, at this point in her multi-faceted career, she’s actually mellowed, dare we say—her word—matured. Gone are the shows when she’d grab a flashlight and stab a cowering audience member with its probing beam and skewer him or her with her steely wit.
“You kind of get a little more sophisticated as the years go by,” she told the Press recently on the phone from her apartment in Chelsea. “You do things differently. I’m certainly not going to talk about…dating!”
Long Islanders who didn’t make her critically acclaimed run at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan over the winter holidays will get their chance to catch Bernhard on Saturday, April 13, at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, which, she made clear, better not be a comedy club or “I’ll be calling my agents when I hang up and firing them!”
Despite her years in the business as a very funny performer—and an award-winning actor for her role as a stalker in Martin Scorsese’s dark classic, The King of Comedy, Bernhard says, “I never played comedy clubs on Long Island!” Those clubs are too small to encompass everything she does.
“I like to reveal more of myself, it’s more personal, it’s more global,” she says. “It kind of covers the whole landscape of culture that we all go through every day.”
She says she knows the Island—her uncle was a doctor in Merrick—and could find her way from Hauppauge to Patchogue “if I had to!” She’ll be performing her act, “I Love Being Me, Don’t You,” which has a little bit of everything, including her band, the Flawless Zircons.
As she put it, “It’s a big, fabulous, fun show that covers all the different bases of entertainment, from burlesque to cabaret to rock ‘n’ roll to comedy. It’s old school and post-modern, all put-together!”
In her show, she tells stories and sings, drawing “little bits and pieces” from Barbara Streisand, Carol Burnett, Tina Turner, Stevie Nicks and even Joni Mitchell and melding them “into my own musical, comedic sensibilities.”
Her albums include “I’m Your Woman,” “Excuses for Bad Behavior” and “Whatever It Takes.” She’s also performed with Chrissie Hinds, Cyndi Lauper and the Scissor Sisters. On “Roseanne” she played Nancy Bartlett, the first openly gay character on a network sitcom. Recently she did another ground-breaking series, DTLA (short for Downtown Los Angeles), on the Logo cable network, and completed a stint on ABC’s “Neighbors.” But by all accounts, she first made her mark when she starred with Jerry Lewis and Robert Di Nero in “The King of Comedy,” which is getting a much welcome makeover in time for its 30th anniversary as it closes this year’s Tribeca Film Festival on April 27.
Working with Jerry Lewis, she told us, was “not easy but fabulous, you know…to observe him and get to be around his madness and brilliance.”
Not too long ago Andy Cohen, the dapper host of Bravo’s “Watch What Happens,” happily dubbed Bernhard the “Margaret Mead of Pop Culture,” and she didn’t contradict him. She was sitting next to Jane Fonda deconstructing the “Real Housewives” phenomenon. Although Fonda has done 28 workout-related videos and she’s done none, Bernhard doesn’t mind. “Do I look like somebody who would do a workout tape?” she smirks.
She will work up a sweat, though, when she plays Patchogue.
“I like new things and I like old things,” she says. “I like smart people and I like people who have trail-blazed and taken chances. Those are all my influences! And I try to bring that all together in a really compelling, entertaining night that people will walk away from going, ‘Wow! She took me someplace! She didn’t leave me in the lurch.’ That’s really what I attempt to do every time I step on stage.”