Comedienne, rock star and provocateur Sandra Bernhard, is bringing her latest one-woman show, “I Love Being Me, Don’t You,” to OBERON, November 1-4. Bernhard is known for her love of glamour, her acerbic takedowns of celebrities, and her quick-paced, freewheeling, and abrasive commentary on all aspects of popular culture, which she mixes with songs and stories from her life.
She started stand-up at the age of 19, broke into TV on the short-lived “Richard Prior Show” and into film in the Scorsese classic, “The King of Comedy” with Jerry Lewis and Robert DeNiro. In the 80’s she was a frequent guest on the “David Letterman Show.” One characteristically manic and outrageous appearance with Madonna, at the height of the pop-star’s fame, provoked long lasting rumors that the two were lovers. In the early 90’s, Bernhard played Nancy Bartlett on the show “Roseanne,” one of the first openly gay characters on a prime-time sitcom.
Throughout the 00’s, Bernhard continued to appear on television and in live comedy shows. She also incited controversy for slamming the likes of Laura Bush and Sarah Palin in her characteristic style. On her latest live comedy album, she jokes about topics ranging from trying to “be green,” to celebrities Angelina Jolie, Tina Turner and Iman, to taking her girlfriend to a Kabballa Center.
Bernhard chatted on the phone with Blast about Twitter, Occupy Wall Street, observing Yom Kippur and how her show will be “the ultimate hip experience.”
Blast: I know you’ve played Boston before. What have the audiences been like?
Sandra Bernhard: Always an interesting diverse crowd there. Obviously there’s a lot of schools. School’s in session so people are engaged and reading. They’re in touch with what’s going on culturally and socially, so, you know, they’ve always been pretty good crowds.
Blast: You’re touring in support of your album, “I Love Being Me, Don’t You.” Where does the title come from?
SB: Actually a friend of mine came up with it for me. I was down to the wire and I needed a good title. You know, just something in keeping with all of my titles that are kind of laced with irony. It’s wordplay. It’s a fun title. Also it’s sort of a reflection on social media because everyone’s so into talking about themselves that they never know what anyone else is talking about. It’s kind of like, listen to me, I’m the one who has everything to say.
Blast: I know you’re a big Twitter-user. How do you use it? What’s the primary use for you?
SB: Well, the main use is, when I come up with ideas and funny one-liners it’s a great outlet. You know, normally, I always keep notebooks of material for my show, so over the years I’ve had pages and pages of one-liners and funny thoughts that maybe I never got to do because they become irrelevant. The great thing about Twitter is that you can get it out there in the moment. It’s a great place to remind people what you’re thinking of.
Blast: So you’ve got these notebooks, I wanted to ask you—for this show will you be drawing from notes? Have you memorized material? How similar will it be to the stuff on the album?
SB: The live show’s very different from the album because the album was recorded live last year in San Francisco and it was sort of an improvisational show. There were a lot of people on the bill that night. It was fun because we happened to be recording it and put it out. So people who come out to see this show are going to see something much different. There’s a band, there’s, you know, set pieces, it’s more theatrical, it’s more musical. So when they buy the album at the end of the night, it’s cool, because they’ll get something totally different.
Blast: Who’s in the band that you’ll be playing with in Cambridge?
SB: Actually, they’re all going to be people from Berklee that somebody put together for me. So I don’t know them yet but supposedly they’re all really good. [Laughs.]
Blast: Do you know what you’re going to sing ahead of time or will you be keeping them on their toes?
SB: Oh, yeah, of course! It’s a set performance with some improvisational elements in it. Basically it’s a show that I did out in L.A. for two weeks that got great reviews in the L.A. Times, and something I really put together in the beginning of the summer. So I’m now touring with it and adding elements that reflect what’s happening in the news and pop culture.
Blast: Speaking of what’s happening in the news, you’re always very outspoken about politics and I know you’re based in New York. I wanted to asked if you have any opinions about what’s happening in the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Occupy Boston movement that you’ll see when you come here.
SB: I think it’s great! I think it’s great to see a grassroots movement in this country again with people out on the streets who are trying to transform this country back to being in the benefit of the people as opposed to the corporations. And I think it’s having an effect. You know, they’ve been out there, and they continue to be out there and I totally support it.
Blast: Is that something you talk about in your act?
SB: Well, you know, I haven’t been performing since the whole thing happened. I might touch on it in Boston.
Blast: How do you know when you’re ready, that you have enough material to go on the road and do live shows again?
SB: Well, you know, when you’ve been doing it as along as I have, you know how long your show is, you have your set pieces, you have your improv, you have your songs, you know? And night-to-night, one of the things I’m very good at is improvising. So you know, the show could be an hour, it could be two hours depending on how much of a roll I’m on. So, you know, when you’ve been doing it for 30 years you kind of know when your show is ready.
Blast: What are some of the big themes for this show?
SB: Some of the themes are political, some of the themes are personal, some of the themes are memory-kind-of-based and fictionalized stories and songs all kind of interwoven. Some of it’s really funny. I keep it moving very quickly throughout the night and so it’s kind of up to the audience to keep up with me.
Blast: It’s interesting that you say “some of it’s really funny.” Are you comfortable having stretches that are more serious?
SB: I mean, most of it makes people laugh but when I say “just funny” I mean there are pieces, or my one-liners, that are just strictly for laughs and maybe a little less there to kind of stir it up. But overall I think my stuff works on a lot of different levels. That’s certainly what I want the outcome to be.
Blast: I was listening to the San Francisco show, which was wonderful—
SB: Thank you.
Blast: And one of things you were talking about was going to a Kabballa Center, and your Judaism. So I wanted to first say, happy New Year—
SB: Yeah, thank you. L’Shanah Tovah. We’re now into Sukkot tonight, so I’ve got to run into a sukkah for half-an-hour tonight.
Blast: Do you do that? Do you make a sukkah?
SB: I don’t. I can’t really make one in New York but there’s a million of them around. So, I’m going to go Sukkot hopping tonight! It’s really fun to go down there and you know, sit there and shake your lulov and your etrog and do all the things you can do to, you know, [laughs] stay connected.
Blast: What did you do for Yom Kippur this year?
SB: I went to services and fasted. And I did my traditional break-fast, which is to make all the family favorites: blitzes and noodle kugel and bean-and-barley soup. We get bagels and lox. You know, the whole nine yards.
Blast: Did you make any New Year’s resolutions?
SB: That’s the gentile New Year not the Jewish New Year. The Jewish New Year’s more of a transformation. It’s kind of like an opening of the cosmos to do a deep spiritual cleansing, to take a good look at your life over the last year and see how you want to shift it, but it’s not about, uh…making false promises.
Blast: Fair enough.
SB: Yeah, right?
Blast: Right on. Well is there anything else you want to tell people about the show to get them out? Anything else they should look forward to?
SB: Well, just that I think I kind of transcend age and like, time. That’s kind of what I’m good at, is keeping my finger on the pulse of what everyone wants to be a part of which is, you know, the ultimate hip experience, which my shows are. I always like to make sure college-age people—who are going to Harvard or B.U. or wherever they’re going—know that this is a show and an experience they don’t get to see very often. I’ve managed to keep my work very contemporary and yet take all those years of experience and make it kind of masterful.