Sandra Bernhard Brings Music, Edgy Wit and Plenty of Laughs to Sandemonium
By Marilyn Lester
For the last several decades, Sandra Bernhard has been a trenchant force on the entertainment scene, universally acknowledged as a pop culture icon. She’s a heroic performer who holds up the mirror of accountability, calls people out, never minds her language and makes everyone laugh in the process. Her new holiday show at Joe’s Pub, Sandemonium, promises more of Bernhard’s bite, in a kaleidoscope of music and cutting-edge comedy. Backed by her Sandyland Squad Band – music director-pianist Mitch Kaplan, drummer John Badamo and guitar player Ben Chuchinsky – Bernhard will be playing two shows a night from December 26 through NY’s Eve December 31.
“Sandemonium is a wrap-up of one of the most challenging years we’ve ever had,” the actress-singer-comedienne reports. This years show has plenty to deal with: climate disaster, Russian invasion, unhinged leaders, slut shaming, gender issues, white supremacists, opioid addiction, and so much more. Although she’s not known for holding anything back, and her language is liberally full of expletives, Bernhard explains she doesn’t address her subject matter directly. “I take it apart and reconstruct it to take the audience to a higher place. I do that with all of my shows,” she states. Elevating her audience is a prime objective. Bernhard is serious about consciousness-raising. To quote her publicity, “Sandy will bring you back from your bad trip, soothe your aura, calm your chakra’s, shut down your electronics, find your mantra, and do a meditation to let it all go!”
In contrast to relatively calmer, more serene years gone by, Bernhard acknowledges that these current, unprecedented national and world events call for ramping up her process. “Times have changed so much,“ she notes. “You have to keep your wits about you to keep current – to be clear about what has to be said.” As a consequence, although her rants may seem spontaneous, there’s little space for improvisation. “With this kind of a show,” she says, “there’s no room to be off your game.” Of course, if an inspiration should occur, there is the possibility that the quick-witted Bernhard will add a quip or two to her delivery. Plus there will be music and songs – pop, rock and ballads, delivered in the inimitable Bernhard style, which includes a very legit voice.
The entertainer also maintains a robust acting career. Bernhard’s acting goes back to 1991, when she played five years on Roseanne as Nancy Bartlett—the first openly gay character on a network sitcom. It’s an opportunity to switch gears for the star. “Acting is collaborative,” she says. “Much different from developing material.” She explains there’s not as much pressure in the process with speaking someone else’s lines, but that it keeps all of her work interesting. “I like going back and forth between acting and my own shows,” she notes. “It keeps me fresh and on my toes.” Bernhard most recently completed a guest appearance on the new Hulu comedy series Difficult People, created by her friend Julie Klausner, and also returned to her recurring role on the CBS TV sitcom 2 Broke Girls. Bernhard has also guest-starred on episodes of Fox TV‘s Brooklyn Nine-Nine as the character Gina’s “eccentric” and “offbeat” mother, Darlene Linetti.
A tremendously fun aspect in her life has been her gig hosting her own popular daily radio show Sandyland on SiriusXM Radio’s Radio Andy channel (102). “Three years ago, or so,” she says, “My friend Andy Cohen approached me about doing this show on his channel.” She’s having a ball at it. “I have a platform to do what I do, and to do basically what I want with it,” she says. Bernhard’s musings, songs, interviews, and rants have been well received and applauded. The show has given her free reign to be spontaneous, speak her truth and be as much of a gadfly as she wishes. Her motivation, she says, as with all of her entertainment forays, is to entertain and have fun. Her guests are wide-ranging, from Rachel Maddow, Jeffrey Tambor and Bette Midler to Jane Lynch, Jane Fonda and Debbie Harry. The show has been so successful it’s expanded her fan base and her audience significantly.
When Sandemonium completes its run at Joe’s Pub, Bernhard will take the show on the road throughout 2018 around the country and overseas. As to what lies ahead for Bernhard: more of the same. She’s an entertainer who’s been fortunate in attaining her goals in building an enduring career. She will continue to tap into her source and her muse, she says, to better define how she sees the world and lives in it – a world in which she very solidly knows where she stands. “It’s about evolving,” she says. That’s what’s most exciting.” One thing is for sure, as the world evolves, the evolution of Sandra Bernhard within it will bring a continued bounty of talent and observational comedy with her unique flare and colorful commentary.
Photos: J. Graham
Sandemonium with Sandra Bernhard plays at Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette Street, in NYC. From December 26-30 with shows at 7:30 pm and 9:30 pm and New Year’s Eve, December 31 at 9pm and 11pm.
For reservations/tickets: Phone (212) 539-8778 or visit: