By Brian Scott Lipton . . .
Sandra Bernhard has been part of our national consciousness for the past four decades, from movies such as The King of Comedy, TV shows including Roseanne and her incredible career as a live performer at the nation’s top clubs. This month, Bernhard is returning to live performing for the first time in 18 months with her “Madness and Mayhem” shows at City Winery at Hudson River Park in Manhattan on August 31st (which is already sold out) but a second show added on August 28th, City Winery in Philadelphia on September 1st and City Winery in Boston on September 2nd. (She will also return to Joe’s Pub with a brand new show, Bern It Down, December 26-31.)
TheaterPizzazz recently spoke to Bernhard about her City Winery shows, her popular radio program, her amazing work on the TV series Pose, and what 2022 might have in store for her.
TP: “Madness and Mayhem” could mean so many things. What can we expect to hear from you?
SB: The last time I performed this show, at the end of 2019 at Joe’s Pub, it was more about the madness of the Trump years. Now almost two years later, we’ve gone to other places we never imagined, not just the Covid-19 Pandemic but the reality that some people seem to choose not to be vaccinated because they either like chaos or it’s some form of deflection for them from the boredom or restlessness in their own lives. But my shows are not meant to be a political soapbox. I am here mostly to entertain and engage people through my crazy stories and songs. So many of my pieces are simply funny stories and recollections from my life that all people can relate to. I realize audiences want to be transported away from real life more than ever. I think my job right now is to be a healer.
TP: How hard was it for you to be away from the stage during the pandemic?
SB. I missed live performing like crazy. It is so much part of my DNA that there were times it was literally painful to not stand on the stage. But whether 30 people or 500 people come to these shows, I promise they will get the same experience. I am so excited to do this again!
TP: You have been hosting your own hugely popular daily show Sandyland on SiriusXM Radio’s Radio Andy channel for almost six years. Is it still fun?
SB: Absolutely. I am still loving it; it’s been a great outlet for my daily thoughts. I think it was a lifeline for both me and my listeners during the pandemic. And it was great that I was able to work from home and so many people wanted to talk about their thoughts and emotions. It was truly a luxury to be able to make such a beautiful connection with so many people during this difficult period!
TP: You were so brilliant these past three seasons as the no-nonsense yet compassionate Nurse Judy on Pose! Tell me what being on that show meant to you?
SB: I was so lucky! It helped that I knew the emotions behind the reality of the show. The fact that trans people and gay people were such outsiders back then – who could imagine in the 1980s that all the real gay and trans people on the show, especially the fabulous MJ Rodriguez, would be stars today! And I loved that Pose really showed the disparity between people who have everything and those who don’t. Nurse Judy fit where I am in my life now, so I was able to bring my collection of experiences over the past 40 years, the essence of the time the show was set, which I lived through, and the dedication of those nurses like Judy, which was not hard for me to imagine.
TP: Was it important for you in terms of being seen as an actress?
SB: Yes! Professionally, it was one of the first roles where I truly got to dig into a different character. It was a big relief to not be asked to play myself. When your stock and trade is being audacious and over-the-top, those are the parts you usually get hired to do. I feel like here I tried to seize every opportunity that I got on the show to prove I could be what other people would never have imagined from me.
TP: Have you thought about your future, both personally and professionally?
SB: I want to segue into another TV situation; I don’t want these big gaps between gigs. I was in LA for a couple of weeks recently and I love it. I am ready to be there full-time or at least become really bi-coastal. Of course, I still love performing live and doing the radio show and I don’t want to give those things up. And for me, stuff often comes out of left field. So no matter what or where, I hope to be captivating audiences in 2022.