Comedian/Actress/Singer Sandra Bernhard will perform her all new show “Feel The Bernhard” on Saturday, April 30th at Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio. This tour is being called “A Music and Comedy Cabaret” that also includes a four-piece backing band.
Bernhard, the host of the hugely popular daily show Sandyland which airs on SirusXM’s Radio’s channel 102, called NEO Music Scene to talk about her career and discuss her upcoming appearance at the Trinity Cathedral.
Greg Drugan: Hi Sandra, thanks for calling me today. Where are you calling from?
Sandra Bernhard: New York
GD: Are you doing a full-fledged tour with “Feel The Bernhard” or are you just playing a few select dates?
SB: No, I just go out a couple of times a month and do a few dates. So this is just a one-off show in Cleveland.
GD: Who were some of your comedic influences growing up?
SB: It has been so eclectic from when I was really little; people like Carol Burnett, Carol Channing, and Mary Tyler More. Then the comics of the day like Totie Fields and a little bit later Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler. Music was always an influence too; growing up in Flint, Michigan all the songs out of Motown and early rock and roll, jazz and all of the things that my three older brothers played.
GD: When did you know that you wanted to be a comedian?
SB: Since I was five! (laughs) I knew I wanted to be an entertainer from the get-go. Some people are sort of born with it and it’s in their DNA. From having three older brothers and I was the baby so I was always getting all of the attention; I think it became second nature to me and I liked it! So I gravitated to it and embraced it.
GD: I know you got your start in television working on The Richard Pryor Show, what was it like working with Richard Pryor even though the show was short-lived?
SB: It was great. The whole ensemble was fantastic. My friend Paul Mooney, Richard’s head writer and producer, discovered me when I first started playing comedy clubs. So he put together the entire ensemble and Richard was just really open and encouraging of people. He was not the type of person who was threatened or needed to be the center of attention. It was a very easy, supportive setting for young performers.
GD: Were you still in contact with him after the show, because it only ran four episodes?
SB: Yes, because of Paul Mooney who has been a life-long friend. I didn’t see Richard as much but he would pop into clubs and stuff. There are people that you respect, that even though you know them, you don’t cross that line. He was a very private person, but always incredibly sweet.
GD: Your first movie role was in The King of Comedy which may have been a pretty daunting debut working with people like Scorsese and Robert DeNiro; did you feel any pressure once you saw who was in that lineup?
SB: Actually, when you work with such high caliber talent, you feel the opposite. I felt that I could really go for it and be outrageous. Because no one felt threatened and everyone just rises to the occasion. For me, I felt that I could really just go for it because that’s what they wanted; someone who was off the wall and ballsy and irreverent and that’s how I got the part. I felt very comfortable with everybody and it was a great experience.
GD: Well, that was a great role and you were fantastic.
SB: Yes it was. Thank you!
GD: Going into the ‘90s, did you have to audition for your role on Roseanne or did they have you in mind when they brought on that character?
SB: No. Well I didn’t really know Roseanne on the comedy scene because she came after me. But I met her at a party at our mutual agent’s house one night and we really hit it off. A couple of weeks later, they called and asked if I would come out and do this role, which kind of parlayed into the five or six seasons that I was on. It was great!
GD: After that role, I read that you turned down the role of Miranda Hobbes in Sex in the City; do you regret that decision or wasn’t it the right fit for you at the time?
SB: It was the beginning of (series on) cable television and the money was just weird and not very good. I was just coming off Rosanne and it was a different thing. I guess had I known what the future of television would be, I would have jumped on it. Sure, I guess there’s always some regret when you see how the series plays out, but you have to move forward because there’s always something else that takes its place. I was out doing one of my one-woman shows that I also directed. So things just happen the way they happened.
GD: I loved your take on female artists from the 90s asking where were the Joan Jetts, Pat Benatars and Ann and Nancy Wilsons from that age? Twenty years later we are asking the same question: Where are the current female rockers?
SB: There are some good R&B artists like Beyonce and Rihanna and there are some good rock acts as well. It’s just a different time. Artists used to have more time to develop and it was a much more organic way of becoming good at what you do. It’s just harder and harder now with all the T.V. shows like The Voice and American Idol; it’s not just a very comprehensive way to becoming a complete artist. It’s not a very interesting conversation because we all know, being in the music world, it’s just not what it was. There is also just a limited amount of music that doesn’t end up sounding redundant. It’s hard to be Joni Mitchell anymore!
GD: Cleveland is the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Have you ever been there?
SB: Yes, I think I was there years ago. I’ll try to pop in if I can find the time.
GD: You have a very nice voice; when did you realize that you could sing?
SB: As well as being funny, I always wanted to be an entertainer and music was always a part of what I did. I always sang and when I first moved to L.A. I kind of wanted to go down the music route. Because I was funny, it was easy and natural and I kind of fell into it from that perspective. But at the same time I was singing, I just kind of did it backwards. It’s been unique and fun. I love singing and I love song writing. It’s great to have an all-around career.
GD: Are you bringing your band with for this show and what can we expect from this performance?
SB: I’m actually using local musicians from Cleveland. I have a Chicago band and I have a band in the South. I have my long-time musical director Mitch Kaplan who’s based in Los Angeles. It’s cost-prohibitive to bring people around for just one night, so we have our charts. The music is very eclectic and it’s very tasteful; we play some covers that I think I bring a unique approach to. I also do some of my own songs that I’ve written with Mitch. It all blends well with the stories that make for a fun show! I like to keep people engaged.
GD: So it’s a good mix of music, stand-up and stories.
SB: Yes, and sometimes it’s complete improvisation. It just depends what’s going on with me and my mood. It really can go all over the place which keeps it interesting for me. When I’m engaged the audience is engaged.
GD: Do you have any reservations about playing in a cathedral here in Cleveland? Will you hold back?
SB: They asked me to keep the show “language light.” I go on T.V. all of the time so it’s in the back of my mind, so I may hold back a little bit. I don’t really edit myself, but I understand and I don’t have a problem with it. Ultimately, what is language? It’s there to be manipulated.
GD: It’s a beautiful cathedral, I’m sure you’ll like it.
SB: Yes, my friend Belinda Carlisle is going to be there. I look around and see where certain people are playing, and that seemed like a groovy place. You don’t always want to play the typical casinos or rock and roll club. Sometimes the theaters are too big and this seemed like the right size for me. I’m sure it’s a very beautiful setting so I’ll make it work.
GD: You seem like an open book; are there any topics you won’t discuss?
SB: I try to stay away from things that have been over-talked. Things that are People magazine-esque; those things don’t interest me. I don’t like taking cheap shots because my work is layered and sophisticated. I try to up the ante and make it smart. To me, it’s about bringing something unique and interesting to the crowd.
GD: With the name of your show “Feel the Bernhard” are you a Bernie Sanders supporter?
SB: I think that he’s great and has cracked open a lot of really important topics. But no, I’m a Hillary Clinton supporter. I think she’s the person with the wherewithal to step into the job and make it happen.
GD: Is there anything that you would like to tell the fans of Cleveland?
SB: I’m always real happy to come to the Midwest; I’ve always had an affinity for it. Cleveland has always been a great music and entertainment city that’s been an innovator and it’s great to be coming back!
GD: Well, thank you so much for your time and I’m looking forward to your show in a couple of weeks.
SB: Thank you! I’ll see you soon, honey.
Sandra Bernhard will be bringing her “Feel the Bernhard” show to the Trinity Cathedral on Saturday, April 30 at 8 pm.