Sandra Bernhard entered the stage last night at Joe’s Pub, where she’ll be performing her latest theatrical incarnation, Sandra Bernhard is #blessed through December 31, and released an exasperated sigh as if to say, “This world is so f*cked. What are we going to do about it?” The actress/comedian/author/singer has been on the scene (make that many scenes) since the early ‘80s and her latest rant is both a culmination of her professional experiences as well as the earnest and humorous embrace of her life as a mother.
A three-piece band, led by longtime musical director Mitch Kaplan and featuring the adorable Kevin Andreas on guitar and synthesizer, backs Bernhard. Vocally, she is in good form with a soaring belt that hovers but rarely hones in on pitch, but it doesn’t really matter because it’s Sandy B. and she owns every moment.
Performing with a music stand and a stack of material that she flips through on a whim, today’s Bernhard may polarize some LGBT’ers as she pokes fun of the term “partner” when referring to her longtime girlfriend, saying that it sounds like a phrase better used for “litigation and light lovemaking.” She also shook up the crowd when recounting her recent visit to the Barclays Center for a Nets game. A sly comment about the rioters outside in reference to the Eric Garner case caused one audience member to scream out “black lives matter!” Bernhard promptly addressed the heckler, saying, “I earned my stripes,” citing her three decades of activism and beginnings in Los Angeles’s black clubs.
On a more sentimental note, Bernhard speaks of her teenage daughter, her mother’s recent death, and remembrances of a failed childhood road trip through the southwest with her now semi-estranged father. “I have always liked who I am but I’ve gone through periods where I haven’t felt secure,” said Bernhard in an interview with The Independent, “that’s part of growing up, to have experience to force you through the meat grinder and come out fully formed.”
She is in full form at Joe’s Pub, unafraid to stumble over new material and push the audience’s comfort zone as well as her own as she reads a self-deprecating message from Jane Fonda, who mistakenly responded to an email thinking she was Sandra Bullock. Another fun, imaginary riff places Bernhard at a rural diner where she encounters Fleetwood Mac member Christine McVie as the band member takes some time off from show business to work as a hostess. And for a final flourish, Bernhard delivers her signature reading of excerpts from The New York Times as well as ridiculous advertisements that poke fun at our culture’s obsession with youth and beauty.
For dedicated fans, Bernhard makes herself available after each performance to sign T-shirts, posters, and DVDs/CDs, unabashedly capitalizing on her #blessed life.
Sandra Bernhard is #blessed
Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater
425 Lafayette Street
Through December 31
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor and a regular contributor to Passport Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @roodeloo.