Sandra Bernhard (Photo: Brian Ziegler)
This week comedienne, chanteuse and star of stage and screen Sandra Bernhard returned to Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater for her annual year-end rant and songfest. Self-described as a “pioneer of the one-woman show,” Ms. Bernhard still retains that formidable presence that put her on the entertainment map 40 years ago.
The audience at the performance I attended skewed drastically toward middle-aged and white, which I note not as a means to diminish Ms. Bernhard’s impact but rather to bolster it. Through the years she’s been an advocate for LGBTQ rights and other humanitarian efforts. Her observations, both intimate and macro, continue to pack a punch and would be well appreciated by a new and diverse generation of audiences.
Wearing a fuschia pink-sequined tank dress, Ms. Bernhard opened the 75-minute set with an ironic rendition of the title song from 1968’s Broadway musical Promises, Promises. The musical’s lyrics are as punchy as ever, and everyone in the audience knew Ms. Bernhard was jabbing at President Trump when singing:
You made me promises promises
Knowing I’d believe
You knew you’d never keep
Throughout the evening she vacillated between personal anecdotes like comparing aging to the windblown disintegration of Mount Rushmore and world issues such as global warming, observing, “You know you’re in trouble when Poland is setting the bar on climate change.”
Given the recent Roseanne debacle last year in which the star’s racist tweet resulted in the hit TV show being canceled, it was inevitable that Ms. Bernhard would offer her own commentary, but she chose to keep it succinct and jugular, merely stating that the controversial star had “lost her f*cking shit.”
At 63 years old, Ms. Bernhard was, perhaps, more reflective than when I first saw her New Year’s show at the Jane Street Theatre back in the late 90s. This time around, she wandered down memory lane, recalling her father’s various marriages and a move to the Southwest. She also paid tribute to longtime flight attendant Diane Patterson, who Ms. Bernhard became acquainted with during her decades of long-haul flights between coasts. After 49 years of service, Ms. Patterson retired and the entertainer featured her on her award-winning SiriusXM radio show this past November.
These flashes of vulnerability only made Ms. Bernhard’s punch lines land harder. Her year-end gig has always been a work in progress, so there were inevitable stumbles along the way, and her love for singing was more about passion and delivery than technique. But that’s all part of the fun when visiting Sandyland.
Leaving the audience with a butt-kick of optimism, her parting words were, “Stay in the trenches.” Not a bad mantra for 2019.
Coming Up at Joe’s Pub
Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore!
The Penny Arcade Sex and Censorship Show
Various dates through January 13
Anne Steele: EP Release
The Losers Lounge Tribute to Aretha Franklin