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Sandra Bernhard loves being onstage

The cultural provocateur takes to the REDCAT stage for a live show of her new comedy album 'I Love Being Me, Don't You?'

August 09, 2011|By Deborah Vankin, Los Angeles Times
  • Sandra Bernhard heads to the REDCAT in a staging of her new comedy album 'I Love Being Me, Don't You?'
Sandra Bernhard heads to the REDCAT in a staging of her new comedy album 'I… (Eva Tuerbl )

On her new live comedy album, "I Love Being Me, Don't You?," Sandra Bernhard's wry, raucous stand-up careens from acidic commentary about Angelina Jolie's lips to her daughter's recent bat mitzvah gift wish — a Japanese toilet — to how kabbalah "went all wrong."

Now Bernhard will perform some of that material live — along with plenty of new comedy and music — in her latest staged show of the same name, including nine shows at REDCAT beginning Aug. 11. "I Love Being Me, Don't You?" — the stage version — promises a 90-minute mash-up of irreverent, edgy stand-up, nutty autobiographical pieces, biting if foul-mouthed cultural and political riffing, and high-octane musical numbers — all delivered with high style and diva-esque panache.

It's all very much "of-the-moment," says Bernhard.

"I may talk about 'Glee' or dinner with Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, or a little about Arnold Schwarzenegger," Bernhard says. "Funny, little anecdotal stories, either made up or real. Unless I'm on a tear because I'm furious — I'm furious these people are out there destroying America!"

That undercurrent of anger, paired with an unbridled candor and a deep love of the arts, runs through much of Bernhard's work. Perhaps it powers her productivity. At 56, the comedian/actress/singer-songwriter and outspoken gay icon has traversed the worlds of TV, film, stand-up comedy and cabaret; she has three books and seven staged shows behind her, including the Grammy-nominated "Without You I'm Nothing," which was turned into a feature film.

"Every year I feel like I shed my skin and go a little deeper into myself and my psyche," she says. "I feel like I'm a better performer every time I get up there. I'm different every time."

Bernhard will be backed by a four-piece band, put together by musical director Carla Patullo, the lead singer-songwriter for rock-punk band White Widow. Many of the songs Bernhard will perform are covers; but they'll be delivered with a twist, as she does in her raw, taunting version of Lita Ford's "Kiss Me Deadly," which appears on the recent comedy album. Expect a mix at the REDCAT show including '80s hair-metal songs, which Bernhard calls her "signature pieces," R&B and folk. She'll also dip into her original rock songs and broken-hearted ballads.

Interestingly, Bernhard says she sees parallels between her audience demo and shifting sexual attitudes in the gay community. She's long had a devoted gay male following but hasn't been embraced as much by the lesbian community, she says — which she attributes, partly, to her stage persona as an over-the-top glamour girl/fashionista. But that's changed over the years, as ideas about sexual identity have loosened.

"I think there used to be cliches on both ends. Of the women being colorless … and humorless, and men being completely over the top and irresponsible. And I think the two have merged," she says. "[Now] women are having a lot more fun and men are becoming more serious. The younger generation of gay women are much more in the world and freer and attracted to beauty."

That trained eye on the sexual, political and cultural zeitgeist — along with the fact that she's unafraid to let loose her observations onstage — is what gives Bernhard's shows their edge. Which brings us back to those people who she says are ruining America. Bernhard might very well count Snooki among them. One of Bernhard's pet peeves of late is reality TV, which she sees as central to the disintegration of modern culture.

"Almost everything in culture now appalls me," she says. "Every [TV] channel just crams it with these weird reality shows with no relationship to entertainment or being educated or uplifted. It's very hard to be subtle or ironic when you're dealing with things that are so verbose and hit you over the head with such crap."

Though Bernhard has turned down offers to do a reality show of her own, she did appear on old friend Roseanne Barr's new Lifetime show, "Roseanne's Nuts." But Bernhard doesn't see appearing on the episode — which will air later this season — as hypocritical.

"That was different. [Roseanne] has a lot of interesting things to say. Her whole take was that she wanted to do something about developing a more sustainable life. But of course she plays her version of her crazy self in it. It's very funny."

"I Love Being Me, Don't you?" likely won't lack for humor as well. Or style. Bernhard plans to take the stage in lavish, handcrafted Chado Ralph Rucci dresses so fragile, they'll be shipped to Los Angeles in special, custom-built crates. Which seems fitting. Why should anything with Bernhard be low maintenance?

deborah.vankin@latimes.com

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