Sandra Bernhard will premiere her new show at REDCAT. (Steven Gunther )
Diva, ironist, actress, comedian, serial David Letterman guest — she does so many things, it's hard to describe who the real Sandra Bernhard really is. But anyone who attended last year's "I Love Being Me, Don't You?" at REDCAT had to come away with the impression that her mix of comedic rants, political rants, autobiography and glam rock 'n' roll was as bracing as ever.
Bernhard, who was born in Michigan in 1955 and raised in part in Scottsdale, Ariz., comes to REDCAT Wednesday to open "Sandrology," which will, like the previous program, show Bernhard's musical chops. (These performances are the new show's world premiere.)
Bernhard needed no arm-twisting to speak about her influences. "When I first started performing, it was early Barbra Streisand, Tina Turner, the Rolling Stones, Laura Nyro," she said. "They all went into my soufflé. As my soufflé has continued to rise, those ingredients have gotten more blended. We do try to be original, but I continue to look back to the people I loved when I was young. Or we get in a rut, and someone recharges our batteries."
Here are a few who've been important to her.
John Updike: I'm a big fan of all the Rabbit books. I'm a big fan of anything that captures the American landscape. Those books are all about a failed hero — they hit a strong emotion in me. You go back and visit the places you're from — I find it fascinating.
Richard Avedon: I got re-inspired the past week because he has a retrospective at one of the galleries in Chelsea. I've always loved the starkness of his work, how close he got to his subjects, from the Warhol people to Vietnam-era generals to politicians, to the Chicago Seven to Beat poets — he captured the whole era. The way he shot, the way he put people out of their shell, got people to reveal who they really were. … He captured the tragedy of the failed American dream.
Nina Simone: I always found she could take you way up, or way, way down. She came up through a tumultuous time in the South, and was classical trained. I've always loved the way she went in and out of her accent and persona. She was the real deal. She had the basics, and she kept evolving.
Alice Waters: She was influential in reintroducing nature into cooking. That's been a revelation for me personally and for the way I eat. She grew her own herbs and vegetables — she found beauty in organic vegetables. If we could all plant a little garden and raise a couple chickens, there would be something we could add to the Hamburger Helper.
Christopher Hitchens: I knew him a little bit. I loved the way he could take intellectual concepts and have debates about them. I think Americans could stand a little more healthy debating; I like my ideas a little bit controversial. Even when he did his bit about women-aren't-funny — once you got beneath it, he said that men have a natural self-deprecation that women don't have. … As a woman who tries to be funny, I wasn't offended. He was in a constant state of evolving — and willing to go to the mat for it.