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Sandra Speaks

[whitespace] Sandra Bernhard
Photographs by Dah-Len

Onstage and on the couch
with Sandra Bernhard

By David Boyer

I propose the idea: word association. I'll throw out, one at a time, some carefully selected words and Sandra Bernhard will do what she does best, just talk. "We'll see how that goes," she responds tentatively. "It's not one of my favorite interviews. It's too abstract. But, all right, let's see what you've come up with and we'll see how it goes. I don't mean to bust your balls, but it sounds like a weird one."

Not a great start--not how I imagined the conversation to commence with the woman I've become slightly obsessed with, the woman I quote liberally to friends just assuming they know who and what the hell I'm referring to.

Still, I start with an easy target: Tara Lipinsky. "Who?" Sandra blasts. "Is that the one who slept with ..." I correct her. "Oh, Tara Lipinsky ... I couldn't hear what you said, honey. Uh, I don't know ... She's a winner. What is there to say about her? She did good."

The conversation begins to pick up. We trade a few witticisms, but mostly I listen ... and wait for a one-liner, a vicious attack, a biting, dead-on critique. But I never really get it. Instead I get a dose of the more spiritual, grounded Sandra, the mother-to-be who, to my surprise, perceives gray in between black and white.

But worry not. Sandra hasn't gone soft on us. She still saves the vitriol for her writing and performances. In excerpts from her new smash solo show, I'm Still Here ... Damn It! at the Alcazar Theatre (650 Geary), Sandra calls a spade a spade. And onstage, at least, she does it whenever she gets a chance.

So kick back and read on. Get acquainted with the two sides of Sandra Bernhard.

Sandra on ... 'Bitch'

Often misconstrued and misunderstood by people who don't always understand that somebody may be very clear about what they want. Sure, they've used the word with me, to me, for me--that's a given. It's an easy word when somebody feels frustrated by somebody else's clarity.

Onstage on ... Barbara Walters

The bitch will cut up a hundred Bermuda onions to get you to cry. She'll bring in a skunk. They want you to have those breakdowns in public and then they love your ass. They eat the shit up and so do you. "Yeah, we like that. We'd like to see you have a nervous breakdown. Yeah, that would be fun. Make us feel a little better about ourselves."

Sandra on ... Frances Farmer

I think she was a victim of her time. I don't think women in that era were necessarily equipped to handle the kind of success and strength and power that, you know, she had. It was really a different time. Although they will drive people crazy now if they can. They never want to see anybody be too rebellious or too independent and have that kind of spirit, because it scares them. It reminds them of their own, maybe, I don't know, their own sense of having given in and given up. And that probably disturbs people on a deep level when they know they didn't have the guts or integrity to stick to their dreams or their goals.

Sandra Bernhard Sandra on ... Pride

I get all tingly and fluffy when I hear that word. No, seriously, gay pride's beautiful. If somebody needs to be expressing that or they're going through something in their life where they need to let people know that they're gay and they feel good about it, then it's a positive thing ... But I don't think there's any self-description that needs to go on ad infinitum. Once you're heterosexual and comfortable with that, you don't need to take out an announcement every day. Or once you're comfortable being black or Afro-American, it isn't like "I feel good today about being Afro-American." It's like being Jewish or being a woman. At some point, the pride has to be a part of the whole day-to-day oeuvre. It's part of who you are and doesn't need to be discussed anymore. That's how I feel about it anyway.

Onstage on ... Being Gay

David E. Kelley calls me up--and he's very sweet, he's the creator of Ally McBeal--and he says, "You know, we'd kinda want to take your character in a gay direction." And I said, "Can we talk outside, David? You know, I kind of already did that on Roseanne and, um, frankly I'm not that thrilled about being gay in my real life. Can we maybe do something different? Because it's not an Anne Heche moment for me." Now Ellen's very mad at me. She's says if I want to start a war in the press, she's not the person to start with. I'm like, "What?" Ya know, everything just went into Aquarius, kabbalistically, and I'm like, "Nuh, uh ... this is going to be a real rough month for me." So I'm just gonna restrict and be real cool about the whole thing and understand there will come a day when Anne Heche will be straight again. Gay men are different. If they've been straight and turn gay, they're gay, honey. But for chicks it's different, especially if they're in show business. Even when they're eating your pussy, they're still straight. I'm just looking out for Ellen. Believe me, I'm concerned for her. Because when the shit goes down, it's not gonna be pretty.

Sandra on ... Times Square

It's too cleaned up. They're trying to bring in families like Vegas. You know, they want families to come to New York and stay in that area and go to the theater, so the theater is all geared toward the family entertainment. It's obvious why they're doing it: Money, you know ... to generate income in the city. Which is all fine and good, but they're homogenizing it in a way that's inappropriate for what New York stands for and what that area stands for, which has always been a sense of eclectic kind of freedom and expression on a lot of different levels. It's just not appropriate. It doesn't make sense for what creativity and theater stand for. And that creative energy seems like it's being pushed to the edges and I don't know where it's gonna go, to be honest with you I don't know where it can go. It's downtown to a certain degree, but even downtown eventually will be bought up.

Sandra on ... Smut

I don't know what context you're using it in. So my interpretation is to say that smut, if it's really smut, there's nothing backing it up. It's the easy way out. And what do I consider smutty? Anything that has cynicism to it and that's jaded is smutty.

The Metropolitan: Some people would say your show has some cynicism in it, though I wouldn't call it smut ...

Honey, you're really stretching it here. No, there's no cynicism in my show whatsoever! There's nothing ... At no time in my work do I come from a cynical point of view. I'm coming from a concerned point of view, a point of view that is concerned for the survival of culture and humanity. And that's anti-cynical, that's the antithesis of being cynical.

Onstage on ... The End of the World

Let's call a spade a spade. We have completely depleted our environment, chickens are getting mad chicken disease, the shit is out of control. But we brought it on ourselves. We were living in a dream world, drinking a hundred bottles of water a day out of those little plastic bottles. We just throw it away. And the recycling doesn't work, that's a scam, please. It goes back into the earth, the fumes are killing us. And we wonder why things are going haywire ... but to compensate for our fears about the end of the world we've taken to compulsively washing our hands with anti-bacterial soap, scrubbing down like a surgeon.

Sandra on ... "The Good Old Days"

I'm living 'em. They're everyday if you're connected to what makes you work and rock and tick. I get happier every day. I have a sense of accomplishment every day of my life that makes each day a day that I can look back on and feel great about.

Sandra on ... 'Hip'

Hip? A joint between your ass and your stomach? I don't know. Hip doesn't really come into play anymore as far as I can tell. If you're natural and you can handle yourself in any situation and roll with the punches and basically be cool and be kind to people and not be attitudey and fucked up and trying to be cool, then you're hip.

Sandra Bernhard

Sandra on ... Karma

I don't believe in karma. You know, I study Kabbalah, and there's another word, tikkun, and it connotes that you have more responsibility for what goes on in your life. To me, karma is more of a passive thing, like "Oh it's my karma, I can't help it. It's the way things are." It's very weak to me. Whereas tikkun is your correction, and it means that you have control and can make changes.

Onstage on ... Madonna and Kabbalah

Now, a lot of people know I am studying Kabbalah and it's really changed my life. It's the spiritual essence of Judaism ... and a lot of other people are studying Kabbalah--I don't take direct responsibility for it. Madonna is studying Kabbalah, and I think it's beautiful if it's giving her some solace, some insight. I would rather run into her at a Kabbalah event than a disco in Miami. Now recently, we had a big party for Rabbi Berg, our spiritual leader, and Madonna came and brought her little girl, Lourdes Rachel. So cute, very smart and not impressed with her mother. Keeps a real healthy distance. If I've learned one thing from Kabbalah, it's that you don't have to wish harm on anyone. What goes around comes around. Just sit back, make a big bowl of popcorn and watch the movie--it's gonna be a trip.

Sandra on ... Maternity Wear

My approach: Onstage, I'm still wearing my fabulous, sheer dresses because I'm not that big, first of all, and they work because they're cut on the bias, most of them, so they look fabulous. And in my day-to-day wear: Banana Republic. The woman who does PR for them just sent me a whole bunch of fabulous oversized khaki pants. And I'm just wearing little funky T-shirts on top and a kind of cinched khaki on the bottom.

The Metropolitan: And in month eight?

In month eight? No honey, I'm not in month eight.

The Metropolitan: No, when you get to month eight.

Oh, I don't know. It depends on how big I am. I don't have a clue. ... There's no way of knowing that.

Sandra on ... Prozac

Gee, I really have a problem with any kind of drug, I always have. I think that it's usually a spiritual thing that's preventing somebody from having happiness and it's something that they have to dig deep and work through. But I guess there are legitimate needs for mood-altering prescription drugs. I personally would never indulge in them no matter what was going on. But once again, I hate to judge everybody across the board who does it or needs it or thinks they need it. Maybe it's just a step to not needing it anymore and being strong and getting healthy.

Sandra on ... The Web

Like the Web site? I prefer a spider's web myself--"Oh what deceptive webs we weave ..." I don't know, I think it's great if you're doing business or looking for information or trying to connect on that level. But I think as a form of entertainment and socializing it's numbing at best.

Sandra on ... San Francisco

One of my most joyous cities in the world. It just reminds me of my childhood and the first time I went up there [from Los Angeles] when I was 10 and seeing The Fantasticks and going to Ghirardelli Square and going to Fisherman's Wharf. It's just one of those magical cities that's like no other city in the world--the crookedest street in the world. It's one of those wonderful, freeing cities you really can never believe exists.

Onstage on ... National Geographic

There's only one magazine I'm proud to get every month and that is the National Geographic. It hasn't changed in all these years. Still arrives in that understated brown paper wrapper. ... And I'll tell you, the articles are amazing--amusing Asian children, ancient Peruvian mummies, dinosaur eggs, the trips to the lost red planet--it's all there for you. It's like taking a trip around the world without leaving home. And yet why is it that I get halfway through my National Geographic and I get sidetracked by my Allure? Could it be that latest computer-generated photo of Gwyneth Paltrow's forehead tacked onto Drew Barrymore's ass that I can't get enough of? Another article about a failed facelift, a botched liposuction. I mean, these are things I need to know to keep myself in the loop.

Sandra on ... Plastic Surgery

Divine. More. Bring it on. I think that it has its place and I think that it's made a lot of people feel good and it's helped a lot of people with their pride, you know. For me personally, it's not something I've needed to get involved with and I prefer not. I don't like surgery. I don't like elective surgery, I don't like surgery that you have to have. I don't know, I think it's a little ghoulish, but it works for some people.

Sandra on ... Joan Jett

Genius, original, kick-ass, mega-talented. She's just raw, she is what she is--her voice, the way she delivers a song and her point of view. It's just freeing and raw and fucking awesome.

Onstage on ... The Women of Rock & Roll

You know, I don't know how much more of these waifish alternative singers I can take. ... Just give me an old-fashioned, sweaty, big-tittied bitch of rock & roll, OK? Give me Joan Jett with a shag haircut and black eye. Give me Pat Benatar. Give me Elana Miles. For Christ sake, give me Ann and Nancy Wilson. Now, when these women wrote a lyric and sang it, you knew they had lived it. Honey, they wrote it, they sang it, they fucked it, they snorted it, they lived the shit, OK? They invented the Road. They did things that would break these little bitches in half.

Sandra on ... 'Real'

Real is just, oh god, one of my favorite words, one of my favorite ways of being. And I think everybody has their own way of tapping into their realness, and I think it's when you can just sit with somebody--even somebody you haven't met before--and just feel comfortable expressing and being exactly who you are and not being intimidated or intimidating and just connecting with people.

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From the April 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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