Sandra Bernhard: Gay or Straight, Parades Bring Out the Worst in Everybody
We talked to Bernhard about what this Jewish mom thinks of the S.F. circumcision ban, why Andy Warhol would have loved Twitter, and why she believes parades bring out the worst in people -- gay, straight, bi, trans, or drunk. Here's what she had to say ...
What can we expect from your Pride mainstage headlining show?
It'll be my usual or unusual combo of rock 'n' roll meets cabaret meets burlesque meets everything that I love that's influenced me, performancewise.
Do you have a lot of friends in the city?
I come to San Francisco to perform a couple times of year, so yeah I know lots of people here. I've been coming to San Francisco since I was 10. It was my first West Coast excursion as a kid that had a big impact on me.
What was your first Pride experience?
Honestly, I've never actually joined in on a parade. I've been going to gay clubs since I was 18 years old, and I forged my driver's license when I moved from Arizona over to L.A. so I could still get in. So I've been in the scene for a long time. But gay marches freak me out because large groups of people ... I just get claustrophobic. I've definitely performed at many. I've just never walked or gotten in the back of a motorcycle. But I like to watch parades from afar.
There are some critics -- even in the LGBT community -- that think Pride just reinforces negative stereotypes.
All parades for all groups -- from the Israeli gay parade to St. Patrick's Day -- parades bring out the worst in everybody. You can say that for sure. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't have fun and celebrate. It's crazy; it's nutty. You can't take it all that seriously.
Your new comedy CD is called I Love Being Me, Don't You? Onstage, you're unapologetic and confident, but did you always love being you?
That title is laced with irony. I don't think anybody loves being themselves all the time. Unless you're a total narcissist, and that's just layered with delusions. Yeah, I'm confident. There are moments when I totally love myself. Then there are moments when I'm like, eh, I could be a little better. A little nicer. A little smarter. There's always room for self-examination. That's partially what the title is about, and partially, it's like everyone is in the limelight right now. It's almost surpassed Andy Warhol, these expectations of fame for 15 minutes.
It's like, how many reality shows do we need to have so that everyone gets their shot in the spotlight?
Exactly! And now with Twitter and Facebook, for the average person who weighs in on the celebrity train to give their two cents to the dialogue. It just adds another level of madness.
Talking about technology, there's a part in your show where you talk about Grindr.
My hair guy told me about it. It's kind of like the new bathhouse. Somebody is in the area and they're circling. What's the difference?
Do you believe technology is reinforcing community or making everyone sit in their living rooms and ...
Destroying it? It's definitely shifting the way people interact and meet. Ultimately, we all want to be in the realm of humanity. No matter how detached you try to be, we all wind up at parties and places where we have human contact.
Even with YouTube, there's nothing like a live Sandra Bernhard show, right?
No, it doesn't even come close. We like to live in three dimensions. One just doesn't cut it.
As a comic, do you have any "too-soon" rules when it comes to your jokes?
I always talk about things in a way that is not so dead-on, and bring a little sense of irony to everything I do, so that kind of takes me off the hook of just beating people over the head with the obvious. I always try to approach it from a creative standpoint.
Does your irony always come across?
I think when you see me live, absolutely, yes. Not only the way I deliver, but the look on my face.
I ask about "too-soon" jokes because a local comic recently said that AIDS will always be a "too-soon" topic for the LGBT community.
Yeah, I don't think there's tons of humor in AIDS. I haven't heard anyone take that on. Some things are just inherently not funny.
In November, we will vote on outlawing circumcision for males under the age of 18. As a Jewish mother, what's your take?
Who's spearheading -- no pun intended -- that issue? It's going to be voted down, I'll tell you that right now.
So being a mom, being in the spotlight, being outrageously funny, how do you balance all of that?
My life has compartmentalized. When my daughter comes to my show, she knows what I do. She gets a kick out of it. She knows where I'm coming from. We don't try to expose her to anything we feel is inappropriate as she goes along in life and yet we try to keep her open and not freaked out by stuff.
Would you consider yourself a stereotypical Jewish mother?
Hardly. But I'd definitely consider myself someone who takes all the different aspects of what I love about my life, my upbringing and try to impart it to her.
Does the audience in the Castro Theatre get a different Sandra than the audience in Wichita?
Everywhere you go in the country there's a different way of thinking. We're 50 little countries all put together. There's a different vibe wherever you are, but I don't dumb it down or water it down because I've never felt the need to do that. Wherever I am, people get what I do.
Sandra Bernhard is at the PG&E Pride party Thursday to benefit the Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute, at the Marines Memorial Theatre Friday and Saturday for her stand-up show, and on the pride main stage Sunday.
For more events this week and beyond, check out our calendar section.