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Talking with Sandra Bernhard: Another Summer, Another Trip to Ptown

by Robert Nesti
EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor
Monday Jul 16, 2018
Talking with Sandra Bernhard: Another Summer, Another Trip to Ptown

It's been a busy spring and early summer for Sandra Bernhard. She appeared on the sixth episode of the now defunct "Roseanne," reprising her role of Nancy Bartlett; she entertained at three Pride events in three different cities (Philadelphia, DC and New York); filmed a feature role as an AIDS nurse on the hit series "Pose" (which aired this past Sunday; and has been taking her latest show "Sandemonium" to venues in the Hamptons and New Jersey; all the while hosting her daily talk show "Sandyland" on SiriusXM satellite radio's Radio Andy (102) channel.

But while Bernhard rides the political/pop culture wave on a daily basis, she doesn't let it get under her skin and affect her performances. On the contrary, she sees her role as an entertainer as something closer a calming influence whose discursive mix of patter and songs make for a respite from the madness.

"My approach to it all is to address the obvious by not addressing it," Bernhard recently told the website phillyvoice.com. "My new show is like going to a party after spending the day being haunted by the news."

Bernhard brings "Sandemonium" to Provincetown on July 23 and 24 for her annual summertime visit, this time in a new and more intimate venue - the Pilgrim House. For more information, follow this link.

EDGE spoke to Bernhard recently about her long-standing affection for Provincetown, some politics, and the recent "Roseanne" debacle.

EDGE: Every year you're in Provincetown and every year we ask you why it's such a special place that makes you want to go back?

Sandra Bernhard: It's so special because people can be who they are up there. And it ranges from one end of the spectrum to the other. And now straight people come up now too and they have fun. No one is threatened. It is a great incubator - a great experiment - of what this country could be if given the opportunity. People want to where it is cool, where it is fresh, near the water. And they want to be with other people who are having a good time. It has the right qualities in a little summer town.

EDGE: Has the town's energy changed over the years?

Sandra Bernhard: It has gotten a little more homogenized, but the country in terms of the acceptance of the LGBTQ community has greatly expanded. I think people are finally realizing that this is how it is and they are getting into the fun aspects of Ptown and not feeling so threatened.

EDGE: You are bringing "Sandemonium" to the Pilgrim House on July 23 and 24. You premiered the show more than six months ago at Joe's Pub. Do you make changes to it as the year goes on?

Sandra Bernhard: Of course. Absolutely. You know me. Every day something happens, I throw it in. Whatever fresh herb that is in the garden it is going into the salad. It is not going to be what was available in December. There are new pieces that I wrote that are evergreen and timeless, but the topical stuff, that is what makes performing fun. Every night you go out there is something else to spice it up and keep it relevant.

EDGE: Who will be performing with you?

Sandra Bernhard: Mitch Kaplan, my musical director.

EDGE: What will you be singing?

Sandra Bernhard: Sometimes when Mitch and I get together we do things at the last minute. We have written dozens of songs together over the years, maybe we'll have a chance to work on something new and surprise people. I don't even know yet what is going to be in the show, so that is always something to look forward to. And this year I'm at the Pilgrim House. I kind of bounce around up there. Some summers there is nobody good promoting at Town Hall, so you dip in and out of different experiences.

EDGE: You recently appeared at Pride events in DC, Philly, and New York. Pride is always fun, but I have friends who were complaining about Pride fatigue. Is Pride on the wane?

Sandra Bernhard: No. I think it is on the upswing again. I think during the Obama administration it seemed to be a little bit like, "It's not very important." And "we are all making big spikes forward." But now suddenly there is this repressive, scary administration. Every group wants to get out there and shout, "Hey, we're here. We've got everybody else's back." I think it is the time for the LGBTQ community to support immigrants and other groups under attack. Everybody needs support, so it is a good time to be out there and be seen.

EDGE: Did you sense a different energy to Pride - a more political one?

Sandra Bernhard: I think so. I didn't go out on the streets on the day of because it is just too much, but it is the general vibe I am getting. I mean it is midterm election time and people want to be heard. It is always a good place to be seen by a politician.

EDGE: It's funny how an event can come out of nowhere and be a harbinger for things to come. One such political one happened when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat Congressman Joe Crowley in the Democratic race for the House in the Bronx recently. What do you think of the impact of her election?

Sandra Bernhard: I think it is amazing. I think everybody is going to be shocked and surprised that when the election comes around we are going to boomerang as far left as we possibly can with really progressive people, new ideas, younger people, grassroots support. People are just sick of the status quo and this bullshit. It is the last gasp of these moneyed people who are trying to squeeze the life out of every working class person they can get their hands on so they can put one extra billion dollars into their bank account before the shit hits the fan. I think people are just sick of it. They want wages to go up, they want their civil liberties protected. And on and on and on and on. I think the only way that is going to happen is when people who don't have a bunch of baggage, who have been through the drill a million times and are just compromise. No, there is no room for compromise right now. It has got to fuckin' be locked down, clamped down and the shit has got to change.

EDGE: Yes, it appears to be a victory against establishment politicians, in this case, a Democratic one. What do you think of the Democratic Party's establishment politicians?

Sandra Bernhard: I am tired of their shit. There is almost no delineation between them and moderate Republicans at this point, which is kind of an oxymoron. I think we have to go to go for broke. It is broken and we need to fuckin' fix it.

EDGE: Don't you think to fix it the Democrats need a sole leader? They haven't one now.

Sandra Bernhard: I mean they probably do, but we are not at the point where one of them can stand up and say they're running for President. But there's the young guy down in Texas, Beto O'Rourke, up against Ted Cruz. Adam Schiff is amazing. And so is Kamala Harris. I mean, it is unrealistic at this point to expect someone to go to the front, but everybody who is in it to win it is grooming themselves for that possibility. I don't think anybody should be saying anything right now except we have got to build a firewall against this craziness. That's all we can do right now.

EDGE: You were on what turns out to have been the final episode of "Roseanne" reboot? Did the recent turn of events hit you like a shock?

Sandra Bernhard: Yes and no. I sense that she wasn't having fun. And I sense she hasn't been a happy person forever. But certainly in the past five or six years since she got really active on Twitter, and really kind of went to this weird place. We have spoken over the years and have mentioned how I have taken huge hiatuses from her because I didn't want to get into the big Election conversation with her. But I can't imagine why she would end it like this. She could have done one more season - 13 more episodes - and said, 'I don't want to do this anymore and walk away.' And leaving in a position where people respected her and preserved the legacy. I don't understand her mentality, so it is just hard for me to wrap my mind around her.

EDGE: Would you go on the reconstructed "Roseanne" if it is produced?

Sandra Bernhard: Of course. And they will. They're going to need a little fun and judge. I don't know how they're planning to deal with her demise. Nobody wants to spend the season staring up at a picture of her on the mantelpiece. That's depressing as hell. Shit.

EDGE: Last time we spoke you were working on a new television show with Justin Vivian Bond. How has that been going?

Sandra Bernhard: We have been working on it for a while. In the past was a musical. It's a work in progress. I have another show I have been working on that is moving along on a faster track, so that's happening.

EDGE: Any other television appearances?

Sandra Bernhard: I will be on the sixth episode of "Pose." (It aired on July 8 on FX.) "I play a nurse in an AIDS ward, sort of like St. Vincent's, with Billy Porter. And it was a great couple of days working on the set. Great people. Janet Mock, the transgender writer and first-time director with this episode, and it was just fantastic. The cast is just amazing and the show is terrific. it is little more of a serious turn for me, but fun and smart and great. And it really captured AIDS as it really was. I am blown away from the great job they've done. Billy Porter was on my radio show, so it was really fun to have him back again.

EDGE: Speaking of "Sandyland" (which airs daily (M-F) at 12 pm), how is that going?

Sandra Bernhard: Great. It has really taken off more and more every year I do it. I will continue to do it. It is a great platform for me, especially in these crazy times. To be able to go out every day and to shore people up, and have fun and play music and have great conversations with all kinds of people. It has been terrific.

EDGE: Have you thought of going back to Broadway with a new show?

Sandra Bernhard: No, I don't want to do that. It's a lot of work. And with my radio show every day, I have more accessibility to that. And I mean I certainly would do a new musical or a serious play, I would love to do that. But I don't want to be stuck with anything for over a year. That doesn't work for me. I like to be last year we went to Europe for a couple of weeks. But we were with our daughter, and that's never a full vacation. My daughter is going to do her junior year abroad in London, so we'll see. But my girlfriend is working on a full-time project and I am jammed.

EDGE: While you were overseas, did you find Europeans anxious about Trump?

Sandra Bernhard: Not really. I was just in London in February performing at Ronnie Scott's jazz club. People have their own day-to-day life. They don't give a shit about America. Nor should they. My hope is that at some point that where everybody lives that their country becomes viable enough that they don't have to depend upon America. Why do we have to be the standard bearer? Why can't we look at smaller countries and say, "they're doing great stuff." I would rather we put our energy in that. I am tired of people talking about America. Fuck America. If we can't appreciate it and take care of ourselves, why should anybody else be bothered with it?

EDGE: Living in large cities, aren't liberals (like us) out-of-touch with the mood of the country? Are we living in bubbles out of touch with a large chunk of the population?

Sandra Bernhard: No. I don't think I am out of touch at all. I am on my show every day. People call in. I know what it takes to get up every day and make a life work. And some people just don't have enough. There is wage inequality, people aren't making enough money, only just a small percent control the government and control the money in this country and the world. And it is the people out there in the middle of the country have racist issues, or have issues about misogyny and all the rest of this shit, that's the only thing that's getting in their way. If they want to have equality, get onboard. Jump into it. Everybody work together. Trump is everybody's enemy. He doesn't give a shit about those people. And neither do the people he's surrounding himself with. They're cynical, horrible people that are going to squeeze every last drop of life, happiness, and money out of the people they can get their hands on.

EDGE: Do you know any Trump supporters?

Sandra Bernhard: I am sure I do. People call into my show all the time and say, "I disagree with you politically, but I love you." And I am always fascinated by that. So, yeah, I guess I do. People listen to me every day and they get a kick out of me. And I don't even know why they do, but they do. But I am happy about that, but it means something is getting through. And in terms of what motivates them, or why they feel so threatened, or why they have such a deep need to control their narrative, I don't know. And I have a certain amount of compassion for everybody, but at some point, you have to draw the line. And I don't think that's being a liberal living in a bubble. I think that is called being smart and looking out for your own needs in this world. And I think people should start looking a little closer to what really matters for them.

EDGE: What do you think Big Dick Energy?

Sandra Bernhard: No. I have not followed that. I didn't know what the hell you are talking about.

EDGE: It is this meme that hit the other day after Arianda Grande tweeted that her fiancé Pete Williams has a ten-inch dick. She deleted her tweet, but New York Magazine picked it up and published a piece about it with the label Big Dick Energy...

Sandra Bernhard: I am so sorry that in a time when kids are separated from their parents and all the shit going on, when people like that talk about shit like that, I am shocked. I mean she has a platform and a voice, and that's what she's going to talk about? It's disgusting. I thought she wasn't an idiot, but maybe she is. She was there in Manchester when that guy came in and blew away all those people. Stand up for gun rights. Do something. Shut the fuck up. Christ. That's all I can say about that.

For more information about Sandra Bernhard performing "Sandemonium" at the Pilgrim House in Provincetown on July 23 and 24, follow this link.

For more information on Sandra Bernhard, including upcoming news and appearances, visit her website.

Watch Sandra Bernhard on "Roseanne":


Watch Sandra Bernhard perform "Me and Mrs. Jones" from "Without You, I'm Nothing.":


Robert Nesti can be reached at rnesti@edgemedianetwork.com.


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