When Sandra Bernhard—actor, singer, comedian, conceptualist—brings her newest genre-jumbling live show, Madness and Mayhem, to City Winery Philadelphia on Sept. 1, it is but one more audaciously witty work in her catalog of daring, humorous self-creations.
Starting with the stage and filmed versions of ‘Without You, I’m Nothing,’ and moving onto live showcases such as ‘I’m Still Here…Dammit’ and ‘#blessed,’ Bernhard has continued with her funky flair for blending topical humor and opinion with fully integrated musical accompaniment.
Together with being a formidable actress (‘The King of Comedy,’ ‘American Horror Story: Apocalypse’ and ‘Pose’) and radio personality (Sandyland on SiriusXM) means that Bernhard is one of pop culture’s most outrageous, astutely observational quadruple threat.
Bernard recently sat down with Metro.
‘Without You, I’m Nothing’ – the stage show, the soundtrack, the filmed version – is celebrating various anniversaries. How has that comedic and musical production become a template of shows of yours going forward, and what do you most recall about its creation?
That was a huge collaboration between myself, conceptual artist John Boskovich, and my musical director Mitch Kaplan, who still works with me. We put it all together in Mitch’s music room in his apartment in Hollywood. It was one of the best times I ever had. Everyday we’d get together and brainstorm concepts and music, then fine tune it. The whole process actually started around ’86, ’87, as we work-shopped it at a dance theater in New York City before we got it to Off Broadway. It really was the first time I had worked that way, that style. It was super fun having it all be on my shoulders.
Now, Mitch and I have a shorthand, an understanding of how we work together. It is a quite fun and meditative process… Yes, ‘Without You, I’m Nothing’ set the template for all of my shows, at least 20 different shows since then. Stylistically, though, I think I was on this path long before. It’s nice to have that style as a cushion for how I’d like to say things, an brand of insight that is comfortable to lean on.
You have collaborated with Ryan Murphy on his ‘American Horror Story’ and ‘Pose.’ What do you like most about the collab?
Aside from him being powerful and appreciating my whole body of work and him wanting to write something that helps expand on all that – having somebody write for me – that is a luxury I don’t always have.
Did ‘Pose’ end too soon or right on time?
You always want to keep a good thing going, but, for what they wanted to say, and in encapsulating that period, I do think that they ended it at the right time.
Was it important to you that ‘Pose’ had a happy ending?
Well, it wasn’t up to me how it ended. It’s a moot issue. I don’t think that that time period had a happy ending. I think that it had a tragic ending, one with a lot of people dying. That’s the reality. The people who survived had the make-up and the DNA to get through that pandemic, that epidemic. The ending they wrote was how they wanted to do it – the vibe to make it triumphant, and celebratory. I don’t fault anybody for that. I just don’t think that It’s necessarily realistic.
What did you like about the aspects of doing a daily topical podcast, Sandyland, especially considering that you have now made it weekly?
Doing it daily got to be a little bit of drudgery. Doing it one a week though, I love it. It’s the perfect sweet spot for all of the things that I want to talk about, having a good conversation with one or two people. It’s easy breezy.
‘Madness and Mayhem’ started life at Joe’s Pub two years ago. Topical as you can be, what radical changes has it undergone for the present?
When I did it, at first, that was an anniversary of me doing my extended Christmas/ New year’s Eve run. The material was all new. Still is, as I only got to do it at Joe’s Pub due to the pandemic. On top of that material, a whole other treasure trove of work that I collected since then has opened up, so this show will be a hybrid of the evergreen and what’s happening now, and over the past year and a half.
With such topicality, are you vax or anti-vax?
Honey, what do you think I am? If I was an anti-vaxxer I don’t think you’d be talking to me right now. I’m zero tolerance where that’s concerned. If you’re not vaxxed, you are not in my life. Plus you can’t come to my show unless you’re vaccinated. Sorry to be so hardcore. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a moron.