Sandra Bernhard Talks, You Shut Up and Listen

Sandra Bernhard is an actress, comedian, writer, singer, advocate and in general just kind of a badass bitch. And she knows it. Bernhard's latest show, The Comedic Prophesies of Sandra Bernhard, is playing at The Kessler at 8 tonight. Tickets range from $25 to $300 and are on sale at Doors open at 7 p.m.

Today's comedians seem to be constantly apologizing for missteps and causing offense, but not Sandra Bernhard. She has never been one for apologies. She just has her opinions and shares them -- opinions shaped by a unique childhood complete with a proctologist father, an abstract artist mother, three older brothers and Russian grandparents. Oh yeah, and a move from Michigan to Arizona, too. There was a lot of emotion and drama in her house growing up. It was an expressive place, and while the kids were never specifically encouraged to explore their creativity, they weren't discouraged either.

"Hey, it worked out," Bernhard says.

She always knew she was entertaining, and she always loved the attention. In school she didn't go the traditional theater route, but she did try out for chorus ... and didn't make the cut. No biggie. ("I'm sure all those other kids have gone on to have spectacular careers," she deadpans.) There wasn't a single defining cheesy Glee moment in which she dusted herself off, dug in her heels and decided she was going to make this performance thing work, dammit. She just had an inner knowledge that it was what she was going to do, so she did it.

When Bernhard arrived in Los Angeles in the '70s, she did nails to make ends meet and dabbled at The Comedy Store. She never identified herself as a "female performer," though she's always been a grrrl power kind of woman. Sure, she admired comedic women of the time -- Carole Channing, Carol Burnett, Lily Tomlin -- but there were plenty of male counterparts she found equally entertaining. Her goal has always been to be the best she can be. Not the best lady. And when you're a triple threat and then some -- she writes, performs, acts and sings -- the odds are kind of in your favor.

She has Grammy noms, critical acclaim and a groundbreaking role on Roseanne, playing an openly gay character on network television at a time when that was rare. It's weird to consider that as a thing now and Bernhard, the mother of a volleyball-playing 15-year-old, said her daughter's generation finds it even stranger. They're far more open-minded than the generation before them.

Not that Bernhard pays much attention.

"I don't trade in that maudlin crap. I've never been the victim. People are going to bull you no matter what. Get involved in things that are much more important. Don't get bogged down in that negative talk." These days, she, her daughter and her girlfriend of 14 years focus their attention on things they care about -- good food and travel and issues like sustainable living. They're also into the farm-to-table movement, so make a mental note if you're headed to the show with a homemade-muffin bribe tucked under your arm.

When Bernhard puts on a show, she crafts a story with an arc and a flow and takes the audience on a journey loaded with her offbeat philosophy. Which is the reason people go see her -- to hear her opinion. With all the anonymous commenters out on the Internet, Bernhard sees the public as not being more sensitive today, just more vocal.

"The problem is they're overly involved in the conversation and it's like, this is a conversation? They're not equipped to make a comment, but they do." Another trend Bernhard sheds light on is the "take-down" articles that seem to be so freaking irresistible to the media. Mainstream America just "wants to see people be human and vulnerable and now we have reality stars that play to that. Really talented people don't fish for trouble. They stay out of that conversation."

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Allison Perkins