Sandra Bernhard brings her distinctive comedy musings — and band — to Atlantic Club stage for Atlantic City debut.
Sandra Bernhard’s career has had the ups and downs one might expect from her primary profession as a stand-up comic. Her career has also included professional singing (not just in her stand-up but with several albums and a hit dance single) and an acting career in movies that got off to a brilliant beginning in Martin Scorsese’s King of Comedy (1983).
She has turned her musings on life into several acclaimed one-woman shows, the best known of which was Without You I’m Nothing and the most recent, I Love Being Me, Don’t You?
Bernhard is being filmed for a behind-the-scenes style documentary based on her backstage life and there is a talk show based on a HBO special she did years ago, Sandra After Dark, that is being shopped with producers.
In addition, she has some scripted pieces she has been developing for herself and other performers. Bernhard is coming to Atlantic City Saturday, July 14, for a stand-up performance at the new Atlantic Club Casino. Here is what she has to say about her life and career during a recent interview with Atlantic City Weekly.
Tell me about the show you will be bringing to Atlantic City, I Love Being Me, Don’t You?
It’s a work in progress. It keeps evolving. It covers everything that is happening in pop culture, in politics to a certain degree, all woven in and out with great music and cover tunes. I have a band with me. I always try to contemporize it as each performance approaches. Something new is always happening. There is room for improvisation. My work is very stream of consciousness; I flow in and out of subject matter.
You’ve been at this for more than 30 years. When did you know you were funny?
When I was five, making my whole family and extended family [laugh]. Growing up in Flint, Michigan, I was constantly grabbing people, trying out my singing and all of my unformed comedy.
Stand-up is a tough profession, and when you started there weren’t as many female stand-ups as there are today. Is it easier for women in comedy now then it was when you started?
I think the nature of being out late at night, running around in settings that are not always appealing — God knows the comedy clubs are not the most sophisticated venues. I think it is hard for everybody. It does wear you down and separates quote unquote, “the men from the boys.” You must have a real tough veneer to hang in there and that includes men. Believe me, over the years I’ve seen plenty of men fall by the wayside, as well as women. It’s just a matter of talent and fortitude.
Music has always been as important as comedy for you. Where do your musical influences come from?
It’s very eclectic. Growing up I loved musical comedy. My parents listened to Broadway and classical music, my brothers listened to everything from all the early Bob Dylan and rock music to jazz. Joni Mitchell has been a big influence, Stevie Nicks — I tend [to enjoy] female singers [such as] Laura Nyro, Carole King, Janis Joplin. Motown was a big influence, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Sergio Mendez and Brasil 66, Burt Bacharach. The music that has influenced me the most has [featured] sophisticated lyrics and original sounding [artists].
Did you ever think about going into music as your primary career?
I did. When I came to L.A. that was what I was going to do. I got sidetracked because people said “You are really funny, you can do music and the comedy.” You open up [your options] doing both and I’ve never regretted doing it all.
Is there a specific ‘Sandra Bernhard’ audience?
I do have an eclectic audience. It’s always been a huge gay audience and people that are hip and with it. The hipness factor has evolved, especially with the Internet. People are exposed to more and they know a lot more about pop culture.
Is this your first performance in Atlantic City?
It is. I’m starting to crack the casino market a little bit more then I have in the past. I’m excited about it.
You’re known for being outrageous and forthright, saying what you feel. Are there any topics you’ve felt reluctant to explore in your comedy?
I try to stay away from things that have been over-talked about unless I can really bring something fresh to the conversation. Of course, there are things that are not nice. I can’t think of anything specific, but there are limits to what I will talk about. I try to keep it upbeat.
I think you can be cynical, you can have sharp retorts, but I don’t think people think of you as nasty.
Yes. I have compassion for people. People go through a lot of things in their life, whether in the public eye or private sector. There is enough cynicism around. I like to think of my work as more ironic than cynical.
How was it, relatively early in your career, to make The King of Comedy with Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis?
It was really amazing because so may people I knew were up for that role. Ellen Barkin is a friend of mine and she just told me a funny story about how she was up for it. All these other people in New York were saying, “Who the hell is this broad? Where did she come from?” I came in as a dark horse in the twelfth hour. A friend called the casting director on my behalf. The casting director said, “I think Marty needs to see you.” For the next few months I met with Scorsese and De Niro and finally I flew to New York for my big audition with Jerry Lewis, because if you couldn’t make it work with Jerry … It was a big deal. Of course I would like to do more films now. I go up for things now. It’s a funny business; it goes in cycles. Some things are coming together for me now that I’m excited about. I’m constantly writing and creating and sometimes it gets out there and sometimes it doesn’t.
Where: Atlantic Club Casino, A.C.
When: Sat., July 14, 9pm
How Much: $20
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