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SANDRA BERNHARD Sandyland

Sandra BernhardAfter a decade-long absence, veteran comedian and provocateur Sandra Bernhard returns to our shores to parade her new show, Sandyland. We catch up with the busiest woman in showbiz during an all-too-rare lull in her hectic schedule.

 

If you ask Sandra Bernhard what she’s been up to lately, the answer is going to make you take a long, hard work at your own piddling excuse for a work ethic.

“Well, I just finished doing a run here in New York City that I do every year at Joe’s Pub, which is a great venue here. I just did 12 shows in six nights and they were all sold out, so that was exciting and fun. People like to come over the holidays and see my show, the new material.

“And next week I’m going to LA to shoot an episode of a show, an FX show called Brooklyn Nine Nine that I have a recurring role on. And I’ve been pitching some original ideas, some scripts that I’ve been writing, doing different television projects and touring my show and getting ready to come to Australia. I’m there for Gay Mardi Gras in Sydney, I’m sure that that crowd will be international and gay and fun and crazy!

“So, you know, really, really busy right now.”

Bernhard has kept up the pace since she first started doing stand up comedy in 1970s New York. She became a familiar on screen presence throughout the ’80s and ’90s after a striking appearance in Martin Scorsese’s The King Of Comedy, going on to play one TV’s first openly gay characters in the sitcom Roseanne. Like her on screen persona, her stage show is acerbic, outrageous and arch.

“The material is very eclectic,” she explains. “It kind of ranges from funny stories about my travels to insidery show business stories. It’s topical and it’s personal and it’s all interwoven with music. I have my band with me, the Flawless Zircons, so there’s original music that I’ve written – a lot of rock ‘n’ roll, edgy, groovy, that pulls together the one woman show experience that I try to give my audience.”

Key to her performance is a kind of reflexive running commentary on fame and our relationship to the phenomenon, with Bernhard channelling both our adoration for and jealousy of celebrities and the culture that surrounds them.

“I kind of insert myself into these stories,” she says. “I become part of the relationship with the fame – that’s sort of an earmark of the work that I’ve been doing for a long time. These quote unquote relationships that I’m having with these celebrities. I tell these stories, some of them are true, and you have to decide for yourself where the fun and the creative part of my work comes in.”

For all that Bernard enjoys returning to the same themes, she is acutely aware of the changing nature of performance in general and comedy in particular, having been at the ever-shifting coalface for decades now.

“When I first started out there was television and there was four channels, there was no cable television. Performing live was much more of a mainstream kind of approach. When I started performing I sort of broke the rules by doing work that was much more eclectic and putting my music into it.

“Now, with the social media and internet, anyone could conceivably try to be a performer, but that doesn’t necessarily make you one. The only thing that makes you a great performer is getting up every night and doing it at clubs, starting from the bottom up. And those are the great people who really go places.”

 

TRAVIS JOHNSON

 

Sandra Bernhard performs at the Regal Theatre on Tuesday, Match 10. For tickets, go to Ticketek.com.au.