Sandra Bernhard
Sandra Bernhard

Sandra Bernhard's one-woman show is aptly, if unintentionally, named after her. Everything Bad and Beautiful sums up Bernhard's larger than life personality and distinctive artistic expression. She has evolved from an outrageous comedienne who palled around with Madonna and traded in on constant shock value, to a grounded and introspective performer. Sandra Bernhard questions the status quo and exposes the pretense and hypocrisy of our daily lives through poignant humor and music. In her trademark one-woman shows, Bernhard sees quagmires and disturbing ironies everywhere, and fleshes them out through a series of comedic moments that fluctuate between animated and caustically dry. Some of her comedic pieces leave you wondering if she is joking or making fun of the joke itself. At her live performances, she expects the audience to be just as on point as she. The surface-minded and frivolous need not apply.

During our conversation, I met a woman who clearly takes herself and the world very seriously (a surprisingly common trait among comedians), though she has the insight and spiritual fortitude to back up her plight. We discussed some of the topics covered in Everything Bad and Beautiful, and once again, the show's name seems all too appropriate. (Allison Kugel): Tell me about your one-woman show, Everything Bad and Beautiful? Are you still performing in New York or are you touring now?

Sandra Bernhard: I'm on the road. I'm doing different shows. But I performed [Everything Bad and Beautiful] for almost four months last summer, here in New York. It's another one in a long line of my one-woman shows dealing with topical subjects in my life and they are all inter-woven with music. It's a real pastiche of our times. I know that you started off as a stand-up comic, but was your vision always to be more of a performance artist, as opposed to a traditional stand-up?

Sandra Bernhard: Well I've never considered myself a performance artist. I call myself an entertainer. What I do is more of a throw back to an eclectic style of music and comedy and satire, and it's much more uplifting. It's not, like, some weird off-beat, kind of, obscure topic. It's very accessible and my work is very emotional. As far as the topics or people you choose to cover, how do you decide who and what you want to talk about? Is there anything where you feel like you wouldn't go there no matter what?

Sandra Bernhard: I try to stay away from things that I think don't have any real value culturally, and that I think I can't really bring anything fresh to the subject. So I stay away from things that have just been overdone. And I always try to bring a fresh spin to everything that I talk about. In terms of where things come from, it's kind of a grab bag. I draw from my life, from the world, from the street, from news… just things that pop into my mind that I find crazy and funny. Are all of the stories true that you put in your show? Like with meeting John Kerry at the airport, was that something that actually did happen?

(Sandra approached John Kerry when she spotted him in a V.I.P. waiting area at the airport, to express her support for his presidential campaign, back in 2004. He retorted with the words, "That's great. I'm busy.")

Sandra Bernhard: That actually did happen. But not everything is true. Some things I embellish because when you're performing, you've got to keep it a little more interesting. But a lot of the stuff is based on real incidence. When that happened, was that actually the night of the election in 2004?

Sandra Bernhard: That was after the election.

Sandra Bernhard
Sandra Bernhard Then why was he checking his voicemail to see how the vote count was coming along in Ohio?

Sandra Bernhard: I suppose because there was still some sort of discrepancy. It seems eerily similar to what happened in the year 2000. Do you suspect that both elections were not on the level?

Sandra Bernhard: We know for sure that the first one wasn't. In the second one, I'm sure there was plenty of misanthropy, but a little harder to trace and track, I guess. In Everything Bad and Beautiful you lay into Laura Bush quite a bit. What is it about her that enraged you to the point where you felt the need to speak out about her personality and some of the hypocrisy that she represents?

Sandra Bernhard: Anytime a seemingly intelligent woman doesn't speak up on behalf of other women or people in the world who are suffering from tyranny, and your own husband is at the core of it, I guess it's kind of free-game to take the piss out of people. Everybody has to step up to the plate and I'm sure that she does not agree with where [George Bush] is coming from on most things. But she's been totally silent, and also hasn't done anything on her own to change the landscape of America on any level. She hasn't inspired people, she hasn't come out and really spoken out about certain things that are essential, because it would all be completely counter-productive to what [her husband] thinks. So she's just clammed up. I just think it's important to be reminded that women are the backbone of what's really moral and important in the world. Do you think Laura Bush is a throw back to the 1950s subservient "June Cleaver" type?

Sandra Bernhard: Oh, I don't think she is at all. I just think she doesn't want to get involved. I think she doesn't know what hit her. I think that she can't believe that they're in this situation and I'm sure she takes him to task all the time, but like I said, what's she gonna do? There's not much she can really do about it, so she probably figures, "Fuck it. I'm just gonna clam up and not deal with it at all." You also talk about Condoleezza Rice in your show. Do you think that she is in denial that she is a black woman?

Sandra Bernhard: I just think she's deluded. I think she's under the spell of the whole neo-con[servative] system and she wants to be part of it, so intrinsically that makes you in denial of who you are. It's not a welcome world for people of minority, unless you've totally sold out and are serving the master. What is someone to do if they are in fact a minority, and they want to be in corporate America or they want to get ahead in Washington? How does someone get around that catch 22?

Sandra Bernhard: I think you can be a thinking person and balance out your heritage along with being a very informed and educated person. I don't think you have to limit yourself by your race or sexuality or anything, but you've got to be on the side of who you are, intrinsically. She's a black woman. Somewhere along the line you've got to look in the mirror and go, "I can't totally turn my back on my people and my past. I can break out and do it from a different perspective, but I still have to live with myself." From the Clinton years and now all the way through George W. Bush's run, what I've noticed is when a Republican politician has some type of mishap, it is very quickly suppressed by the media. You might hear one two minute report and then it disappears. When a Democrat makes a blunder, no matter how insignificant, it's blown up and scandalized beyond recognition. Yet, everyone says the media is so liberal. What do you think is going on there?

Sandra Bernhard
Sandra Bernhard

Sandra Bernhard: I think we can all answer that. Whatever I say is not going to be much of a revelation, because that's just the way they operate. I think democrats by nature are not as petty and would rather focus on the issues at hand, and not get sidetracked. Because the Republicans aren't really there for the people-at-large, they've got to deflect what they really stand for by making issues out of minutia. Both you and Michael Moore are from Flint, Michigan. Have you crossed paths with him in your career at all?

Sandra Bernhard: I know Michael. I think his work is really innovative and brilliant. He's an original. In your opinion why has he evoked such extreme emotions in both directions?

Sandra Bernhard: The people who agree with him and think the same way are inspired by him because he goes for the jugular, and the people who he is exposing are freaked out by him, so of course that pisses them off because he hits a nerve. How do you think the Democrats can overcome the staunch PR efforts and mud slinging that the Republicans and the conservatives are constantly throwing at them?

Sandra Bernhard: I think it's to address it head on, especially with a personal attack. Do what they need to do to fully defend themselves, and expose the people doing it. They have to have the balls to follow through on it. I agree, but I find it very frustrating that the Democrat's mistake taking the high road for effectively defending themselves. Alright, let's talk religion… I know you have a Jewish background, as do I, and that you have chosen to embrace Kabbalah…

Sandra Bernhard: Kabbalah is not a religion. Kabbalah is a spiritual explanation of Judaism. It's all tied in. Unless you go to the mystical side of it, you don't understand what all these daily traditions and practices really mean. It's the dissemination of the spiritual side of Judaism. So it's not separate? It's actually a part of observing Judaism?

Sandra Bernhard: It's not a part of observing Judaism. It's about extrapolating out of Judaism a spiritual meaning. I would recommend it if you're Jewish, but I would also recommend it for everybody. It's like any spiritual practice, if it's right for you, like Buddhism, Hinduism or doing your yoga. Everybody needs a spiritual path to go on. I think it's in keeping with that philosophy. Do you think that the trend of celebrities, and especially celebrities who don't have a Jewish background, getting involved with Kabbalah, do you think it diminishes its credibility in some way?

Sandra Bernhard: Maybe it diminishes the credibility of The Kabbalah Center (The Beverly Hills based Kabbalah Center that is often frequented by Madonna, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher and many other celebrities), which is where that's available, but it doesn't diminish the credibility of the study of Kabbalah. In a nutshell, what is Kabbalah? What does it offer you in your life?

Sandra Bernhard
Sandra Bernhard

Sandra Bernhard: It offers me a deeper understanding of what we're all doing here. [It gives me] peace of mind and a deeper compassion and understanding toward my fellow man, and actual practical tools for healing and connecting to a higher consciousness. You've mentioned in the past that much of the conflict and negativity in this world is actually the result of religion, because religion is a crutch and people don't have to think. Do you think that religion can be used productively on this planet, if at all?

Sandra Bernhard: Only if it's based in spirituality. If it's just following the dogma, the rules of religion, then it's useless. The rituals are almost akin to that of OCD if there's no meaning behind it.

Sandra Bernhard: Exactly. When you became a mother, were you single at the time or in a relationship? And did you choose to become pregnant as opposed to adoption, because you wanted to experience pregnancy?

Sandra Bernhard: Yeah. I wanted The Full Monty! I guess if it hadn't worked out, maybe I would have adopted, but it did and it was a total blessing and an incredible experience. I love the way it all came together. Do you want to have any more kids?

Sandra Bernhard: No. I think I'd like to raise one child to the fullest capacity that I have, as opposed to overwhelming myself. In the world we're living in, if you're not really completely involved and on top of your child's upbringing and day to day routine, you can really lose track of where they're headed. What's your take on these young girls like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan going to jail and drug rehab?

Sandra Bernhard: That it's a total distraction from what is really essential and what's going on in the world. People are lazy. They don't want to face the responsibility of what they can do, day to day, to effect change in the political system and in the environment and their own survival on the planet. They'd rather just sit there, watching some empty headed girl do stupid things. It makes them feel better because they can laugh at it and look at it, and it's somehow a distraction. I really don't talk about any of those people in my show, with the exception of Britney [Spears], because I can actually weave it into some sort of thing that's kind of emotional and ironic. And what is the new show that you're working on?

Sandra Bernhard: It's called Plan B. It's a little more freewheeling and improvisational. It's night to night, very different. What do you like to sink your teeth into most, political issues, social issues or entertainment?

Sandra Bernhard: For me, everything falls together and becomes entertainment. If I can do something personal and talk about it in a personal way, that's how it works. That's how I know that it's something right for me to be talking about. You got some rave reviews for Everything Bad and Beautiful. Do you read your reviews and give them credence at all?

Sandra Bernhard
Sandra Bernhard

Sandra Bernhard: Well, I'm only interested in it from the perspective that it helps support the show, but in terms of what it does for me emotionally or my ego, I'm not that interested. How do you wish your career to be summed up through this point in time, as far as who you are as a personality and as an artist?

Sandra Bernhard: I think the most important thing is that I've always been very iconoclastic and honest and true to my view of the world and my own personal exploration. So I always like to think of myself as an artist who comes from a place of truth, and who is also very entertaining and encompassing the world and emotions and things that really matter.

Sandra Bernhard's 'Everything Bad and Beautiful' is available on CD with exclusive video footage along with her dance single 'Perfection' available now through Breaking Records -