By Ed Hannan
If you asked Sandra Bernhard to check the box which best describes her occupation, and you gave her the following choices: comedian, singer, actress, author and talk show host, she’d have no choice but to check, “All of the above.”
Depending on how well you know Bernhard, chances are, you first heard of her as a stand-up comedian (she landed in the number 97 slot on Comedy Central’s list of the 100 greatest stand-up comedians of all time), her countless appearances on Late Night with David Letterman, her friendship with Madonna, her role on Roseanne or maybe even her pictorial in Playboy.
Maybe you knew her early in her career when she had a role in the 1983 Martin Scorsese film The King of Comedy. Or her one-woman show I’m Your Woman in 1985.
A star of stage, screen and song, Bernhard’s done it all, and she’s bringing a little bit of everything with her to Provincetown Town Hall on Saturday, Aug. 27 at 8 p.m.
The Aug. 27 show, titled “Feel the Bernhard,” offers her unique blend of stand-up comedy, rock-and-roll music, cabaret and even some burlesque. The show has played to sold-out venues in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago and now comes to Provincetown.
Though the title plays off the recent presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders, Bernhard says her shows aren’t that tied to current events.
“It’s much more personal. It’s much more day to day, taking things that are surprising and commonplace and putting a real fun narrative and spin on them. For me, it’s much more interesting. For my audience, it’s much more fulfilling. Of course I talk about the people I love, (President) Obama and (Democratic presidential nominee Hillary) Clinton and the causes I support. It’s a jumping-off place to things that are more personal.
“For me, the things everybody’s talking about aren’t even funny. They are real, they are depressing, but they are not entertaining. I don’t want to bore my audience beating them over the head with the obvious.”
Bernhard has been so linked to pop culture over the years that it’s hard to believe she’s been doing this since the 1970s. Her secret to longevity? “It’s putting yourself through a printer. I never try to create the same print twice. I try to create something original for each outlet. I try to come in with a fresh approach every day and bring something unique to it so it keeps me fresh and motivated. It’s reflecting the moment. There’s always so much going on personally, globally and culturally. Things shift quickly. You have to be able to go with the flow.
“It’s not hard because, as an artist and a performer, that’s what you do. It’s inspiring to strip away layers of artifice and redundancy and stay true to the moment and your experience to the moment.”
Bernhard finds time for all of her artistic endeavors (she also hosts a daily talk show on SiriusXM satellite radio called SandyLand) by achieving a healthy work-life balance.
“I try to pace myself. I take a lot of down time doing things that are important to maintain mental, emotional and physical health. I get sleep, eat right and exercise. The basics. I spend time with friends. I work in spurts. I’ll write a few pages if I’m working on a book or get on thep hone and bang out a few pages of a script with somebody.”
Because of her many commitments, Bernhard has significantly cut back on her live performances. “The number of dates varies, but I’m not on the road that much. I might do one or two dates a month. I’ll do my run of shows, five shows in six nights here in New York City in the winter.”
Bernhard incorporates many influences into her shows, too many in fact for her to mention. “I’ve been influenced by so many people, actors, musicians and people I liked. They are incorporated into my style and it becomes my style. Everybody starts off being influenced by someone.
“Ever since I was little, I wanted to be a comedian, performer and entertainer. I always sang. Singing is an important part of my shows. I always have at least a piano player, but I’ll also have a three-piece band in Provincetown. Music is an integral part of all my work.”
She’s fond of Bill Maher and Samantha Bee. “Stand-up comedy has never really been my thing. I prefer people who are actors and people who incorporate comedy into their acting.”
If you’ve got tickets to the show, which should run between 80 and 90 minutes in length, Bernhard says, “Go along with a really smart, fun, surprising ride. The music and the way I weave stories and a stream of consciousness. It’s personal and holding up the mirror to society. It covers all the different aspects of things that affect people every day. I try to keep my finger on the pulse of what affects people and makes people feel emotion, happiness and sadness. It’s all there in my show.”