Sandra Bernhard almost lost her mind in the back seat of a taxi.
Speeding through the city streets, her cab approached a mail truck with a bumper sticker that read: “I Support Our Troops Overseas”
Sounds reasonable. Nothing to make a fuss about, right? Maybe even downright innocuous.
Not to Bernhard.
“I wanted to scream out to the driver, ’What are you doing to support our troops overseas exactly? Are you, like, raising finances to send them special things? Are you providing them with Kevlar vests? What are you doing?”’ she says, the ire still in her voice.
“We all support them in theory. Nobody wants these kids to go over and die. But then it takes this next step: If you question the war, you’re questioning our troops. No — it’s just the opposite. I’m questioning the war because there’s no reason for those kids to be dying.”
Trust Bernhard to turn a mundane decal into a rant.
Now, 50, the gap-toothed performer with famously fleshy lips clearly hasn’t slowed down, whether it’s tooling around Manhattan or in her latest off-Broadway show, “Everything Bad & Beautiful.”
On stage, Bernhard blends an eclectic mix of music — covers of songs by Bob Dylan, Christina Aguilera and Prince — with her sneerfully ironic and hypocrisy-busting take on current events.
“Wherever there’s something hot off the presses and interesting and captivating, and I feel like I can do my spin on it, I’ll grab it and jot it down,” she says. “It’s whatever comes up in the moment. I’m a very fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants performer. That’s how all my shows have come together.”
Ironic, post-ironic, or post-post-ironic?Her latest grab-bag of targets includes Laura Bush, Tiger Woods, Teresa Heinz Kerry and Celine Dion, just to name a few. On events in the Middle East, she says with icy sarcasm: “Remember, peace is just a breath away — Sharon Stone said it.”
Bernhard’s brand of humor can be befuddling to the uninitiated, switching seamlessly from a heartfelt story about her daughter to a savage dig at Bush’s daughters. “I walk that fine line. I’m not maudlin. I will never take anything to its maudlin conclusion because to me it’s disgusting and it’s what I hate most about our country right now — that sense of drippy, self-indulgence.”
At one point in the show, she imagines a savage dressing down of Condoleezza Rice by civil rights icon Rosa Parks. In another, she makes a costume change right there on the stage, chatting away as she slips out of a dress and into jeans as if such things were perfectly routine.
Is she being ironic or post-ironic? Or could it be post-post-ironic?
“I really don’t understand what any of that means,” she says. “I understand the nuances of my work and I know that what I do has layers of irony, but I never over-intellectualize what I’m doing. I don’t have that kind of personality.”
Perhaps, but don’t ever call her a cynic: “I have too much passion and too much love for the things that are great to be cynical. Cynical means you’ve thrown in the towel,” she says.
The latest show is her first since she skewered the post-9/11 world in “Hero Worship.” Her other shows include 1988’s “Without You I’m Nothing” and “I’m Still Here ... Damn It!” a decade later.
“I think people love her or they don’t,” says Daryl Roth, the current show’s producer. “I think she’s fearless. She speaks what’s on her mind and she does it with a wink — that’s what I like about her. When the audience gets that, they go for the ride with her.”
Some of the material this time around may seem a little dusty, particularly references to the 2004 presidential campaign. But reviewers have generally been kind, happy to again get her cockeyed view on things and her trademark celebrity bashing.
As cutting as Bernhard can be, fans have lately noticed a softer side to the actress, who seems to have settled happily into a long-term relationship with her girlfriend and clearly delights in her daughter, Cicely, who will be 8 on July 4.
“A lot of people have said to me, ’She used to be edgier.’ I know that’s true and I agree, but she’s in a different place in her life,” says Roth. “She has this child, who she adores, she’s in a great relationship. ... She has a lot going on in her soul right now that wasn’t there before.”
Making the ride all the more enjoyable this time is the presence of The Rebellious Jezebels, a talented band that backs up Bernhard. Keeping up with the ever-shifting tastes of the diva is no easy feat.
Welcome to 'Sandy's World'Bernhard’s skinny, 5-foot-10 frame burst into pop culture in 1983 in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” playing a crazed fan opposite Jerry Lewis and Robert De Niro. She also became known as Madonna’s raven-haired, outspoken gal pal and an early celebrity adherent of kabbalah.
Her other film credits include “Hudson Hawk,” “Playing Mona Lisa,” “Wrongfully Accused” and, more recently, “Dinner Rush” and “Searching for Bobby D.” Her most recent album is “Gems of Mystery.” She has written three book: “Confessions of a Pretty Lady,” “Love, Love, and Love” and “May I Kiss You on the Lips, Miss Sandra?” On TV, she portrayed Nancy on “Roseanne” from 1991-1996 and has had guest roles on “The L Word,” “Ally McBeal,” “Crossing Jordan” and “Will & Grace.”
Soon Bernhard plans to shoot a pilot episode she’s created for the Logo cable network. Tentatively called “Sandy’s World,” it’ll be a half-hour variety show.
As with the TV show, Bernhard hopes her theatrical performance changes some minds. Whether it’s about the Iraq war or Paris Hilton, she wants her audience to bask in the bizarre.
“It’s part of our obligation as thinking human beings,” she says. “I would love to reach out to people who are riding the fence and maybe would like to feel a little more open about their life. Ultimately, that’s my message.”