Sandy has been near and dear to my heart since the summer of ’89, when I somehow picked up the cassette of her one-woman show “Without You I’m Nothing” at Tower Records while on a summer internship in Washington, DC (unfortunately that was the extent of my picking up that summer). It was a new kind of comedy, unlike anything else I’d encountered before – that emotive, evocative, intellectual storytelling where the point was to engage as well as entertain. It changed my life! And it changed the life of my friends at college the following year as we made it the soundtrack of our late-night drives to Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester, Mass.
Over the years Sandra wore many faces …Madonna’s BFF, Madonna’s ex-BFF, angry ambiguous lesbian, angry affirmed lesbian ... she carved out her own niche in the world of comedy cabaret and she owned it. At a show during the Ann Arbor Summer Festival back in ’05 (never underestimate the power of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival), where she was fine-tuning her upcoming show and return to excellence “Everything Bad & Beautiful,” she had transformed into a mature woman open about her sexuality, speaking about her girlfriend and daughter, proclaiming her opinions about the world in which we live, and still being outrageous and touching and sexy. Has a woman with less to offer aesthetically ever been so confident in her sexual appeal? Other than your whorey mom, I say no.
Sandra live is not quite the same as Sandra on tape. She gets angry. She tells screaming fans in the audience to shut up ...
“Sandra!!!!” they screamed.
“That isn’t pretty” she replied.
She occasionally lets her rants get the best of her, but always in that jaded, put-out kind of way that makes it seem like your sister bitching. Seeing her be annoyed is half the fun.
Naturally, Sandra had something to say about the gays … “You used to be out partying all night, and now you’re moving to the suburbs” she said with a sneer to the crowd of gays in their 40’s and 50’s . She talked about the drift toward conformity, here in the gay ghetto that once represented the exact opposite. And where was the spirit of Sylvester in the gay world today? (As if to confirm that absence, after the show one of the guys I was there with asked who Sylvester was. Seriously!) The crowd chuckled, of course, but the truth of that did hit a little close to home, as evidenced by conversations overheard after the show.
It wasn’t all politics and annoyance, though. Sandy entertained and interpreted songs her way, starting with “U and UR Hand” by Pink, singing an homage to the San Francisco of old, and ending the night with her now-classic interpretation of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette.”
She doesn’t always win fans with her shows, but if you don’t mind a little confrontation, then there is no better entertainment than Sandra Bernhard. She will confront you and comfort you at the same time, and for the gay community, there is no one better at truly reflecting the cultural zeitgeist than our own Sandy.