In the past, comedienne and actress Sandra Bernhard's one-woman shows, I'm Still Here...Damn It and Without You, I'm Nothing, have proven her to be both hip to and hypercritical of pop culture. Known for her hilarious, poignant and delightfully bitchy takes on almost everything, Bernhard appears at Joe's Pub this month in "Songs I Sang on the Kibbutz," in which she takes on all comers. Backed by a five-piece band under the direction of her longtime friend and musical collaborator, Mitch Kaplan, Bernhard is true to form. With confidence and style, Bernhard moves seamlessly from singing to commenting on the cover of Vanity Fair to assailing the ludicrous concept behind the television show, "Survivor." Bernhard makes no secret of the fact that she has a kid to feed now and plans to tackle a dual career as entertainer and single mother. In "Kibbutz," the brassy bad girl of the theatrical avant garde makes a bold musical statement that she hopes will open new doors for her.
Playbill On-Line: You're known for being both outspoken and a risk taker, and this new show at Joe's Pub features a lot of music. How do you feel about it so far and what prompted the idea to try a musical format?
Sandra Bernhard: Well, I'm really excited about it. I wasn't sure exactly what it was going to be at first. I knew it would be a musical and I wanted it to have a lot of the music that has always been important to me. You know, some old stuff, some new songs that we've written. In the end, it came together. It's still me, with comedy and my show, but music has always meant a lot to me and I wanted to make that a big part of this.
PBOL: Speaking of musicals, there are reports that you may be considering a role in Jordan Roth's revival of The Rocky Horror Show. Anything to that?
SB: They offered me the part, but it only paid $2,000 a week and I just don't work for that kind of money any more. I can't afford to.
PBOL: Even though it's something you've wanted to do for a while, at least as far back as 1996, right?
SB: Well, I want to be honest about this, because I really wanted to do the part and I'd like to work with the producers sometime. But it's just not financially feasible. I wanted to do it, but it was just too gnarly -- I've worked too many years and I have a kid now. I could do something like that but only for a limited run and maybe if it was something that I wouldn't normally have the opportunity to do.
PBOL: What other roles would fall into that sort of special category for you?
SB: Oh, I don't know. Something like a Cherry Jones role. But not for a whole six months, you know. With Rocky Horror, I wanted to do it, but I just couldn't and I'm sad about it. PBOL: Like your other projects, the title of your show at Joe's Pub is intriguing, "Song I Sang on the Kibbutz." Where do these songs come from?
SB: [Laughs] The truth is, it's something that Mitch Kaplan (musical director, collaborator) came up with in a pinch. We were sitting around Joe's Pub and we needed a title that explained all this and Mitch said, "How about, 'Songs I Sang on the Kibbutz?'" And I just said, "You are brilliant." I think it's just that you get so in-synch after working together for so many years.
PBOL: Well, it's the latest in a line of cool titles, Without I'm Nothing, Giving Till It Hurts and Excuses for Bad Behavior, Part 1.
SB: The problem with being the Title Queen is that you have to be careful - it's hard to top yourself every time.
PBOL: At Joe's Pub you seem to start any given number at a pace you can stick with and you appear very confident. Would you say you're truly comfortable with the transition to a musical format?
SB: I'm happy with the show and the way it's working out. I don't know if this show is so much transitional as it is evolutionary. Music is something important to me. It's an important part of my career and my life. But I've never been able to parlay it and until now I've never been able to do anything in terms of being taken seriously with more musically oriented stuff on stage.
PBOL: So, this signals a new phase in your career.
SB: I want it to. In my own work there's a whole gestalt. So, yeah, I think it'd be great to do musicals. That's why I wanted to do Rocky Horror, because it was the chance to be in someone else's work and do it... Singing is my first love. I don't know if it's something that necessarily comes "naturally," but I've been singing since I was a kid. And I'm theatrically minded, so I know about dynamics and what singing is about. I have a passion for rock and I'm a huge rock fan having grown up listening to great rock and roll bands. My brothers are all older than me and they exposed me to music and gave me a great opportunity to develop an appreciation for music based on a really eclectic background.
PBOL: We hear a lot about the various aspects of your personal life. How do you get along with your brothers and how are they with your daughter?
SB: They're great uncles and great brothers, so it's a nice combination. Of course, they all have kids, too, so we all try to get together as often as possible.
PBOL: Is there anything on your resume that you sometimes wish you hadn't done?
SB: I don't know, I pretty much like everything I've done. There have been some things I had to do to get by, but there are no regrets about anything. There are things I wish I had done, but didn't do. But I never look at my career like that because I don't think it's healthy. It's all been cool.
PBOL: Is there anyone you would really like to work with but you haven't had the opportunity?
SB: In terms of people I'd like to work with, I can imagine myself on stage with any number of musicians. I recently had the opportunity to do some stuff with Chrissie Hynde, where I opened for her in four cities on their tour. That was an amazing experience. I got to hang out with Joni Mitchell, but I haven't gotten to do anything with her yet. I did something for Don Henley when he was doing his Walden Woods project. And Sheryl Crow has been a huge supporter of mine; she turned me on to a couple of great gigs.
PBOL: What are you plans for the immediate future?
SB: Well, we may extend for another week at Joe's Pub. I'm trying to base myself in New York and either get the bulk of my work here or I'll be on the road, doing one nighters. Whatever comes along to pay the bills. I'll certainly be here in New York a lot and I'd like to send my kid to school here.
PBOL: Do you have any other specific plans in music?
SB: I'd like to get a record deal for my original songs, but not necessarily a live album. I don't like live albums. They suck and they sound like shit.
PBOL: In your show you are doing songs written with Mitch Kaplan, but you also do covers, like Tom Wait's "Downtown Train," which opens up a whole Rod Stewart dialogue. Would your record feature an equally wide range of musical collaborators?
SB: I pretty much write with Mitch exclusively. I've tried to write with other people but I don't connect. It's like Elton [John] and Bernie [Taupin] or Mick [Jagger] and Keith [Richards]. There are certain people you just feel sort of married to and you can work together, back and forth.
-- By Murdoch McBride