Glam queertainer Sandra Bernhard celebrates 20 years of her acclaimed one-woman show
It’s been 20 year since Sandra Bernhard’s "Without You, I’m Nothing" — the sassy, one-woman off-Broadway show that forever put her on our pop culture map — debuted. And Bernhard is about to tour with it again. Here we discuss what’s new in the revival, gay Pride and her concerns as a queer parent (Bernhard and partner Sara Switzer have a daughter, Cicely).
What does gay Pride mean to you? I think pride is something that comes out of an accomplishment, a job well-finished and seen through. Gay Pride has the same idea behind it. We’ve come from being thought of as minstrels and cheap entertainment and now we’re being taken more seriously as parents and partners. It’s been an internal struggle and an external sort of celebration of constantly evolving as a community.
It has been 40 years since Stonewall. Where do you see the LGBT community 40 years from now? Part of the mainstream fabric of culture and life in America — hopefully around the world. I don’t mean we’re going to lose our sense of uniqueness any more than the black community has lost theirs. We’re always going to have what makes us special, but when you become more accepted in the mainstream, you relax a little bit and don’t feel the need to be as isolated or defensive."
What was the best gay moment since Stonewall? For me personally, there’s a piece in my show where it has Sylvester as a backdrop and "Mighty Real" and the Castro Street experience… it’s something I relate to and feel it was a big celebration. The ’70s and ’80s. the disco kind of era. I mean in terms of actual celebratory glamour and entertainment value. On that level.
How do you feel now that we’re in an Obama-led country? Great. Even if he’s not ready to fully understand or make a direct change he’s always in the process of communicating with smart people who are helping him forge his ideas in a way that is very successful and positive. So I feel really good about it. He’s a smart, intuitive person working hard at turning back the draconian philosophy of the Bush administration in a way so nobody can point their fingers and say you’re being extreme or liberal. If they do, people know they’re blowhards and full of shit. I absolutely adore Michelle. She’s a brilliant statesperson in her own right. I look at her and [can] imagine her being the president as well, but with the woman’s touch but not the ego that gets in the way of what she can do as a woman.
Do you see yourself getting married to Sara? No, we’re not into that. Marriage just doesn’t appeal to me in that way. But I’m happy for everybody who needs it and wants it.
How is she doing these days? She’s fantastic. She’s super independent, smart, brilliant, tough woman who works in P.R., and when I met her she had never been with a woman before. Almost 10 years later it’s the best relationship I ever had.
What are your biggest concerns as a queer parent? I don’t think it has anything to do with my sexuality. My biggest concern is my child grows up to have the enthusiasm and joy in simple things and not be swept up in this cynical, smartass attitude the Internet just seems to provoke. I’m really lucky because we send her to a school that’s very media-free and they don’t study on the computer until 7th grade. They have to go to the library, all the references are from books. I want her to know how to hold something in her hand and appreciate that energy. To be able to communicate directly to somebody and look them in the eye. To be a communicator is for me the most important thing to maintain in the world we’re living in.
Are you ever concerned you’ll catch Cicely watching Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity? Oh God, no. She’s a huge fan of Rachel Maddow and Keith Oberman. Rachel and her partner have become friends of ours and been over for dinner. She really engages in the conversation. During the whole election process she knew what was going on and understood it. I’m really proud of her.
And Sara’s biggest concern as a parent? Manners. She’s from St. Louis and wants the kid to have great manners.
So it’s the 20th anniversary of "Without You I’m Nothing." What changes have been made for this revival, if any? I would say 70 percent is the big pieces from the original and we weave in new material and freshen it up topically. A lot of the [additions] are moment to moment in terms of what’s happening that day or week. It’s very improvisational. When I did it last year in D.C. for three weeks it was all about the election.
How would the show be different today if you wrote it from scratch? The great thing about "Without You" is it’s based so much on my own life and experiences and memories. They’re things from my life and wouldn’t be all that different.
What are your thoughts on Carrie Prejean? I don’t think there’s anything to think about her. She’s an automaton. This is a business for Trump. I guess he was run out of the real estate biz so he has to come up with all these cheap side deals. Even Perez Hilton I’m sure loves it because it put him on the map in a whole different way.
How do you feel about Twitter and Facebook? Oddly enough I’ve started Twittering. It’s really easy to do. I use it as a little mini-platform for thoughts and introspection. The MySpace and all that I couldn’t figure out how to navigate, but Twitter is really easy so I’m enjoying it. I just want to get out my philosophies and thoughts.
What else are you up to lately? So many things are pending. Suffice to say I will be seen a lot more in TV and film this upcoming year and continue to pursue my live performance as I always have and will. And supposedly this music album I recorded a couple of years ago is going to come out in August. This insane songwriter came to me with and he produced it. Unforeseen problems barred, it’s going to be out and called "Whatever It Takes." Chrissie Hynde is on it and a lot of international musicians.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 19, 2009.