Q&A with Comedian, Singer, Actress and Author Sandra Bernhard

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Sandra Bernhard brings her many hats to the Royce Hall stage on Saturday, February 15, 2014.

Sandra Bernhard brings her many hats to the Royce Hall stage on Saturday, February 15, 2014.

Ever since the 1970s, the one-and-only Sandra Bernhard has continuously managed to make us laugh non-stop.

When she was 5 years of age, Bernhard knew she was going to be a live performer. But that’s not the only calling she’s had over the years. Bernhard is also an author, actress and singer on top of being an extremely likeable personality.

In an exclusive interview for Living Out Loud, Bernhard spoke about her show at UCLA’s Royce Hall on Saturday, February 15, balancing her career with so many hats, Los Angeles, changes in the entertainment industry and much more.

Living Out Loud: Tell us about your upcoming show at Royce Hall on Saturday.
Sandra Bernhard: People always come to my shows because they know it’s going to be a fabulous evening of my very unique blend of observation and social commentary, and the fun and crazy stories, and the amazing music with my band The Flawless Zircons – original songs, covers. Obviously, it’s really important to me to always stay fresh and topical, and that my material is always new. It’s a great post-modern, one-woman musical show.

LOL: Throughout your career, you’ve been known as a comedian, singer, writer, and actress. How have you been able to balance so many things?
SB: Well, any creative person – that’s what they do. There are shows they’re working on, you go back and forth, and with creative work you’re always on your toes, excited about doing fresh, new things.

LOL: How do you stay in tune with pop culture and current events?
SB: It couldn’t be any easier with the Internet, all everyone does is sit around and read what’s happening. It’s a very easy thing to keep up on, that’s the least of my problems. For me, it’s about what inspires me and what matters, and topics and conversations that I think are worth having with myself and my friends in the audience.

LOL: What’s your take on social media and its influence on the way we live our lives?
SB: It depends on how strong you are independently about your view of the world, and how creative and interesting you are. I think it’s about staying connected and inspired by history, art and things of the moment that really matter, so you don’t get sucked into it. It becomes almost numbing at a certain point.

LOL: Why the move away from LA a few years back?
SB: I didn’t move out of LA. My girlfriend and my daughter prefer New York because that’s just where things evolve, but I’m in LA all the time. When my daughter graduates high school in a couple of years I’ll go back and forth more, but for now, I gotta be at the home front. This is where she goes to school so this is where we’re based, but when you’re in this business, you get bounced around anyway.

LOL: What do you like the most about LA and what do you miss when you’re away?
SB: I miss my car, and listening to the radio in my car. I miss the sunshine and the warmth. [New York City] and LA are just two completely divergent experiences and I love them both equally. But I’m LA about once a month, that’s the good news.

LOL: What’s on your agenda for the next few months?
SB: I recently finished filming the show “Separated at Birth” on ABC Family; I play an art instructor. I’m in the midst of creating a lot of projects, and it’s pilot season, so there will be a lot of auditioning. We’ll see how it all pans out.

LOL: What can you tell us about the cultural and social differences between Michigan, where you’re originally from, and California or New York?
SB: Well all of America has its own stamp, you know? It’s a big and diverse country, and some states are very agriculturally oriented, some are industry-oriented, some are more cosmopolitan like New York. They’re all unique. Wherever you go, people have their own idiosyncrasies and that’s what makes America so unique. It’s one country with many, many different diverse perspectives and philosophies.

LOL: At this point in your career, what do you consider to be your biggest satisfaction?
SB: Getting to perform and people buying tickets to my live shows. To me, that’s the biggest compliment. People don’t go to live shows as much as they used to because of the Internet and more stuff on television. It’s a different world. When people make the effort and buy tickets to go out, we couldn’t ask for anything more.

LOL: What made you want to perform live?
SB: Oh, I knew I was going to be a live performer since I was 5 years old. That’s what I did growing up, perform for my family. I got all the attention and praise, and I just transformed to do it as an adult and professional. It’s really cool that my idea and image of what I wanted to be has come to pass, and I continue to do it.

Sandra Bernhard

Sandra Bernhard

LOL: How have you evolved as an artist over the years?
SB: It’s emotional, and about the spiritual journey on every level. I’ve grown emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, artistically. If you stay in touch with what inspires you, and stay plugged into that, you’ll continue to be a vital artist throughout your career and life. If you stay enthusiastic about what you do and the people you meet, and the things you see, it keeps you vital.

LOL: Looking ahead, is there anyone you would like to collaborate with professionally?
SB: There are several writers, actors, directors. I like David O. Russell and his films. I think it would be an interesting fit. I love “Modern Family,” I love “Girls.” There are a lot of TV shows I would like to be involved with. Then there’s the people I haven’t met yet that I usually meet along the way who are young and creative, and understand my work.

LOL: Do you still stay in touch with Madonna?
SB: No, not really. Unless we run into each other at some event, we don’t stay in touch.

LOL: What advice can you give the young people out there who might want to follow in your footsteps professionally but are struggling?
SB: What I always tell everyone is, if you’re going to do live performing, you need to have a unique point of view. You have to be really clear about what matters to you on a lot of different levels. You also have to be willing to roll up your sleeves, and get up every night and go to the clubs, write your material and write your songs, and just stay focused. Don’t get sidetracked by a lot of crap. You can have fun while you’re young but you must stay disciplined. I worked during the day, but went out at night and performed. I never fell in with drugs or drinking. You have to stay sober and clean, and have your wits about you. If you don’t have that, you won’t be able to make it, let alone sustain it.

LOL: Would you say authenticity is the most important aspect of having a successful career?
SB: I think so. Now, more than ever. When I started, it wasn’t like every person on the planet was trying to blog or have their point of view out on the Internet – there was no Internet. There were limited outlets for your work – some TV channels and the movie industry – that was about it. Now, you gotta really know what you want to say because everyone else is saying it at the same time. There are a lot of voices and it’s hard to be heard through it all.

LOL: What’s your take on fashion, and is it something you plan or does it manifest naturally?
SB: It just comes naturally. I’ve got many, many friends who are designers and many generous people who just give me clothes because they like the way I look in them. At the same time, when I started out in the 80’s and then in the 90’s, it was a very exciting time because not every actor in the world was at fashion shows. I got to walk at some of the shows, and fashion was always a big part of my shows. Now it’s not as original anymore, it’s the same principle and a bunch of bloggers giving their opinion about fashion – it’s become redundant.

LOL: What changes in the entertainment industry have been challenging for you to adapt to?
SB: I think the Internet. It has really gotten in the way, at least for me personally, of people going out and experiencing live, one-on-one. Now, every other person you see is looking into their machine, bumping into people. It’s as if people are lost, both literally and metaphorically. What’s great about being in the world is actually looking at the world, and connecting with it. When you’re constantly texting and posting Instagram pictures, it’s like who fucking cares, you know? Every picture that’s taken, has been taken already. Just…be in the world. Live your life. Meet a stranger at a coffee shop and engage. It irritates me, but most importantly, it gets in the way of people evolving and connecting.

LOL: Anything else you want to add?
SB: LA is where I started my career, and it’s interesting because Cinco de Mayo this year will mark the 40th year since I moved out to LA. It’s crazy that I went with this dream and achieved it. Forty years later I still feel fresh and connected, and excited about what I do. LA was a great starting point for me, especially at that time, there were a lot more opportunities for young performers to get up and do their thing without this idea that they could get on a TV show and become an overnight sensation. There is no such thing. You gotta put in your work and your time. I’m just really grateful that I got my start at a time when there weren’t so many distractions. It’s always like a homecoming when I go back to LA and perform, but especially this year. It’s a celebration, and Royce Hall at UCLA is a beautiful venue. It’s always a big deal, and I really appreciate having an audience that’s stayed with me all these years.


Sandra Bernhard
Royce Hall at UCLA
Saturday, February 15 at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $25-60

Marvin Vasquez is a Senior Staff Reporter for Living Out Loud - LA, covering lifestyle, entertainment and sports. Follow him on Twitter: @geo_la
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