Review: Sandra Bernhard Shows She’s Still on Fire

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Sandra Bernhard brought her show to UCLA's Royce Hall on Saturday, February 15, 2014.

Sandra Bernhard brought her show to UCLA's Royce Hall on Saturday, February 15, 2014.

Even though I don’t smoke, something struck me and stayed with me after Sandra Bernhard’s performance at Royce Hall in the campus of UCLA on Saturday night.

“Sandra, you are a cigarette come to life,” as she was described by an old friend of hers way back in the late 70’s and early 80’s when Bernhard was getting noticed in the comedy clubs around Los Angeles.

Bernhard is hard to defined as an artist, as she is part standup comedian, part singer, part social commentator, part poet, provocateur but always terribly witty and funny. She won The National Society of Film Critics “Best Supporting Actress” award for The King of Comedy (1983) with Jerry Lewis, was one of the first openly lesbian character (Nancy Bartlet) on the TV series “Roseanne,” has had two of her one-woman shows on Off-Broadway, but even more important she has retained her wit, humor and edge all these years.

Born in Flint, Michigan on June 6, 1955, her family soon moved to Scottsdale, Arizona when she was 10 years old. This move proved to be crucial because it put her just a bit closer to the capital of entertainment, Los Angeles, where she would make her mark and a city that she calls home. She currently resides in New York with her girlfriend, Sara Switzer, of 15 years and the daughter she gave birth to in 1998, Cecily, which were a big part of her material on Saturday.

The nearly packed house at Royce Hall was made up primarily of men and women from the gay community which are and have been her core fan base in her 40-year career. Interesting enough, even though Bernhard considers herself bi-sexual, the majority of her material touches a broader audience in its scope and observation.

Sporting “a little black dress,” meshed stockings, silver shoes and stylish curls, she made her entranced to Gordon Lightfoot’s song “If You Could Read My Mind Girl” – backed by her musicians Chris Jax (guitar), Simon Hancock (drums) and musical director and longtime collaborator Mitch Kaplan (piano), who go by the name “The Flawless Zircons.”

For the next 90 minutes of “Sandyland,” the audience got treated to a no-stop hilarious glimpses of Bernhard’s past several years through a series of vignettes framed by several musical numbers. From her “stable” family life to her times on the road from New York, down to one of her favorite punching bags, the rural south.

Always irreverent, her opening remarks welcomed her adoring fans. On top of that, she sarcastically acknowledged some of her “biz” friends in the audience who only called when they needed something and would passed her by for jobs in film and TV. Interesting enough, she has been offered a new project on ABC Family where she stated, “where would you expect to find me!”

Breaking into her first hilarious monologue, she described her domestic life with Sara and Cecily with keen observations about what her life is like while in a relationship that now can be made legal in New York. Will she marry Sara? “Let’s crunch the numbers,” she told her accountant when he asked. “Not for a couple of thousand dollar difference, not a great return on investment,” she responded.

But it was the “little black dress” segment that put me on the floor laughing. In her own neurotic way, she described it via her GF while on a trip to Paris and how this “versatile,” double pocketed “must have” can be used by a Hollywood executive in that dog-eat-dog world. Or if she (Bernhard) happened, at some point, to become homeless, it’d perfect for surviving in the streets.

With her musical numbers and “singer” persona, Bernard has found a “voice” but also a way in which to brake-up her monologues into segments while using them thematically and sometimes comically. The best of these came late in the evening when she stepped offstage, changed to a white tank top and bloomers and came back to belt out the now famous/infamous Miley Cyrus song “Wrecking Ball” with her over the top mannerism.

While Bernhard may not be a household name to most Americans, her brand of humor is rooted in today’s America. Whether touching on the effect of technology on our lives, commenting on popular culture, junk mail or on how it feels to be older and in a relationship Sandra (Sandy) Bernhard does it with style, wit and a great deal of panache! Not to mention a few “f*cks”! Once you see this “Cigarette Come to Life” it will be a hard habit to break.

Humberto Capiro is a Contributing Writer for Living Out Loud - LA, covering lifestyle and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter: @HumbertoCapiro
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