Friday, Oct. 11, 8 p.m.
The fact that Lily Tomlin and Sandra Bernhard will be performing back-to-back this weekend almost seems like a planned bit of genius on the Carolina’s part.
After all, both ladies have had similar career arcs. They’re both known for their outspokenness, on and off the stage. They each have done acclaimed one-woman shows that later became feature films. They’re comic icons in both the feminist and LGBTQ communities.
“I wish I could be there,” says Bernhard, on the phone from her New York home. Bernhard, who recently found out about the scheduling, will be in Charlotte during Tomlin’s Durham set.
After all these years of circling each other, it’s surprising that they haven’t joined forces in some way, even touring together. “We’ve been in touch recently, so it’s nice,” says Bernhard, 58. “She’s continued to be an amazing force as an entertainer and a political person.”
While the show at the Carolina is billed as I Love Being Me, Don’t You?, Bernhard is testing out Sandyland, her latest one-woman show. A work-in-progress she’s been chipping away at for the past two years, the Michigan-born, Arizona-bred Bernhard will be dispensing stories and anecdotes about her life and career, along with belting out some musical numbers with help from guitarist Zac Taylor and a couple of N.C.-based musicians hired just for this tour.
As a consistently unfiltered comedian who’s been known to alternate unpredictably between rants and vocal scats, all while exhibiting a coltish, divalicious persona that’s as exaggerated as it is entrancing, she promises Sandyland will be just as multifaceted. “I always think my work has a sense of cabaret, burlesque, rock ‘n’ roll, theater and, you know, kind of contemporary performance,” she says.
“I’ve always drawn from all the things that have inspired me and I found to be fun and interesting and compelling.”
Bernhard, who’s been grinding away for more than 35 years now, has a backlog of memories and experiences to inform her show: her early days as an LA standup, which led to her becoming a regular on Richard Pryor’s short-lived variety series; holding her own alongside Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis as a stalkerific fan in Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy; her numerous, notorious Letterman appearances in the 1980s (she showed off her then-BFF Madonna during one memorably batty appearance); her stint on Roseanne as the star’s bisexual gal pal.
But even with all that under her belt (which, knowing Bernhard’s stylish tastes, is probably a Kate Spade), it’s still all about the stage for Bernhard. Even though motherhood has taken up most of her time these past several years (she has a 15-year-old daughter), she always finds a way to get onstage and do what she does best: use those trademark, full-bodied lips of hers to say whatever the hell she wants.
“I think it’s more than that,” she demurs. “I mean, yes, I think that’s where my improvisational skills come in but, certainly, I try to say things that make sense and have meaning. I mean, it’s not just spewing out a bunch of stupid platitudes and clichés.
“I think I’ve tried to, like, always keep my material a little bit compelling and myself, as a performer, sharp and on-edge and somebody who, at times, demands respect and also gives a lot in a way most people aren’t willing to do.”
This article appeared in print with the headline “A night in Sandyland.”