Sandra Bernhard's been shocking audiences since she began doing stand-up in the '70s. She became a household name as Nancy Bartlett on Roseanne -- one of the first recurring lesbian characters on TV. Since then, she's released a number of albums, made tons of TV and film appearances, and continued her stand-up through it all.
We caught up with former Out cover girl and two-time Out 100 honoree to discuss who's annoying her most right now, Perez Hilton's character, and how she keeps her routine fresh.
Out: I saw you tweeted that your upcoming tour is going to be called Sister Cinnamon's Traveling Circus.
Sandra Bernhard: It was, but it's not anymore.
Oh no, why not?
I was kind of under the gun to come up with a title for my show because I'm going back to London. In order to make it work and design a poster and everything, it's just going to be too crazy. So I'm just calling it Whatever It Takes, which is kind of based on an album that came out a year ago. I mean, a simple poster, and we can sell the album. Sometimes I get these ideas and even if they don't come to pass, it's kind of funny to throw it up on Twitter and get people's response.
What did that title even mean?
Well, it actually' I was watching Elton John and Leon Russell last week live on Fuse. I thought my girlfriend said 'Oh, it's Sister Cinnamon.' I said, 'Sister Cinnamon?' She said, 'Sisters singing.' He had three back-up singers. I just misunderstood what she said, so it came out of that. It was fun and it was weird, that's how I roll. I'll hear something and it becomes something.
You're doing all kinds of stand-up in the coming months. All these years later, how do you not run out of material?
Have you looked around at our world recently? It just gets weirder and crazier by the minute. Add in my own personal take on my life and personal experiences. In the past 13 years, I got pregnant and had my daughter, who's now 12. It's kind of endless. We got a dog, I talk about my dog. There's always something crazy and insane to cover. Just across the board, there's plenty of stuff to talk about and keep it fresh and interesting.
Do you get along with other comics? It seems like you guys always hate each other, but I saw you gave Lisa Lampanelli a 'mazel tov' for her marriage.
I'm not really in that world so much. Every once and a while, we cross paths. I have a lot of respect, especially for women who are out there doing their thing. Lisa's a real iconoclast and just balls out. She thought I didn't like her, which wasn't true. So we had this kind of funny [situation] where I reached out to her on Twitter and through Howard Stern, so it was also like 'Oh, you do like me?' You know, she does all of the roasts. Sometimes they'll have me on, not on TV but just at the Friar's Club, and I hate roasts. I can't stand -- even if it's all in jest -- saying things about people. I find that just too much for my nerves. So when I get to a roast, I kind of shut down. So I think she took it personally, like I didn't like her. But they make me nervous, so we kind of cleared the air and became friends on Twitter, which is really fun.
Who in the media right now is getting on your nerves?
Obviously all of the tea partiers and these extreme right-wing candidates from Sharron Angle to Christine O'Donnell, and the two women running out in California. These people are just constantly churning up the negativity and the antipathy. I don't get it. I don't believe they care about this country. I think they're narcissists and they're weird. I just wish they would stop this ridiculous dialogue that is unnecessary and destructive to our culture, which is already fragile.
You came under a lot of fire back in 2008 for a joke you made about Sarah Palin. Has enough time passed that you feel like you can talk about her in your act again?
You know, honestly, I have no interest in talking about her. She shouldn't even be part of the American conversation. I find it ridiculous, so I don't even talk about her. There's nothing to say. She's ridiculous.
What about Meghan McCain. I heard you think she's a closet Democrat.
Well, she is. It's just not interesting to be a Democrat and talk about all the things she talks about. But when you're under the guise of being a Republican, and you're pro-choice, and you're critiquing your party, it suddenly makes for a good story. I think she wants to have a platform, so it's a convenient way to have it.
What made you decide to get into world music?
The man who wrote that project approached me because he's very involved in world music. It's not necessarily something I would have done. But I thought the music was beautiful, and he wanted to produce it with me being the singer of the project. It was a great opportunity, so why now? I think it's great to present multicultural art to the world in a palatable, interesting platform, which it was. So that's why I got involved with that.
Do you still incorporate that into your act?
Yeah, I do some of the songs in my show. For sure. I honestly like it better live than I do on the album. I think stripped down and just kind of acoustic -- it sounds better. But he wanted to bring in all these other musicians, so I just let him do it. But now that I do it live, I actually like it better.
Is the fan base the same?
I think every time you do something that steps a little bit outside your perimeter, it brings in new people. I know when I'm on Howard Stern, I've had people like union guys who love me. You know what I mean? It's fun to draw on people from all different worlds who even though they may not think exactly the way I think, there's some sort of connective tissue. It's a nice thing.
Are you sick of people asking about your gig on Roseanne?
Oh no, never. Not at all. It was such a great show, and I still have so many fans because people still watch it. And it's, I think, still relevant because so many people are in that position now of struggling. It was such a popular show with so many great ideas put into it that it's timeless. It was one of the best shows that was ever on TV.
What about the Madonna stuff? Are you tired of being asked about that yet?
No, I mean, we haven't been friends in 20 years. We bump into each other, but she has her own universe, which is very clear to everybody, so' [laughs]. It was fun when we were friends in the day, and it was a great time. But we're not friends anymore, so there's nothing to really say about it, other than to say it was a good time when we were.
You just appeared at an event with Perez Hilton. Are you friends?
You know something, no. I don't even know if we'd really met before. We're obviously in the same sort of universe. It's fun to do something with him, and he certainly reaches a lot of people, which I think is really cool.
Do you buy that he's a changed man?
If people want to change, they can change. It depends on why they want' maybe there's something personal that he wanted to transform in his life. It's certainly possible.
What's happening with the film you're filming with Michael Urie?
Actually, that got pushed to the spring. That'll be shooting in Chicago because they couldn't secure the location. And when winter hits in Chicago -- I think there's a bad storm there now -- it kind of ruins the whole thing. So we'll shoot that in April or May. I imagine it will be fun with good people involved and a really great script.
Anything else you're up to?
There are some TV projects that I'm going to be pitching to the networks out in L.A. And also I spent the summer writing a musical with Justin Bond, and we're in the process of getting that set up, as well. It's a great musical, a great idea, and I think people will just really dig it.