Not too long ago, I received an email from Carla Patullo of the Austin-based company District 512 (and the band White Widow), announcing that Sandra Bernhard would be kicking off Austin’s gay-pride celebration with a performance titled “We’re Still Queer Honey!” with White Widow as her supporting band. Within an hour, I had a telephone interview scheduled with Sandra for the following day. Even though I’m a pretty avid fan, I still felt the need to take a crash course in Sandra Bernhard. Unfortunately, when I tried to watch 1982’s The King of Comedy online — without paying — my laptop caught a virus. I found several of Sandra’s scenes from the movie on YouTube — watching them on a friend’s computer — including the one in which she delivers an obsessive, cringe-worthy monologue to Jerry Lewis (whom she’s abducted with the help of Robert De Niro), who’s duct-taped to a chair. If you’re one of those people who doesn’t quite get why Bernhard is famous, start with The King of Comedy — just get it from a legitimate source. Below are some excerpts from my 20-minute phone interview with Sandra, who was surprisingly easy to talk to — about everything from the pregnant meteorologist on the Weather Channel to her feelings about Kabbalah — and even sang part of a Linda Ronstadt song.
I first saw The King of Comedy in Paul Zimmerman’s house `Zimmerman wrote the screenplay, and won a BAFTA award for it in 1984`. What I remember most is hearing him laugh, and saying, “I wrote that,” or “I didn’t write that.” How much improvising went on in this film?
A lot. Most of that scene where Jerry Lewis is tied up is based on the routine I was doing at the time. Like when I mention Tina Turner.
And wanting to be black.
Yeah, but he was cool with it. He was a sweet man, and he was on set a lot.
So did Martin Scorsese know about you from The Richard Pryor Show?
Well, I had been doing stand-up in L.A. since 1975.
Can you tell me a little about your collaboration with the Scissor Sisters?
Well, Jake `Shears` approached me at a show I did, and told me how influential I was to him. … He’s so sweet. … Then we started running into each other at the gym. We’re actually working on a musical together with Justin Bond.
Where do you see the show going?
I honestly don’t see why it couldn’t be on Broadway.
Does your daughter Cicely `age 12` ever go on tour with you?
Well, she’s come on short ones.
Do you change your routine at all when she’s with you?
My show really isn’t that obscene, so I haven’t had to change anything. I do swear at home a lot though.
I read that you prefer to listen to music at home over going to see live performances. Who would you like to see in concert?
I’d go see Mary J. Blige. … And I’m good friends with Kathy Valentine from the Go-Go’s, so I’ll see their reunion tour.
Do you know Peaches at all?
I know of her.
She’s such an envelope-pusher; I figured you two would know each other.
And I commend her for that, but no.
Last year, she answered a Q&A I emailed her, and one of the questions was how she would prioritize the following gay icons for a girls’ night out or a quiet evening at home: Sandra Bernhard, Donna Summer, Madonna, Grace Jones, Ellen DeGeneres, Barbara Streisand, Rachel Maddow. And her answer was, “Everyone would be invited for a demonstration on how to female ejaculate and we will see who sticks around. I have a feeling the night would end up with just me, Grace, and Sandra.”
Well, I’m flattered, but that sounds challenging.
We’re putting together a pride issue and I think you’d be a great role model to have on the cover.
Absolutely. Bring your camera. But I know what digital cameras do, so bring some decent lighting.
Actually, I shoot film and travel with a little soft-box that attaches to my flash.
I love you for that. Just blow me out baby —blow me out. •
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