For 30 years, Sandra Bernhard's seldom been far from the public eye, from her breakout role in Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy (1983) and a stint on Roseanne to dozens of chats with Howard Stern and David Letterman. On April 27, the singer and comic makes her first Pittsburgh appearance in years, as the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and The Andy Warhol Museum bring her and pianist Jeremy Siskind to the Byham with the live showcase I Love Being Me, Don't You? Like her acclaimed 1988 stage show, film and album Without You I'm Nothing, the show blends standup and music with Bernhard's brand of feistiness.
Bernhard, 57, recently spoke with CP from her home, in New York City.
What's the new show like?
I kinda take people on my own personal journey, because even when I talk about politics or world events, I try to personalize them in a way, so it's not like what they would see on Jon Stewart. I never talk about things didactically. It's always from my point of view. And then I weave it all in and out of songs. It becomes kind of a postmodern musical in a weird way.
What are some songs?
I never tell people what songs I'm doing, because then it gives it away. It covers everything from rock 'n' roll to Broadway to blues. Stylistically, it's a real mixup and it's a lot of fun.
How is the show different from, say, Without You I'm Nothing?
There's probably less [set] pieces in the show. Without You was piece after piece after piece. And this show is a little more freewheeling, it's a little more improvised. Which I've been enjoying, because when you're out on the road, there's so many things that happen in your travels, that you want to be able to talk about.
This show's definitely more relaxed. There are pieces and stories, but there's room for improvisation, which is more fulfilling for me, and I think for the audience, too.
Some critics say you've mellowed.
I definitely think there's more vulnerability and more elements of emotion than there was 20 years ago. I have a 14-and-a-half-year-old daughter, I'm in a long-term relationship. I think you do change spiritually and emotitonally as your work evolves. You like to be able to reflect some of that. You don't want to just stay in a holding pattern your whole career. I hardly think I've mellowed. I just think there's more depth to my work.
Meanwhile, pop culture has changed a lot.
I'm totally disgusted by it all. ... I think social media, maybe there's a tenth of it that's productive and helpful, and the rest of it is white noise, and people talking about things over and over again [about which] they're not even equipped to be social commentators.
All these people are just jumping on bandwagons and just forwarding out their feelings. And that's all fine, but go to a therapist or talk to your friends. Don't respond to the world and clog up the airwaves. There are actual people, reviewers and writers, they've spent many years honing their craft and their point of view.
You want to go to somebody who has that expertise. I'm not interested in somebody who's in high school and pissed off, or some ... person at home who's frustrated and emibittered. That doesn't hold any water for me.
Do you do social media?
Mainly I keep it very simple and understated. And even like addressing things like the Boston tragedy, I won't be dead-on about it. I'll try to write something that's a little poetic and kind of addresses the bigger issue of how people are just sort of disenfranchised, and not really living their lives fully, and how it results in a lot of unhappy people doing very bad things.
Back in the 1980s, you helped popularize the ironic performing style. Has that sort of caught up to where you were then?
I don't think they've caught up with me. I'm not the only person who's done ironic work — [but] stylistically, people have taken it and gone for the cheap aspect of it. And I don't think that most people have the talent to make it nuanced and layered the way Lenny Bruce did, or Richard Pryor. Or [George] Carlin. You've got to have a deeper take on humanity than just saying superficial, stupid, snarky things
You've strongly criticized reality TV.
It just gets more idiotic by the minute. There's no redeeming value in any of it. there's nothing there that can uplift or educate. When you look at Nat Geo, or the History Channel or the Learning Channel — where's the connector here? What's reflecting history? It's just one stupider [thing] like — yahoos out hunting crocodiles. People buying barns and seeing if there's anything good in them. The shit is just crazy.
It's plenty popular.
It's lazy. It's lazy entertainment. It's not engaged. It doesn't require people to pay attention. They can do 20 things and sort of look out of the corner of their eye. Therefore it just continues the downward spiral of stupidity and ignorance, certainly in this country.
What sort of things do you like these days?
I really like Homeland on television. I like Mad Men. ... I really enjoy Rachel Maddow's take. ... I read The New York Times every day.
We just try to keep the conversation at our house at a high level. ... I'm lucky because I've gotten to meet and remain friends with people from ... the best of the best from music and art and culture. It's very easy for me to plug in and stay connected
What music are you listening to?
I don't have music on very much during the day because living in New York in an apartment, you can't do it. Yesterday I put in Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nix and The Rolling Stones into my old-school five-CD rotator. I got through three songs by Aretha Franklin and then I had to turn it off because I was cooking and something happened, so that's as far as I got in my listening yesterday.
I like a lot of world music, I like Arabic music and Morroccan and Indian music. I like Ravel and Debussy, for classical music. I like things that are very melodic and emotional.