Screens » Screens Etc.

Still queer



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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