Photo credit: Maro Hagopian, SiriusXM Radio
It wasn't planned, but anything can happen at a Sandra Bernhard show, especially on opening night of her annual Joe's Pub end-of-the-year weeklong run.
At Monday night's early show, "it" was a drunken heckler sitting right up against the stage, center, who had to be removed after handing Bernhard an envelope and demanding that she attend to it then and there. In a way it was right out of Martin Scorsese's celebrated The King of Comedy, in which Bernhard herself plays an over-the-top fan who famously helps Robert De Niro's character kidnap their own comedian idol played by Jerry Lewis.
The fan left her business card and a hundred dollar bill in the envelope, the latter item making Bernhard wonder if it had been steeped in ricin—bizarre in that earlier in the set Bernhard did a bit about seeing a $50 dollar bill on the sidewalk and overcoming her fear that it was left as a test to see whether passers-by would pick it up, or if it was in fact steeped in ricin (it wasn't).
"I still get nervous about playing at Joe's Pub," she had said at the start of the show, calling the comment a "backhanded compliment" to her adoring audience. But now, she said, "everything's a s**t show—and I'm a nervous wreck! We all need love, and I come to love—and [the heckler] gets drunk and wants to be on stage with me! I hope she's not outside and waiting for me with a gun: First they love you, and then they come to kill you!"
Bernhard had started the show with Billy Joel's "Say Goodbye to Hollywood," appropriate in that the Joe's Pub dates cap her Sandra Monica Blvd. Coast to Coast shows, having done three nights in Los Angeles earlier this month. She said that she and her girlfriend had driven cross-country afterward, stopping off at Standing Rock to "beg forgiveness" for the injustices done to Native Americans, and seeking out Susan Sarandon and Jill Stein—to do the exact opposite.
She was likewise critical of Roseanne Barr for her vitriolic attacks on Hillary Clinton.
"Old friends fall by the wayside," she said, a nod to her 1990's stint on Roseanne as one of the first actresses to portray an openly lesbian recurring character on television. Other choice monolog segments included overcoming her fear of taking the subway, which she takes daily now to get to her SiriusXM Sandyland show. And the fact that she brings along a functional Eagle Creek pouch rather than chic handbags is a source of embarrassment to both girlfriend and daughter.
But Bernhard, in striking high-low fashion with black Guns N' Roses t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up and shimmering silver skirt, used her subway tales—also including hairdo tips for orthodox Jewish women--as an effective lead-in to Tom Waits "Downtown Train," other choice covers including Left Banke's "Pretty Ballerina."
The opposite of tehnically savvy, Bernhard related her trip to the Apple Genius Bar ("I've had more tsuris from the f**king iCLoud!"), and expressed "total despondence" over the recent New York cable TV shift from Time Warner to Specturm: "As if the election wasn't enough! How much are we supposed to take?"
But she left most of her election commentary until the latter part of the show.
"I won't even say his name," she said, referring to the President-elect. "We really got to rally."
And she promised not to go quietly into that dark night.
"I'm so tired of being biting and bitchy," she said, "but to you think Sandy's going to stop?"
And with that she closed with a brilliantly conceived mashup of Patti Smith's "People Have the Power" and Patty Smyth's "The Warrior," thrust her fist high in the air and left the stage as the SRO crowd stood up and cheered.