Sandra Bernhard at Joe's Pub, New Year's Eve late show (Photo: Beth Lapides)
Her entrance song always sets the mood, and Neil Diamond’s “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show” seemed especially fitting this year for Sandra Bernhard’s annual week-long year-end shows at Joe’s Pub.
But she quickly digressed from the lyric to pepper her New Year’s Eve late Sandemonium show crowd with a spoken litany of timely questions like “Have you ever been slut-shamed? Come face-to-face with a white supremacist? Occupied land that doesn’t belong to you? Been strung out on oxycontin? Are you gender neutral? A bot?”
Returning to Diamond’s song, she commenced, with full commitment, “Take my hand in yours…hallelujah!” Her other song choices were equally surprising and inspired and likewise served to provide some degree of solace in this winter of discontent. They included Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride,” Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day,” and an intriguing mesh of “Everything’s Alright” from Jesus Christ Superstar and Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression.”
As always, the songs were spaced between extended monologues consisting of random observations (“The last time you saw The Wizard of Oz on regular TV, it was a five-hour investment,” “Who knew so many people suffered from plaque psoriasis?”) interspersed with tales past and present, among them: a man who came perilously close to her on the M train (on the way to her daily Sandyland SiriusXM Satellite Radio show), then ate an unappetizing “cheerios casserole” of cereal and meat; two #MeToo “bathrobe” run-ins with major comedians after her award-winning performance in King of Comedy; and her recent participation in the forthcoming reboot of Roseanne (“Nancy is back!” she declared, proudly invoking her groundbreaking character in the classic sitcom).
Even the promotion of her cash-only merchandise was part of the show, what with her detailed instructions to run out in the cold to the corner drugstore to use the ATM machine.
The set closed on a determined note, with the Doobie Brothers’ “Takin’ It to the Streets”—no explanation needed as to why. But after her Flawless Zirkons backup trio’s leader Mitch Kaplan led the band in his piano interpretation of Mason Williams’ 1968 instrumental guitar hit “Classical Gas,” and she returned (after changing from glam black dress with silver sequins to cutoff blue jean shorts and new Sandemonium t-shirt) to encore with a mix of Lady Gaga’s “Million Reasons” and Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” she alluded to the unmentionable elephant in this and every room.
“We’ve been beaten into submission,…pummeled…we’re barely holding on—and when we wake up tomorrow it will still be a s**t show,” she said. “But let’s not talk about the thing we shouldn’t talk about—one person in particular. Let’s make it a loving new year and get to our essence.”
Bernhard also avoided one other bone of contention, this regarding her set list.
She related how seeing Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly! when she was a young girl in Detroit had motivated her to pursue her own showbiz career, then passed on her friend Michele Lee’s observation regarding any actress who plays the title role--that it marks the end of her career.
“So I will not be performing songs from Hello, Dolly! tonight!” Bernhard announced, and while it would surely have been fun to have heard her sing the title tune, the flip side is a continuing multi-faceted career that is only gaining steam.