Bernhard's unusually funny beauty
Sandra Bernhard is the ultimate gonzo comedienne. She has keen observational skills, yet she’s not the sort to look without also touching. Instead of merely pointing rudely, she relentlessly jabs her targets, like a boxer. Furthermore, she’s no outsider. Rather, Bernhard is a near-A list celebrity who once even counted Madonna as a friend. In a sense, when she’s nipping at Hollywood’s elite she’s also biting the hand that feeds her. Bernhard namedrops oodles of celebrities during this program, and is unafraid to say exactly what she thinks about People magazine’s best and brightest. She is also abrasive, God bless her, and we love it. Everything Bad & Beautiful is a semi-autobiographical journey through Bernhard’s eventful life, which is told while she dishes the dirt.
Bernhard begins by giving a little of her personal history, which took her from Flint, MI to Scottsdale, AZ, and eventually to Los Angeles, CA. She was still a teenager when she entered the high-end fashion world of El Lay. “I arrived on Cinco De Mayo and the party hasn’t stopped,” says Bernhard, when recalling that fateful day her dad drove her to Los Angeles. She even sings a few bars of Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets”, just to give aural to this visual. “I began my career at the Charles Ross School of Beauty,” she continues. Later, she worked in Beverly Hills where she saw everyone from Jacquelyn Smith and Diane Cannon, to Victoria Principal, whom she describes as “the cat’s ass.” She eventually also started doing stand-up at The Comedy Store, “the 1:00 am slot,” as she recalls it. “You better believe I’m glad to be here tonight,” is how she concludes this autobiographical sketch.
This CD is the audio recording of Bernhard’s one woman (plus band) theatrical performance of Everything Bad & Beautiful, her off-Broadway show from 2006. It was captured on the nights of May 24th and 25th 2006 at the Daryl Roth Theatre in New York City. Her occasional backing band is called, not surprisingly, The Rebellious Jezebels. Such a name makes sense because Bernhard is a rebel—albeit with a cause—here to make you laugh out of shock and embarrassment.
If you’re a girl and a Republican, you may not have all that much in common with Bernhard. She criticizes Condoleezza Rice, for instance, for this Secretary Of State’s seeming non-blackness. Elsewhere, Laura Bush is lambasted for preaching abstinence to native Africans. Celine Dion is also a girl, but this Canadian-born singer is by no means any Republican. Instead Bernard gets her good by mocking how she talks about the joys of motherhood from a glitzy Las Vegas stage—not the right spokesperson and certainly not the right place to give a family testimony.
Bernhard is a fine singer, as well as being a comic, and she takes the time to sing a few songs. She opens with an acoustic guitar-accompanied version of the Linda Perry composition (and Christina Aguilera hit) “Beautiful”, and then sings Cheap Trick’s “The Flame”, and later Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”. There is also a hard rocking version of Lita Ford’s metallic “Kiss Me Deadly” along the way. Many of these songs are sung for comedic effect. But “Like a Rolling Stone” follows the story of when Bob Dylan called Bernhard, seemingly out of the blue. “Beautiful”, which opens this show, is one of the only serious moments in the whole program. She sings: “I am beautiful no matter what they say / the words can’t bring me down.”
Bernhard may not be everybody’s definition of a beautiful woman. For example, she’s been mercilessly ribbed over the years about her extra large lips. But Bernhard’s unique beauty is her no-holds-barred honesty. Much like Kathy Griffin, Bernhard speaks the truths that few others have the guts to tell. But as good as the best moments of this CD are, it cannot replicate the experience of seeing the woman live and in person. Comedy is just as much visual as verbal, after all, and the listener badly misses seeing Bernhard’s vitriolic delivery. Yet for those times when you’re in the mood to listen to a smart and talented woman bitch about the world, Everything Bad & Beautiful contains plenty of Bernhard’s beautiful badness to scratch that itch.