No, no… don’t get all shocked. I’m not a subscriber. Who can afford magazine subscriptions? Not me. And if I could afford a magazine subscription, I would choose National Geographic over Playboy. I mean, National G gets you way more pix of naked women for your money.
Before you start second guessing that you clicked on the right blog, I’ll explain myself. While I’m known to ogle a pretty gal now and again, the reason for my purchase is for one woman in particular: Sandra Bernhard.
1.) You groaned a little. You don’t understand why this woman is famous; you don’t “get” her stand-up comedy and your knowledge of her is mostly confined to vague recollections of shenanigans with Madonna and, oh yeah, she was that lesbian character on “Roseanne.” You fall into the category of person we’ll term “Plebeian.”
2.) You got all excited and an exclamation of “Yes!” echoed in your brain … urr… unless you’re French, in which case it would have been “Oui!” - or “Iya!” if you’re Papua New Guinean, which, if my research polls on who is reading my blog suggests, you are. I really should learn Tok Pisin…
Oh, Sandra Bernhard. Right. Okay. The second category of person is the one in which I fall; that is, a fan. We’ll term this sort of person “Rad.”
3.) You have no idea who Sandra Bernhard is. We’ll call this category of folk “Linda Hamilton” (not to be confused with the actress who starred in the Terminator films).
My first encounter with Miss Bernhard was at age 17. My friend Salem and I were alone in the enormous house which my Mom and Step-dad could afford for about six months, thanks to a brief cash flow yielded by a Pyramid-scheme.
I don’t remember how it came in to our possession, but we had a VHS copy of Bernhard’s “Without You I’m Nothing,” a film version of her one-woman show. I was probably stoned; I usually was at that age, and even if I wasn’t, being 17 is pretty psychedelic.
Salem and I popped in the video (“Have we got a video? YES, WE HAVE A VIDEO!!!”) and sat transfixed for the next 89 minutes as Miss Bernhard blew our f-wording minds.
Crazy on you: Miss Bernhard live... very, very live.
It’s not that it was laugh-out-loud hilarious, though it often was – it was something deeper and altogether special. This woman was creating a world and speaking a language that was hers entirely, and if we didn’t understand, that didn't seem her concern. Her wit and heart were uncompromised, pure, and complex; some kind of impossible cross between Joan Rivers and Marcel Proust.
There was no clear indication what the joke was, and whether or not she was in on it; all we could do was gasp, giggle, and ultimately exclaim “That was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!”
Years have passed and I’ve become familiar with the bulk of her output. I’m the proud owner of a hardback edition of her book “Confessions of a Pretty Lady” and now the September 1992 issue of Playboy for which she is the cover model. (Yes, she does pose nude and good God! If the only picture inside was the one spoofing the ill-fated beauty in “Goldfinger,” it alone would justify the printing. Seriously hot.)
I’ve seen her perform live twice. Other than my friends’ bands, she’s the only artist I can say that about. Most recently it was at
Because my guy is the A&E editor for The Advocate, we not only got to write-off our mojitos as a business expense, but we were invited to meet Miss Bernhard in her dressing room before the show. If this sounds like bragging, allow me to add that I have never been so dumb and clunky than in the presence of that woman.
We were introduced. She heard my name as “Joe” instead of “Job” and I was too tongue-tied to correct her. At Corey’s slightest provocation, she seamlessly rattled off some eloquent funnies about
"Duh... yeah my name is Joe... Nice to, duuh... meet you!"
You could tell she was a woman accustomed to dealing with fans. She was efficiently gracious and sparkling, and totally in control.
I have no memory whatsoever of what she actually said. The above generalization is thanks to Corey. Is there a positive, happy equivalent to post-traumatic stress disorder? That’s what it caused me.
The show itself was equal parts pain and glory. She was rock and roll personified, and performed for a dazzling two hours. The pain was her audience. They were nothing but a mass of Plebeians. It would have been so easy for Sandra to customize her monologues to suit the lesbian crowd, but that’s not her style and, in fact, she almost seemed to revel in antagonizing them. I mean, she opened the show by singing a love song to a man and proceeded to launch into a bit about high-fashion shoes. When you realize that 90% of the audience was wearing Birkenstocks, you understand the conflict. She ended the show by dolling up in a kinky, policewoman fantasy costume and singing a medley of Led Zeppelin and Guns n’ Roses. I was screaming and raising my fist; the rest of the audience was pursing their lips and shaking their mullets disapprovingly. “It’s too loud!” you could hear them complaining.
But I was in awe. It was generous of her to give us two hours, but I wanted eight.
“Without You I’m Nothing” was finally released on DVD in August of 2005. It’s available in Amoeba Music’s DVD department. If you’re never seen it, treat yourself. Whether you’re in on the joke or not, you’ll at least enjoy its audacious and erotic finale.
Also available is her more recent show, “I’m Still Here, Dammit,” but go for that second, after you’re more familiar with
And here's a clip from "Without You I'm Nothing". Don't say I never gave you anything...