“It’s a crazy time and I’m not going to talk about it,” said Sandra Bernhard by way of introducing “Sandra Monica Boulevard: Coast to Coast,” her traveling one-woman show that kicked off its three-day L.A. swing-by Thursday night at the Sorting Room at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. “We’re living in a lawless society.”
She was referring, of course, to this year’s presidential election. And of course she did talk about it — and everything and everyone else. Because that’s what Bernhard does. From her scorching sailor’s tongue to the fiery curly hair to the giant Mick Jagger lips from which Bernard belted Billy Joel’s “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” to the 150 fans gathered for her performance (Jesse Tyler Furguson was at a table up front), Bernhard remains as brash and brazen as she was in the 1970s, when she first came to fame critiquing celebrity culture and satirizing establishment politicians at places like the Comedy Story and on “The Richard Pryor Show.”
All the old Hollywood greats were on Bernhard’s menu for discussion during her 90-minute show, from talent agent Sue Mengers to Ann-Margret to legendary singer Tom Jones. Accompanied by her back-up band throughout the show, Bernhard waxed nostalgic about Beverly Hills, the city where she first decided to make a go at stand-up while attending beauty school on the side: “My entire higher education cost $365 dollars.”
Bernard also poked fun at fashion and the bourgeoisie, including the Arizona-based ex-wives of her Trump-supporting dad — “she was an artist in her own right; she bedazzled scenes of the desert on sweatshirts” — and, in general, called out the nefarious self-absorption of people that send out holiday cards with photos of them vacationing in exotic locales like ski resorts in Gstaad and “on Valentino’s yacht” off the Dalmation coast. “It’s us just being us in places you’ll never to see,” said Bernhard.
She talked about the Bahamas and “the people from South Carolina who tan themselves into handbags,” and described what it was like to take her longtime “WASP girlfriend” to the unveiling ceremony for her mother, which led her to wax philosophical about the religious Jewish women in sheitels she sees on the subway in New York City.
“They all shop at Zara and they’re all dressed in navy, amorphous skirts that hit mid-calf and a scalloped blouse,” she said. With all of the babies they’re pushing around in strollers, “You can’t tell if they’re 15 or 80.”
What makes Bernard’s comedy so rare — whether she’s philosophizing about Taylor Swift’s squad or singing Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas” as imagined by Caitlyn Jenner — is that within every keenly observed pop-culture rant, there’s an element of piercing truth.
“They’re my people, and I don’t know who they are,” said Bernhard of these Hasidic Jewish women. “We’re worlds apart.”
She also asked the Native Americans at Standing Rock to “please forgive us,” and rattled off the itinerary of her “Sandra Monica Boulevard” tour as it heads eastbound, which elicited some of the night’s heartiest election-related laughs. “I might find Susan Sarandon and cut little holes in her arms and pour acid in them,” she said. “Thank you, Susan, for all you’ve done.”
Still, Bernard remained hopeful. “If the Trump people want to come see me, please bring it,” she said. “Because if I can reach anybody before the apocalypse….”