NEW YORK — Sandra Bernhard, maternal icon?
In the few years that she’s been off the New York stage, it seems a few things changed. The woman known for her big mouth, rocky relationship with Madonna and angry, hilarious diatribes on the state of modern culture is, well, calm. Not only calm, but happy and content. And that comes through in her new show, “Sandra Bernhard: Everything Bad and Beautiful,” which opens Wednesday at the Daryl Roth Theatre. Oh sure, she still strips onstage and gets riled up about the Bush administration and Britney Spears, but she devotes equal time to explaining the depth of her love for her seven-year-old daughter and her girlfriend. Sandy B, we hardly know ye!
In person, over iced tea at Sant Ambroeus, Bernhard is surprisingly soft, patient and prone to calling people “honey.” It’s clear that, at 50, her personal life has mellowed. “I was constantly involved in high drama in my relationships and a lot of craziness — which at the time was fun. I didn’t have a kid, I was kind of like this free satellite floating around,” she explains. “But then I started studying Kabbalah,” she continues. “I decided I wanted to have a baby. I kind of pulled all the reins in on myself.”
A year after Cicely’s birth, she met Sara Switzer, then a magazine editor. Now the trio lives between New York and L.A. Raised a Conservative Jew, Bernhard cooks Shabbat dinner every Friday she can for her family, attends shul even when traveling and regularly goes to Torah readings at the Kabbalah Center — although she shies away from the public proselytizing that the likes of Demi Moore and Madonna have been known to indulge in. “It’s been a bit difficult because I feel like they’ve become a little caught up in the celebrity factor again,” she says of the Center. “Without trashing it, because I’ve gotten so much good from it, I think they could stand to pull back and get back to basics and what it’s really about: expanding your vessel and not being quite as self-centered.”
Indeed, she’s lost her taste for celebrity culture. “I feel like it’s a small gene pool of relatively untalented people who are just out and about, and I find it disheartening,” she says. In between her monologues (a reenactment of a phone call from Bob Dylan, for example), Bernhard performs songs with a five-piece rock band, including Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
This story first appeared in the April 4, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“Her life has had changes,” says producer Daryl Roth. “She has a nice layer of warmth and a real sense of humanity. It’s still very sharp and edgy, still very witty, but her performance has another layer. She might have been edgier and rougher many years ago, but this is where she is now.”
Next up is a role in the movie “Twenty Dollar Drinks,” which will bow at the Tribeca Film Festival, and she and Switzer are working on a TV series together for Bernhard to star in.
What about more children? “I think that if anybody is going to have another kid it’s going to be my girlfriend, it won’t be me,” Bernhard says. “It’s under constant discussion, and my daughter definitely wants a sibling — but she also wants a dog. So we are going to work on a dog first and see if we can handle that. Although honestly, I think it’s easier to have a child than a dog — at least you don’t have to take your child out into the rain to take them to the bathroom.”