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Without Her We're

Without Her We're


The legendary Sandra Bernhard sits down with The Advocate before the one-night-only revival of her seminal one-woman show Without You I'm Nothing in Los Angeles to discuss Tori Amos, why Prop. 8 is "the best thing that could happen to the gay community," and how she she could possibly love both Rachel Maddow and Rachel Zoe.

In 1988 performance artist, actress, comedian, and woman-about-town Sandra Bernhard premiered her tour de force one-woman show Without You I'm Nothing in Los Angeles. In 1990 she turned the piece into a film, directed by John Boskovich, in which she did everything from sing Burt Bacharach in front of go-go boys to don oversize African robes and headdress to sing Nina Simone's famous song about race, "Four Women." Of all of Bernhard's shows, none spanned so many cultural, poetic, and popular movements as Without You I Am Nothing, proving that Bernhard was not just a comic but an inspired and insightful medium of modern America. Twenty years later she returns to Los Angeles in a one-night-only performance of Without You I'm Nothing at the Orpheum Theater on Friday, November 21,giving fans, old and new, a chance to laugh and love the show all over again; with its sharp wit, brassy musical numbers, and insights -- all served up with a healthy helping of chutzpah as can only be dished by simply Bernhard. you decided to bring back Without You I'm Nothing?Sandra Bernhard: It's the 20th anniversary. It's a seminal piece of work for me and put me on the map as a live performer. You know, it's interesting how our lives go in these cycles; I think there's a lot of material that fits into where we're at culturally right now. And there's so much new material that's in the show that it's really not the Without You I'm Nothing it was then. The beautiful thing about the show is it was always very fluid depending on what was happening that night. The major key pieces that people recognize are there too, so it's a fun trip down memory lane.

How much of your show is improvised? Well, if I'm doing a show that's brand-new, the entire show could be improvised -- I could do 100% improvisation. But this show is probably 25% improv.

Do you get a lot of roadies following the show around? You mean groupies?

Groupies! What did I say? Roadies? I meant groupies. Roadies are people who work for you. Groupies are people who come and stare at you and love you. [Laughs] I've had some groupies over the years. Unfortunately, not too many anymore -- it's too much work. But of course there's my die-hard fans, but they're usually a little smarter than a groupie.

Was there any material that now feels like an awkward fit or no longer suits your state of mind or heart? No. So much of what the show's about, with its impressionistic personas, still works for me. It still holds up.

Is there a typical scenario wherein which you write your material? I write in notebooks. I've got a stack of notebooks I've kept over the years. Whenever an idea percolates I jot it down. When I travel I keep my notebook handy, but I don't do a daily thing -- I don't try to force writing. Ideas come, and they come so often, especially with the political scene -- there's just so much constantly coming at you.

On the original album to the show, Tori Amos played piano. It was before she "hit it." I had actually known her as a waitress in some restaurant. She came in and did overdubs and backgrounds on that particular version of "Little Red Corvette."

So she wasn't involved in the live show at all? No, no. That would've been fun.

It's been a while since your last book. Any plans for a new one? I've been writing material for a book since the last one [May I Kiss You on the Lips, Miss Sandra?]. The book market is very tenuous, especially right now, and there are so many people blogging and ... I don't know why, but psychically I'm not connecting into that particular outlet of writing. I don't know -- It's not that important to me because I'm out there so much performing; I'm writing some stuff for television that I'm trying to get off the ground -- you can only spread yourself so thin. But there'll be another book. Eventually.

You pay tribute to many icons in your show. Is there anyone new on the scene that you find worthy or respect or find intriguing? Yes. I really love Rachel Maddow. That's the high. And I love Rachel Zoe. That's the low. The highs and lows of Rachels. I mean, culturally, they're extremes. Rachel Maddow is obviously this incredible intellectual, and Rachel Zoe is a spontaneous combustion of energy and pop culture, but I like them both. I wish Rachel Zoe was on every night, frankly. She's totally endearing and entertaining.

You were against Proposition 8 [which rescinded same-sex marriage rights in California]. What was your response when it passed? Well, honestly, I think it's the best thing that could happen to the gay community. It's really gonna galvanize the community in a way that we need it to. We haven't really been in that state of mind since Stonewall, and then of course the AIDS crisis. I think that people get complacent -- we all do, culturally. I think this is forcing everybody to really band together and make this happen in a real way and also to fully appreciate and respect being represented as full citizens. [It's] taxation without representation! I mean, we all pay our taxes, and as the gay community we make a lot of money and we pay a lot of taxes and we should be completely protected. I mean, this is absurd! I find it completely despicable that the Mormons and the religious outlets have garnered all of this hatred and resentment considering ... I mean, if you really break it down, if you wanna play dirty, the Mormons and their whole polygamy stance -- I don't find that particularly wonderful. We're a responsible community and we want our rights and everyone wants us to have our rights -- supposedly, on paper -- so then, it's time for us to go out and grab them, which we're doing. I think, over the next year, things will start to roll out across the country. We're just at that tipping point and I think it'll work out. But we've gotta do the work. That's all there is to it.

There's been a lot of emphasis by opponents of gay marriage on a need for a child to be raised by both a woman and a man ... Well, I can tell you, undeniably, that's not the case. I think that when you have one loving parent, it's enough, with a community of support. But when you have two loving parents of any combination who are in agreement with how to raise the child and agreement on the philosophy of the household and a real, deep commitment to the child, then the child will flourish. What's in our DNA, what's in our observations as we evolve as people has little or nothing to do with the sexuality of our parents, and I think it's time for people to really look at that and step up to the next level of thinking about it. I'm raising my daughter with my girlfriend and it's a delightful experience. My daughter takes in the world in the most wonderful way. She is who she is -- we're simply guiding her. We all come in with our own imprint as people, and as parents we're guides, to keep our kids on the right path. Being compassionate, being understanding, protecting them -- that's really the bottom line. You can't force your kid to be anything.

What kind of conversations have you had with your daughter about sexuality and the circumstances she's being raised in? We've never had a definitive conversation about it. We're living in New York and L.A., fortunately, and she's surrounded by all kinds of amazing people, and she goes to a fabulous school -- it's never been an issue. But she gets it. She understands the struggle of other people. She's aware of what's been happening politically, and she's very interested and involved with it.

Has your daughter seen the film version of this show? Bits and pieces. I don't think it's necessary to expose her to all of my work at this point. There's a time and a place for her to fully understand what I do as a performer. She's come to my live shows and loves being around the musicians, but I don't think she's interested in pursuing it herself. I'm glad about that. [Laughs]

If you could give advice to the Sandra of 20 years ago, what would it be? Oh, there's no way I would! Without the Sandra of 20 years ago I wouldn't be who I am today. Would I repeat some of those things now? No, of course not, but I think everything I've gone through and allowed myself to experience has led me to the next level of maturity and spiritual awareness. I don't regret anything I've done in my life. I've certainly never hurt anybody or been malicious. I try to keep everything on the up-and-up. I'm pretty happy with the different experiences I've had along the way.

Well, that's it. We're done! Thank you. You know, I saw the film version of Without You I'm Nothing when it first came out, and it had a profound impact on me and ... well, I've been a roadie for you ever since. [Laughs] Well, good. Come and lift some equipment!

For information or to order tickets go toSandra

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