The ever-provocative, multi-hyphenate (comedienne-musician-actress-social commentator… you get the idea) pulls no punches with Spark Networks’ CEO David Siminoff in a wide-ranging discussion of politics, religion and lip volumizer.
DAVID SIMINOFF: Tell us about your Broadway show, “Everything Bad and Beautiful.”
SANDRA BERNHARD: It’s a hybrid of rock n’ roll, political satire, and personal, anecdotal stories. It’s all interwoven with the music of my band, The Rebellious Jezebels, and my own personal style that I’ve developed over the years of performing — a combination of musical, comedic and dramatic moments.
DAVID: How did the concept come about?
SANDRA: What I was actually going to do, because I’ve been performing for thirty years, was my anniversary show — conglomeration of all the different shows I’ve done over the years. But I decided, “Why not just do a new show?” There was so much to talk about, and I had so much to say. I didn’t feel like I needed to limit myself to old material, so everything evolved from there — from my passionate feelings about where we’re at in the war in Iraq and the politics used to deflect people’s real concerns about what matters, the environment and health care and all the rest of the things that our government has managed to throw us off track on. We’ve gotten ourselves into a war that was totally misrepresented and should have never happened.
DAVID: Is there a short list of topics that you’re really focused on in the show?
SANDRA: Number one is that we’ve gotten ourselves into a war that was totally misrepresented and should have never happened. The American people were manipulated and lied to and didn’t have the information to be properly informed and make a decision whether they’d support it or not. We were totally railroaded into it.
And also, the fact that so many of the kids fighting this war are caught between a rock and hard place. They don’t have the resources to go to college or do things that upwardly mobile people can do, so they kind of take this as a way out and hope they make enough money to go to college because they’re promised certain things by the government. And I think it’s a very cynical thing that the government is doing to all these people.
From there, it goes to the environment and the general disregard for the American public, their privacy and rights — just basic rights that have been whittled away without people having, once again, the full information to be able to fight it. There’s a lot of disinformation and a lot of manipulation, and I think we’ve got to make a big change. Under the right leadership, with somebody whose intentions are to elevate the consciousness and the environment of this country, it’s a fabulous country [again]. Like any place that has great potential, somebody can bring in their own personal agenda and bring it down or elevate it. I love America. I love being here.
DAVID: The Dixie Chicks have paid a price professionally for speaking their mind. You’re a pretty outspoken person, and you don’t shy away from conflicts. Has it hurt you at all, helped you or has it been a non-issue in your career?
SANDRA: I don’t know that it’s been a non-issue. I think people come to me to hear my point-of-view. I happen to be very good friends with Natalie Mains. She’s my neighbor here in New York, and I think what she did was much more courageous than what I do because this is what I’ve always done. I’ve always been outspoken and always had a strong point-of-view. So, for her, I think it’s quite a ballsy move.
But for me, I don’t know what it’s really done. I think people respect me and understand where I’m coming from. At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters to me.
DAVID: Have you aligned with any political figures who have a vision that connects with yours?
SANDRA: I really love Barbara Boxer, the senator from California. I wish she would run for president. I don’t think that’s her intention, and she’s far too outspoken for mainstream America. She’s one of the people I deeply respect and has stood by her word. There’s not a lot of people I can point to right now that I would say, “Yes, this is somebody that I’m really going to get behind.” In actuality, they haven’t narrowed it down enough to be able to say that. The votes aren’t in yet.
DAVID: In “Everything Bad and Beautiful,” you talk about your girlfriend. How long have you been together and is she Jewish?
SANDRA: Seven years. No, she’s not [Jewish], but she’s probably one of the more spiritual and honest people that I’ve met in my life. Religion really hasn’t been an issue.
DAVID: I understand that you get a tree around the holidays. Just for decoration or is this Chrismukkah?
SANDRA: Christmas is more cultural than it is religious. My girlfriend enjoys it, and I just do it for her. I wouldn’t necessarily do it for myself. But that’s just something that I feel is a nice compromise, and it’s fun. But she’s not going to midnight mass.
DAVID: At one point, you had a recurring role on “Ally McBeal,” and it was reported that when the producer suggested you take your character in a gay direction, you said, “I’m not that thrilled about being gay in my real life.” Did you actually say that?
SANDRA: No, what I said was misconstrued. It was a long time ago, and I don’t really know the full context, but it was more a funny remark, like “Oh, I don’t feel so comfortable about my sexuality” — not meaning gay or straight, just sexuality in general. It was just an off-handed remark that got taken out of context.
DAVID: A word that’s been associated with you a bunch is Kabbalah. Can you talk about what it is and walk us through your experience with it? If you are just practicing the rituals [of Judaism] without a deeper understanding, they become sort of a robotic, unfulfilling practice.
SANDRA: Ultimately, it’s the spiritual dissemination of Judaism. If you are just practicing the rituals without a deeper understanding, they become sort of a robotic, unfulfilling practice. Once you add the spiritual nature to it, the ephemeral emotions of life, it brings a much deeper meaning. And it also takes it out of “I’m doing this because I have to do it, because I’m a Jew.” That’s a very simple way of describing Kabbalah. It’s a very complex, deeply intellectual and soulful pursuit that takes all of your life to even begin to understand. I think it’s really been done a disservice by the pop culturalization of it, you know, through the Kabbalah Centre, even though I still go there, and I still go to Shabbat and do stuff with them. I think that on some level, they thought this was a good way to go. I think it backfired. I’m not saying it should be closed off to anybody. It’s open to everyone as a spiritual study. But when it starts becoming this weird, star-driven vehicle, I have a problem with it.
DAVID: Did you introduce Madonna or any other celebrities to it?
SANDRA: I started studying eleven years ago at the Centre, and I did turn somebody on to it who then brought her. It wasn’t a direct invitation. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. If it changes somebody’s life and helps them, then I’m glad I brought them, but I claim no responsibility for anybody’s ability to stick to it and really make big changes. Because it’s a big commitment.
DAVID: Let’s talk about your daughter a little bit. Are you raising her with Kabbalistic traditions?
SANDRA: It’s kind of a combination. I send her to a Chabad Hebrew school, because I want her to get the basic lay of the land of Hebrew and also the Torah study — just the basics. Then we generally go to Kabbalah for Shabbat, so she understands some of the meditations and takes it to a more spiritual level. It’s influenced the way I’ve raised her, of course, but the most important thing for me is that she be compassionate and accepting of everybody and whatever road they decide to take.
DAVID: Over half of our JDate members tell us that their mothers meddle in their love life. Do you think you’re going to be a meddling mom when your daughter comes of age?
SANDRA: I hope and pray that I’m not, but I see horrible traits already in myself, pushing her with some of the boys she likes. I’m going to try not to, and my girlfriend won’t let me.
DAVID: You talked about your mother in past shows. Does she take an active interest in your love life and everything else?
SANDRA: My mother’s always concerned that I’m happy and that I’m with somebody who’s supportive. She totally supports my relationship, understands the complexities of my life and adores my daughter. My mom’s pretty cool. She’s an artist. She’s always been pretty mellow about the whole thing.
DAVID: What was it like to grow up as one of the three Jews in Flint, Michigan?
SANDRA: There’s actually a huge Jewish population there. Detroit is probably one of the biggest Jewish populations in the country, and a lot of Jews went to Flint in the late ‘40s and ‘50s. There was a lot of money to be made because of GM. A lot of professional Jews were there… my dad was a doctor. They supported two synagogues there.
DAVID: When I think of Flint, I think of Michael Moore’s documentary, “Roger & Me.”
SANDRA: That’s what became of Flint, but by then, the Jews had moved to the outskirts. When GM pulled out, it became this deflated, self-destructive city. But when I was growing up there – we were there in the ‘50s and ‘60s, until like the ‘70s – Flint was still a pretty vital town. When I was growing up there, it was a small hometown where you knew a lot of people and everybody had a real community feeling.
DAVID: I read that you lived on a kibbutz after high school. What was your job on the kibbutz?
SANDRA: I had several different jobs. Initially, I worked picking citrus, and then, one of my main jobs was working in the slaughterhouse, cleaning chickens as they came down the assembly line. Then I was cleaning weeds out of the cotton. When you’re a volunteer, they just send you around to the different things that are happening seasonally. It was great. I had a great time.
DAVID: Have you been back to Israel since then?
SANDRA: Oh yes, two or three times. I actually performed in Tel Aviv. It’s been almost seven years, but I did two shows there, and that was a great experience. Almost everybody speaks English in Israel. Though they didn’t totally get some of the references, they got the spirit of the show and really dug it.
DAVID: “Everything Bad and Beautiful” runs through July, and you’ve got an album of the show that just came out. What’s next for you?
SANDRA: I’m doing a series of variety show specials that I’m starring in and creating for Logo. And I’m a representative of a new MAC cosmetic; it’s their new lip volumizer. So I’ll be doing a little video blog for their website.