Sandra Bernhard, who’s been targeting celebrity culture and politics with a biting snap for over 30 years, always puts it all out there. We mean that in every which way – remember the nude 1992 Playboy pictorial? Now she has a different platform to do so: Twitter, where she rants on drug companies, plugs her new world-music LP – “Whatever It Takes,” out Aug. 25 – and talks booze with gal pal and fellow queer actress, Sarah Paulson.
When the comic pacesetter’s not tirelessly Tweeting, she’s performing “Without You I’m Nothing” shows during a 20th anniversary revival and pitching a New York-set project she co-wrote with Rip Torn’s daughter.
From her New York pad, the Flint native – who’s performing stand-up during Windsor Pride on Aug. 7 at Caesars Windsor – chatted about her world music album, Twitter freaks and her “weird” life.
I just started following you on Twitter – and now I feel bad.
I made you feel bad?
Yeah, because you’re a more diligent tweeter than me (laughs).
It’s summertime – I’ve got a little more time on my hands than usual. Even when I’m busy, I run to the computer during the day and try to remind people of little things and ideas. It’s a nice creative outlet, but don’t let it make you feel bad (laughs).
Do you ever get any weirdos sending you messages?
I’ve gotten maybe a handful of negative off-the-wall responses, but I have to say, all in all, considering how out there I am, everybody’s been very cool. If it gets too weird, I’ll just jump off.
The new album is very liberating. I felt like I took a trip around the world without having to get on a plane.
That’s kind of the point of all of my work, but musically, this album kind of captures that without saying it so didactically. It’s just there in the music and the beats and the rhythms and the lyrics. I’m really excited about it.
Why did you decide to make a foray into world music?
It wasn’t really my idea. Ted Mason, the producer and co-writer, approached me. He wanted to do an album like this, and he was looking for somebody who had my kind of outlook on the world and my kind of view, and he said, “Would you be into doing this?” And I said, “Yeah, of course.” We started collaborating. He’s a very creative person, obviously, and he has access to all these people, all these world musicians. I mean, off the top of my head, it’s not the first kind of music I’m attracted to, but I feel like we kind of blurred the lines. It’s not so heavily African or Latin, but it has a lot of those influences.
Any Michigan influence?
No, there’s no real Michigan influence on this, but god knows there’s Michigan influence on everything else I do.
Yeah, when I was listening to it, I kept waiting and waiting for a reference to the Great Lakes. But, nothing.
(Laughs) No, no, no. But when I come to perform in Windsor, I can assure you there’ll be many stories of the travails of growing up in Michigan (laughs). But, honestly, Michigan was the easy part of my childhood. When we moved to Arizona, that’s when it really got weird. But I mean Michigan in the early ’60s was still kind of a booming, thriving place; there was a lot going on creatively. We left before it all crashed. I’m so sad about that. So sad.
Tell me what it was like working with Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders on “All Around.”
We’re very good friends, but she happened to be in town and we were in the studio those days. Chrissie’s like hardcore. She’s a no-nonsense, no-B.S. kind of person.
Just like you then?
Yeah. Well, she makes me look like a lightweight, to be honest with you (laughs).
You mention shopping in Kazakhstan on “We’re on Our Way” – do they have good deals there?
(Laughs) It’s just about stopping along the way and experiencing all the different cultures. I’m sure they do. I actually haven’t been to Kazakhstan. I can imagine they probably have a few good bargains.
Assuming you’ve been all over the place, which locations inspired you for this album?
Actually, I haven’t been in as many places as I’d like to. The most exotic place I think I’ve been to is Morocco, which I’ve been to three times. It’s my favorite super-exotic locale, but I haven’t been to the major parts of Africa and I really haven’t been that far east, either. I’ve got a lot of traveling to do. I put my imagination to good work, but certainly I know a lot of people from various experiences who have been around, and what I don’t know, they fill me in on.
A lot of people who think world music think Yanni.
(Laughs) That’s really kind of the Dairy Queen of world music. I think world music has influenced everybody – hip-hop and rap and all of the R&B artists, there’s a lot of that in there. Without African and world music, there wouldn’t be the American kind of soul/R&B sound. Now it’s everywhere.
The last time I saw you, you opened for Cyndi Lauper at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor. When you closed with a song, I recall a sea of surprised faces. Are a lot of people shocked that you’re a trained singer?
I think less and less. I’ve been doing it now for so long. I was on the Lilith Fair Tour. I’ve gotten to collaborate with a lot of people, like Sheryl Crow.
People who don’t know my work so completely, they always say, “Oh, I didn’t know you could sing.” They’re happy to hear it. I always get good feedback.
I remember watching you perform with The Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines in a YouTube clip.
She’s another great friend, and I think she has one of the greatest voices in the world. She’s the kind of person that opens her mouth, and it’s there. She’s a big talent.
I can see why you’d get along.
(Laughs) Yeah. Well, obviously, she’s another very, very outspoken and ballsy person.
So how about that Mariah Carey – I know that you and her are BFFs (laughs).
I happen to love her.
Really? You’re always raggin’ on her.
Oh, sure. You can’t deny Mariah’s talent. She’s eccentric, and anytime someone is really willing to put them self out there, for me, it’s an opportunity to find an ironic, funny way of talking about them. But there’s nothing about Mariah that I find offensive; I just think she’s crazy and funny and interesting.
Check out her “Obsessed” video, where she’s an Eminem lookalike.
Oh, Mariah. She’s a trip. I know Eminem gives her a hard time. We Michiganders don’t pull any punches.
What’s different about doing “Without You I’m Nothing” now versus two decades ago?
The Internet and the kind of exposure you get now as opposed to the ’80s, it’s so different. The whole world is different. The material that’s from the original show still holds up because it’s so personal, but the things I talk about around it obviously are more contemporary. And when you see the difference between what I talk about then and now, I don’t know – the world has just moved very quickly, and continues to kind of surprise me at different turns.
It surprises everyone.
It’s a lot to take in, and I don’t think it’s easy for everybody to do. I think that’s why so many people are freaked out. It’s just a weird time.
Sure is. It was a pleasure talking to you.
Great talking to you, Chris. Keep twittering! (Laughs)
I’ll try to keep up with you (laughs).
Just don’t wear yourself out.
Doors 7 p.m./Show 8 p.m. Aug. 7
377 Riverside Drive East, Windsor