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Posted on Sat, Feb 2, 2013 : 5:40 a.m.

Sandra Bernhard riffs on stars, family and more at The Ark

By Jenn McKee


Sandra Bernhard publicity photo

Sandra Bernhard doesn’t “do” pulled punches.

So when the TV, film and stage star found herself performing for a half-filled room at The Ark on Friday night, in her home state of Michigan, she made no attempt to hide her annoyance.

“Thanks everybody from Michigan for coming out tonight,” said Bernhard, drily. “ … I thought, ‘I’m going to get back to Michigan, I haven’t been there in a while.’ And it’s like, ‘Oh, gee, great. Thank you for a half-filled room. Thanks for making a girl feel welcome.’”

Pointing out her couture—a sleeveless, knee-length black dress with a plunging V neckline, paired with patterned black tights and black Manohlo Blahnik heels—Bernhard continued, “I’m giving glamorous road warrior for about 50 people at The Ark.”

But, as if to reward those who did brave frigid temperatures to come out, Bernhard added, “You get all the prizes and the cookies tonight.”

Among the prizes and cookies was an eclectic handful of songs—sung by Bernhard, backed by a three piece band (guitar, drums, piano) also dressed in black. The musical lineup included a rousing cover of Laura Nyro’s “Stoney End,” which opened the show; Mocedades’ Eurovision hit from 1973, “Eres tu”; a satirical reprise of Lady Gaga’s ultra-somber, Thanksgiving special performance of “I’m on the Edge”; “Before the Parade Passes By,” Friday night’s hands-down musical highlight, from the classic musical “Hello, Dolly”; and REO Speedwagon’s “I Can’t Fight This Feeling,” which closed out the nearly 90-minute set.

Along the way, the crowd got to hear about why Bernhard doesn’t like to refer to her longtime girlfriend as her “partner” (“What are we, in some sort of a law firm together, doing some litigation and light lovemaking on the side?”); what her friend Michele Lee’s house is like (“10,000 square feet of ‘Knots Landing’ fun”); and her recent experience at Jane Fonda’s 75th birthday party, where she rubbed elbows with Sally Field, Lily Tomlin, Joni Mitchell, Rosanna Arquette and Warren Beatty.

“I’m old, old, old, dear friends with Warren,” Bernhard said. “I used to hang out at the house on Mulholland around the butcher block kitchen table eating freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and shooting the s***. We never got it on. We kissed a little bit at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto, but that’s as far as it went. That’s why he trusts me and still loves me. And Streisand came in, looked me up and down, like she always does. Threatened.”

Bernhard’s cabaret-like show has an edgy, stream-of-consciousness vibe, so tangents and detours are simply part of the ride.

Additional topics included: Bernhard’s strong preference for Whole Foods over Trader Joe’s, Michelle Obama, and Michele Bachmann, with whom Bernhard shares a common experience: both women worked on Kibbutzim in Israel at the same time in the 1970s.

“I thought, what was Michelle Bachman doing in (Israel)? Some light reconnaissance work for the rapture?” Bernhard quipped.

Bernhard, who has a 14-year-old daughter (Cecily), has never made parenting a building block of her comedy, but during Friday night’s show, she talked about a recent family vacation; the Halloween costume Bernhard rejected for her daughter (“We’re not doing ‘sexy panda.’ … Pull it back”); watching “America’s Top Model” re-runs with her daughter (a bit that includes Bernhard’s hysterical, must-see impression of host Tyra Banks); and Cecily’s comedy preferences.

“Cecily is completely unimpressed by me and my comedy,” said Bernhard. “She loves Amy Poehler. Amy Poehler’s adorable. But Amy Poehler isn’t telling her to hang up her wet towels, either.”

Friends Cindy Safilian of West Bloomfield, Robin Nice of Troy, and Mary Ann Kirsbaum of Sylvan Lake were among those who came out to see Bernhard’s show.

“I loved to hear about her hobnobbing with the elites,” said Nice.

“I personally loved it,” said Safilian of the show. “She has a beautiful voice and she’s hilarious.”

And Kirsbaum, likely speaking for a number of women in the crowd, noted, “I was jealous of her shoes.”

Sandra Bernhard returns to The Ark at 8 tonight. Tickets are available online. Also, check out our interview with Sandra Bernhard.

Jenn McKee is the entertainment digital journalist for Reach her at or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.



Tue, Feb 5, 2013 : 7:13 p.m.

Perhaps the turnout was small because it was $40/ticket. Not unreasonable, but stil pricy during these times. I guess she needs the money to pay for her $1,000 shoes. In the old days, she would have torn herself a new one.

Geoff Larcom

Mon, Feb 4, 2013 : 5:13 p.m.

This review pretty well nails it. I particularly like this line: "Bernhard's cabaret-like show has an edgy, stream-of-consciousness vibe, so tangents and detours are simply part of the ride." Although it also appeared as if she was working off a script of some sort. My wife and I were puzzled by the small crowd. It was a cold night, but it should be on Feb. 1. One idea was that this was a non-traditional kind of event for The Ark vs. appearing at the Comedy Club or some such. We had a fine time.


Mon, Feb 4, 2013 : 3:34 p.m.

She has had a hard time staying relevant. She peaked a long time ago. I still appreciate her but I think her bitterness at the downturn of her career shows too much in all that she does.


Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 9:22 p.m.

I think I'd blame the low turn-out on the video chose to spotlight.


Mon, Feb 4, 2013 : 4:51 a.m.

I agree that it could be a possibility. As I have commented previously, I thought the video was boring.

Jenn McKee

Sat, Feb 2, 2013 : 8:11 p.m.

I should note that Bernhard was clearly playing up her annoyance about the turnout for comic effect. She got a good number of jokes out of it during the course of the evening.


Sat, Feb 2, 2013 : 9:57 p.m.

Though I thought the embedded video, in the previous story prior to her appearance, was boring, I congratulate her on the proverbial "making lemonade out of lemons."

Jessica Webster

Sat, Feb 2, 2013 : 4:08 p.m.

Sorry I missed the show! Sounds fun. A little confrontational, but fun.


Sat, Feb 2, 2013 : 3:19 p.m.

One of the least talented, unfunny "performers" ever. Right up there with Rosie O'Donnell. Thus the small audience.


Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 12:21 a.m.

Yeah, lousy weather wouldn't have nothing to do with a low turnout. No matter how many showed up, she had more pay to see her, than you could get to visit you for free


Sat, Feb 2, 2013 : 4:59 p.m.

I'm curious as to how you formed your judgment? Have you seen her live act? Were you at the show last night? Or do you just immediately dislike her because she is a strong confrontational women who's a strong supporter of gay rights and happens to be in gay relationship? And I would imagine this makes you uncomfortable?