Tell me a story, Sandy

Sandra Bernhard is performing at Joe’s Pub in New York City this week, and if you’ve never had a chance to check out her work, either RUN to The Public or grab one of her many performance DVDs, asap. She’s brilliant – and as I was sipping my Chardonnay shoulder to shoulder with fawning New Yorkers in the jam-packed club last night, I pondered a point she was making about live storytelling.

Bernhard has made a career of blending song with comedy with story, delivered mostly in delicious little bits. Her whole gig is really the comedy of exasperation – she’s over it, had it, done – but delivered with such dry, unusual wit, such a catty wink and a tilt of the head, that it never even borders on whining, it’s just Sandy Sandy Sandy.

In summing up 2009 (“Many wonderful things did not happen to me this year…”), she detailed an offer she entertained to video blog … for free. “No thank you,” said Bernhard, “I blog in my show, my LIVE show, thank you very much,” she said, totally dissing the sissy-fish-eye-camera-with-crap-in-the-background aesthetic, instead pointing out the beauty of LIVE – hair, shoes, dress, lights – LIVE.

I thought, she is blogging live, or, blogging is a partial product of the kind of comedy she delivers – because unlike other comediennes, she often delivers her jokes in isolated insights, instead of building them in to extended, escalating stories (which she does as well, but not as frequently). Bernhard often opts to deliver one- or two-liners, and then stop: “Why must everything have a t-shirt? (pause) Swine 09.” She scours recent periodicals for the ridiculous, in this case, an ad for drug-enhanced eyelashes: “Look whose growing longer, fuller, darker lashes … Latisse! (And then, delivered straight) “May cause eyelid skin darkening which may be reversible, and there is potential for increased brown iris pigmentation which is likely to be permanent.”

Bernhard’s style is syncopated, sharp cultural analysis, served dry. The fun is in her delivery, something with which a written blog, of course, cannot compete. Performing since the ’70s, Bernhard was ‘sound biting’ before we understood spin, ‘live blogging’ before we understood the pleasure of a daily dose of quick, witty insight. I’m so grateful she is staying on the stage and off the small screen. Tell me a story from there, Sandy, little or big.