Sandra Bernhard is performing at Theater J for three weeks. The show opened Tuesday. We went to see her last night. She was reviewed in the Post by Peter Marks this morning.
The theater was pretty full. For a Thursday night, this portends strong financial results for the theater.
The audience was mixed. Regular Theater J theater-goers, and visible members of the city’s most visible gay community. The audience was almost all white (of the 200+ in the audience, I would be surprised if there were ten African Americans). As to religious affiliation, I of course cannot tell, but I would assume that the vast majorities of the Jews and the Christians in the audience were not religious in any normal sense. That is just an assumption.
There are some things about Bernhard that you have to admire. She has indefatigable amounts of energy (her only shared trait with Sarah Palin, perhaps), she has a powerful and not unpleasant singing voice, and she certainly knows how to work an audience.
Her faults vastly outnumber her assets. In terms of insulting others, she makes Don Rickles seem absolutely tame. She turns her most venomous venom on Sarah Palin and therefore on all Republicans, but she also rants about Jews, Christians, African Americans, and everyone else.
Now, I am not a fan of bad language. I just don’t think it is necessary. I certainly can express my feelings without reverting to language that will make some people cringe. But bad language in talking about Sarah Palin, Orthodox Jews, right wing Christians is Sandra Bernhard’s m.o., and audiences love it. Yet bad language is not enough for Bernhard (a lot of comedians use bad language); she needs to have routines that themselves shock by virtue of content, more than they shock by language. The language becomes only one ingredient in this awful mix. Talking about what she would do to Palin if she had a chance would (in most countries) have her jailed or stoned, but here, audiences love it.
So, I can’t fully blame Bernhard although she has been taking advantage of it for decades. I have to blame most of all the audiences for permitting this sort of disgusting dialogue to be repeated again and again and again.
Is Bernhard funny? Sometimes, yes, she is, and sometimes she is funniest when she is being the nastiest. But what trumps what? Do you avoid the humor so as not to encourage hate, or do you ignore the hate because funny is all important. There is no question as to how I would like to see this resolved.
And I should make it clear that, with regard to her opinions in the most general aspects, I agree with her. I don’t like the position of the Republicans, I don’t like bad actors hiding under the guise of religious orders. If I were a Republican, or if I were of a mind to think that you can’t make fun of religion, I would be apoplectic now, I believe.
And if Bernhard weren’t Jewish, and was a Christian or a Moslem who made fun of Democrats and Jews, I (along with all those laughers in the audience) would be up in arms.
I mentioned the very few African Americans. How did they take the show? Bernhard sings in “blackvoice” (my phrase). She makes fun of black divas. (Yes, she idolizes Nina Simone and some others, but even there it is with a tinge of mocking.) So, I conclude that the show is not only politically incorrect, it is also racist. And it is very anti-religious (although Bernhard apparently hob nobs with Chabad and keeps a kosher home).
By any objective the show is disgusting. Which leads me to the next question. Why does Theater J allow this type of show on its stage? I know, the standard answer is because it wants to be on the edge, wants to provoke. But this show is not an edgy show. An edge is just that, an edge, on the cusp, a little over the top. That is not Sandra Bernhard.
So, where is the Theater J staff and council? Where is the DCJCC administration? Isn’t it clear that, as a Jewish insitution, which this theater purports to be, it must maintain some standards? And doesn’t the JCC itself have to have some limits to the tripe it allows on its stage?