Sandra Bernhard Star Tribune file
A social critic, pop-culture commentator and professional provocateur dripping in sarcasm and irony, Sandra Bernhard is the perfect talk-show guest. At least on Letterman. How would she fit as the featured guest for two hours on MPR's "Wits"?
Well, after the live taping on Friday at the Fitzgerald, the censors or editors will be busy bleeping Bernhard. That was a given going in, wasn't it?
Joined in conversation and song by her pal Rosanne Cash (they met on Letterman), Bernhard was funny, outrageous and, at times, not funny at all -- especially when host John Moe tried to play this well-intended but poorly executed game with her "Bernhard with Avengeance," in which he'd fire a topic and she'd have 30 seconds to crack wise. (You try to make mean about Newfoundland.)
Bernhard is not shy about skewering any topic -- including host Moe. He opened the show with a monolog making fun of James Taylor and his "You've Got a Friend," wondering what do we call an old acquaintance who is not really a true friend but you friend 'em anyway on Facebook (he decided on ferrand). Later, Bernhard dissed Moe for crediting Taylor for "You've Got a Friend," which she rightly pointed out was written by Carole King and featured on "Tapestry," an album that informed Bernhard's very essence. At least, Moe playfully fired back using Smackwater Jack as a verb.
Being on your toes is the bit with "Wits."
Bernhard took a shot at Michele Bachmann and professed her love for Prince's "Little Red Corvette" and quoted dialog from his "Purple Rain" when asked to give a toast (the bit about purifying yourself in Lake Minnetonka). She also just chatted like a normal person (well, as normal as she can get) with Cash -- two women in black -- about their friendship and how they reconnected on Twitter, a story that Moe loved.
Moe is a huge Twitter advocate and chose "friends" as the theme of the show, which often forced things, especially in an awkward telephone interview with comic Eugene Mirman. (Live, conversations are more effective than sticking-to-the-script Q&As.)
Cash was at "Wits" for music. With the John Munson-led house band, she offered three songs, including Bob Dylan's "Girl from the North Country." With Bernhard (who can sing), she did duets on "California Dreamin'" and "Daydream Believer." Cash praised Munson's musicians, whom she'd met only two hours earlier.
She did manage to blow the lyrics -- twice -- to her biggest song, "Seven Year Ache." So after the taping, she sang the song again flawlessly for a retaping. Munson, however, flubbed his introduction to "Girl from the North Country." He kept saying "a kindler and gentler Dylan." After some good-natured ribbing from Moe, Munson nailed it. And you half expected everyone to break into "That's What Friends Are For."
After the censors have their say, this "Wits" show, the third of four in this year's series, will be broadcast at 9 p.m. June 5 on the Current (89.3 FM) and 6 p.m. Aug. 21 on MPR. Meanwhile, clips of the show are available at mpr.org.
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