BOSTON – Sandra Bernhard says the decision by a women's shelter to cut her act from its annual benefit was based on a misleading account of what she said about Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
The 53-year-old comedian, in criticizing Palin for opposing abortion rights, challenged whether she would keep the baby if she became pregnant after being violated by a group of black men in New York. Bernhard made the remarks last month during her one-woman show in Washington, before Palin visited New York to campaign.
Rosie's Place, a Boston shelter, announced Wednesday that Bernhard would not take part in its Oct. 16 luncheon, "Funny Women ... Serious Business."
Many women at the shelter have been victims of violence, said public relations director Leemarie Mosca.
"In light of our mission, we don't think violence against women is a laughing matter," she said.
The shelter cut the comedian after Bernhard was quoted referring to Palin being "gang-raped by my big black brothers." Bernard originally defended her routine, saying it was part of a larger piece from her one-woman show about "women, racism, freedom and the extreme views of Gov. Sarah Palin."
"In no way am I making any sort of joke about crimes against women — quite the contrary. I'm speaking out about someone who doesn't do enough to protect women," Bernhard said Wednesday. "I think if you look at the real issues I'm addressing, my intent becomes clear. I am a die-hard advocate for women's rights, and fully support the work of Rosie's Place."
On Thursday, Bernhard claimed in a statement that she never used the term "rape" or "gang rape," although she couldn't recall the exact words she had spoken, explaining it was an improvisational act. She told the New York Daily News she "addressed the issue if Sarah Palin had, God forbid, been violated, would she be willing to care for the baby?"
The comedian, who's known for profane and outrageous material, said she only decided to set the record straight after "an innocent charity which does great work" became "collateral damage."
Mosca said the shelter expected to book a replacement.
"Right now, our main focus is our event and making sure the event is a success," Mosca said. "And for us, that means not including Sandra Bernhard at this time."