Sandra Bernhard: An Artist in Comedy
Inspirer is celebrating inspirational and influential women in film with in-depth interviews. This project will share the stories behind the trailblazers and pioneers who paved the way for females in the arts.
Sandra Bernhard is an iconic comedian who’s career has spanned nearly 40 years. Her mix of singing and “in-your-face” monologue comedy has continued to sell out shows around the world. From 1991 to 1996 Bernhard played the first openly gay character, Nancy Bartlett, on the network sitcom, “Roseanne.” She’s also played pivotal roles in many television series including “Switched at Birth,” “Two Broke Girls,” and “The L Word.” Her talents reach all corners of creativity — music, art, and writing. Having penned three books along with writing all her own comedic material, Bernhard has worked hard to make herself into one of the true legends in comedy.
In 1990, Bernhard wrote and starred in a film called “Without You I’m Nothing” — a film based on material from her award-winning, one-woman show by the same title. The film quickly became a cult classic, being shown at many film festivals. Currently, Bernhard is the host of her own daily live radio show,”Sandyland,” on SiriusXM Radio channel 102.
We talked with Sandra about her style of comedy, her “Roseanne” character Nancy Bartlett, and not giving into misogyny.
Do you find comedy to be a sexist genre?
We can ride that notion into the sunset, but if you have talent and are willing to work hard — you are going to make it. If every time I let myself get intimidated by misogyny I’d be cowering in a corner afraid to come out. It’s a tough business, and you encounter just about every possible type of person in it. You get a few bruises, some cuts and scrapes, and you heal up. That’s life, you either love it or let it crush you.
You started your career at L.A.’s Comedy Store in the ’70s, was it hard being a woman in comedy then?
Well, in some ways yes in some no. The best thing about it was it was more of a frontier baby in the ’70s in every aspect, less contrived, more original. When I started doing my hybrid of comedy and music no one understood it, which was a good thing, then I could take flight and really go there in a way you can’t today with the scrutiny of social media and YouTube. It was just me on a stage in a smoky comedy club going for broke and flying by the seat of my pants.
And you add music to your shows.
Yes, that’s my signature. Telling a story that is punctuated with song and emotion.
What inspired your new comedy/cabaret/burlesque act?
Everything in the world, the beat of the city, a ride on the subway, an encounter with a homeless person, a call from an old friend, a misunderstanding with my teenage daughter, a dream, the person sitting next to me on a flight to Cleveland, unexpected places.
Do you think your “in-your-face” style of entertainment is what keeps people coming back and selling out your shows?
Honesty, emotion, revealing myself, taking people on a journey — I think that’s what people come to expect from a Sandy Bernhard show.
You played network TV’s first openly gay character, Nancy Bartlett, on “Roseanne.” How did that come about?
It certainly wasn’t cliche, that’s for sure. It just came together naturally. Nancy was running from Arnie into the arms of Morgan Fairchild, it was just so right!
Last year, your 1990 film “Without You I’m Nothing” was chosen to be screened during BAMcinematek’s Migrating Films Festival. That must have been exciting having an opportunity for a whole new generation to see it.
Yes, it was. I always love to see new audiences enjoying my work. And I love the folks at BAM.
What can we look forward to in the future?
Keep listening to my show “Sandyland” on SiriusXM Radio’s Radio Andy channel 102!