Stand-Up Comedian Sandra Bernhard

Sandra Bernhard

Born: June 6, 1955
Blue Meter: Tame
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2006Everything Bad & Beautiful
1998I'm Still Here... Damn It!
199620th Birthday of the Comedy Store
1994Excuses for Bad Behavior, Pt. 1
1990Without You I'm Nothing
1985I'm Your Woman

Specials (and other video)

1999Sandra Bernhard: I'm Still Here... Damn It
1997Rodney Dangerfield's 75th Birthday Toast
1992The A-List


1991Women of the Night III
1990Without You I'm Nothing

Books (by and about)

1998May I Kiss You On The Lips, Miss Sandra?
1993Love Love and Love
1988Confessions of a Pretty Lady


“Performance art is nonsense,” John Simon wrote. “It’s something that anybody without any training, any culture, or any genius can do. If it’s bizarre enough, it works…”

It worked especially well for bizarre Sandra Bernhard, who carved out a career on the sheer force of her personality. Her act, which could be subtitled “The Importance Of Being Sandra,” was based mostly on preening recitations and self-absorbed psychodrama, the actress stage-center and self-centered. She developed a hardcore cult who shared her rages and outrages.

Born in Flint, Michigan, spending her teen years in Scottsdale, Arizona, Bernhard developed into a strange looking creature, 5’10” and 106 pounds, big nosed and thick lipped: “The kids called them ‘nigger lips’ all the time. I didn’t look like anybody else, and that scared people. I was stared at from the time I was able to remember.” She described her teen years as “isolated, alienating and very stark…real neurotic with deep seated insecurities and fears.”

A manicurist in Beverly Hills for five years, Bernhard turned the anger and insecurity inside out, developing a theatrical streak, performing stand-up in the late 70’s. Her career took off after she played the alarming and aggressive girl obsessed with Jerry Lewis in “The King of Comedy.” She was equally alarming and aggressive on talk shows. Her ability to consistently fluster David Letterman with her hot and cold sexuality made her a welcome guest time after time, even if most of the audience could have cared less. He seemed amazed by her bohemian lifestyle and the probably apocryphal anecdotes she used to illicit his titters and stares. Once she described how, so so dreadfully bored while making a film in Budapest, she allowed a grimy masseur to have sex with her while she pretended to sleep.

In New York it was not comedy clubs but performance art theaters that embraced and nourished Bernhard. Like her friend, pop singer Madonna, Bernhard had a fondness for performing in her underwear and intriguing ringsiders with hints of steamy sexuality. She’d tell a gaping fan, “I’m very attracted to you, I feel I could really open up to you…and yet, there’s something about you that makes me want to hurt you. I’d really like to smash your face!” She told disdainful one-liners (“I saw Jerry Lewis kick one of those kids he was supposed to be helping”) and offered unabashed narcissism: “I love sleeping on a full-length mirror.”

Like her friend, rock star Madonna, Bernhard played both sides of the feminist/sex object equation. She described her first album cover (posed in a bra and slip) as “a comment on women who are manipulated by the media, by men.” For her one-woman performance film, she stripped down to a G-string for a dance number. Of her appearances on Letterman’s show, she said, “I just observed how he treated the typical actress that came out. Most of them floundered, so I figured I’d better do something. I took the natural dynamic between us and pushed it over the top.”

Bernhard insisted,“I’m not a real egotistical person…I’m really the antithesis of my performances in my personal life. I don’t drink or do drugs and I hate overindulgence and insanity.” For her overindulgence on stage The New York Times complained that her performances were “only slightly more polished than those one might do in private in front of a mirror, imagining oneself a star.” But now, she didn’t have to imagine she was a star. With her shows, her film appearances and even a book, she had become one. As she said with grand amusement, “I’m creating my own myth.”