Sandra Bernhard On Her Influences

Mister D: Sandra Bernhard will also be the guest host at Miss M’s annual Spring Picnic this year.

Connecticut Magazine
Feel the Bernhard: Comedian Brings her Signature Sass

May 12, 2016


Sarcasm and sass are part of comedian, activist, radio show host, author, singer and actor Sandra Bernhard’s signature stand-up style. And she is bringing them and more to Hartford’s Mark Twain House & Museum on May 18. Bernhard, who began her career at L.A.’s famed Comedy Store in the ’70s, has written and starred in numerous one-woman shows, acted in movies and on television, recorded albums and authored books, and is included on Comedy Central’s list of the 100 greatest standups of all time.

You recently turned 60 and, if my math is correct, your daughter, whom you raised with longtime partner Sara Switzer, is around 18, both milestones in most lives. Are those changes affecting yours?

Of course they are! Every time there is a milestone in your life it adds a layer to your depth and wisdom and insight as a person. As far as handling my daughter going to college and me being 60, I just keep on my path of trying to be a pretty relevant person. I love what I do and I reflect along the way. When you are smart that is what you do. My daughter, it’s time and she is ready to go. As far as 60, I am lucky because our culture has changed a lot about age. I was just reading this magazine article about Elizabeth Taylor and how the roles dried up when she was in her 40s and yet she was so vital and gorgeous. I think it’s great in the world we live in now that careers have ebbs and flows no matter how old you are.

If you could have dinner with any five people, dead or alive, who would you choose?

President and Michelle Obama, Serena Williams and probably Elizabeth Taylor since I was just reading about her. And since I am going to Hartford and the Mark Twain House, why not Mark Twain. I think that would be a good dinner crowd.

What makes you laugh?

Crazy, off-the-wall, day-to-day stuff that I see on the street, whether it’s people on the move in New York City or when traveling through airports. I think human frailties and funny mannerisms are the most funny, you know, the day-to-day stuff that is not about comedy.

What is the biggest misperception about you?

I hate to say it, but I do think people think I am tough and hardcore, and I am to a certain extent. But I am also very open and accessible.

Who are some comics who inspired you and who do you still like to watch?

Wow, I was young when I started watching Carol Channing, Carol Burnett and Mary Tyler Moore. There was also Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler when I was starting out. I still love their work. Amy Poehler, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, they are all comedians I love. I think the fact there are so many now bodes well for women in entertainment. We are in the middle of one of the biggest evolutions in entertainment we have ever had.

We are in the midst of one of the most bizarre presidential campaigns in history. Thoughts?

We are finally at the end of the white-male patriarchy and people are holding on for dear life. I feel, in terms of Donald Trump, he never expected to get this far and doesn’t really care about being a true politician for the people. He seems to have found this thing with white people who are easily swayed into racist and sexist and anti-Semitic and anti-everything else. It’s just a show and he has tapped into a very sensitive vein. I am definitely a Hillary supporter. I love Bernie Sanders, but I don’t think he has the experience, the wherewithal to implement most of his radical ideas. Clinton has the desire and knows the games and it’s not pretty.

You are coming to the Mark Twain House in May. How are you and Mark Twain alike?

I like to think I am a storyteller and someone reflecting the times. I don’t think anyone can step up to his brilliance and would never attempt to claim that. But I think we both see the humor in common sense, tell a good story and can be pretty sassy.

Besides being a comic, author, singer, advocate, actor and whatever else, you have also launched a new satellite radio show. Spill about Sandytown!

It’s on Andy Cohen’s SiriusXM channel. I am on daily, but I pre-record shows. I curate music and have conversations with some very interesting people. I’ve had Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Gloria Steinem, Dick Cavett on. I like it. It allows me to be in New York City more and that’s good because my daughter is a senior in high school, so I am there for all her activities.

Any new projects, books?

I am working on a project for TV and would love to be part of an ensemble for a TV sitcom. It’s what I am aiming for. I am also trying to put together a new book based on the interviews I am doing on radio.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Probably watching TV. I’ve been watching Billions on Showtime.

What is your pet peeve?

People who are too close to me, you know. When you are in New York City and grocery shopping, people are right on your heels. I’ve been “heeled” a few times. I’ve thought I would develop a rear-view mirror for shopping carts.

What is something most people don’t know about you?

I am a relatively vulnerable person and I care deeply about people who come up to me. I like to take the time to be kind to people, now more than ever.

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