I have been following Sandra Bernhard since the 1980s when this relative unknown came on the scene in a big way going toe-to-toe with seasoned heavyweights like Jerry Lewis and Robert DeNiro in Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy. It was a groundbreaking performance in an iconic film about the cult of celebrity and what happens when things go off the rails. There was something subversive about Bernhard’s arresting portrayal of celebrity-stalking kidnapper Masha which spoke to me. She validated and empowered neurotics everywhere. I continued following Bernhard’s career over the decades across various platforms from her live stage performances to her forays into episodic television from Rosanne to Pose and her Sirius radio program Sandyland. Through it all, Sandra has remained an original who has managed to make us laugh and think at the same time.
The last time I talked with Sandra Bernhard was when I interviewed her for Metrosource in November 2018 after the Democrats took back the House of Representatives and before Trump’s first impeachment. So, only weeks into the Biden administration, it felt like catching up with an old friend … albeit one who just happens to be a pop culture phenom and LGBTQ+ icon.
I am happy to report that, all things considered, Sandra seemed to be in a really good place. She has resumed filming the third and final season of Pose and has settled into a semblance of normalcy with her 21-year relationship with her lady love Sara Switzer while marveling at her daughter Cicely’s post-collegiate life. We covered a lot of ground, including the recent passing of icons like RBG, Cloris Leachman and Larry King, to her thoughts on the inauguration and the work that lies ahead.
How have you been coping during these trying times?
Well, you know, it is a state of mind really. I am lucky. I have a fabulous partner/girlfriend/person I’ve been with for 21 years. We have a lot of fun and we are together a lot anyway, so segueing into this was not like a total shock.
Our daughter graduated college in May, and she moved into her own apartment (in New York) and has a job working at a couple different cafes making sandwiches, so she found herself a job which is amazing. And she is safe. So, she is finding her way until she can move into her career. So that is a load off. Normally, just graduating from college is enough of a big transition. But under these circumstances, it is nearly impossible. And yet she has managed to maneuver her way into life and find some happiness and creativity.
My girlfriend just got a fabulous new job with a big company. It’s sort of business-y and sort of creative. She works all day long out of our daughter’s bedroom, and I work out of our bedroom, and we meet in the middle for snacks and quick conversations.
I go to the grocery store 2-3 times a week; we cook almost every night. And I have had tons and tons of Zoom events that I have been a part of. I do my radio show Sandyland once a week from home and that keeps me sane.
I just recently started working out virtually with my trainer. I thought it was going to be hard, but actually it’s been great. He has been pushing me even though he is not right here with me. So, I work out with him once a week and then I do my own thing 3 or 4 times a week. I try to walk a couple miles, five days a week. So, when it comes to taking care of myself, I have just gotten into a routine.
And we have a dog named George, so we are out with him two or three times a day. That keeps us sort of engaged. It is great to have a dog. It is the best thing in the world.
So that’s kind of been the broad strokes of how I have kept my sanity. Of course, I am much more able to do that now that I have a big burden lifted off my shoulders now that Joe and Kamala finally got into the White House. That was the hardest part of all of this. Dealing with the stress and the day-in and day-out shock of how horrible and thoughtless and dangerous the former President was. And what he wrought and what he left behind and what we are still dealing with, with people like Marjorie Taylor Green. The violence, the stupidity, the lack of sophistication, the unwillingness to just move forward and do the best we can do to get this country back on its feet. To them it is like a joke and it is very disturbing to see people behaving like this. And for all of us, it is this ongoing battle. But that is what we must do. We have got to roll up our sleeves and stay in the trenches and do whatever we can do to move things forward.
Have you been bingeing any shows?
Oh my God, I mean, all year long. I’ve lost track. The Queen’s Gambit is a great show, fabulous. I watched an Israeli show called Valley of Tears. It was about the Yom Kippur War. I happened to be in Israel during that time, so it was like being there again. Against the backdrop of death and destruction; that’s not so happy. But I was there so that was interesting to see that. And now we are watching the fourth season of a great French comedy Call My Agent, which just came out. I’ve watched The Crown of course which was amazing. I don’t want to bore you, but we have watched all the shows, and then some.
What has the vibe been like on the Pose set?
Well, it’s been serious. They are very strict about COVID testing, as they should be. So, I’ve been tested so many times. Everybody is wearing masks and shields and there is all this choreography of where everybody moves and goes and sits and waits. And when you shoot, you wear your mask right up until the last possible minute until they roll the shot. It is hardcore, but it is the only way for it to work. But everybody is cool and doing what they have to do.
We lost a lot of legends this year. Let’s start with Larry King.
He was a great interviewer, fun to talk to. He always made you feel comfortable, he never poked at you or tried to make you go in a direction you did not want to go. He was just fun and menschy.
Any thoughts on RBG’s passing?
Yeah, it was horrifying, and obviously a disaster because one of the worst people in the world took her place, so we must get some additional seats in the Supreme Court to balance this out.
While we are on the topic of dead celebrities … If you could invite some dead celebrities to a one-night-only séance, who would be on your list?
Well, most recently for sure, it would be Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper, and Cloris Leachman. I mean I am so sad that they are all gone now, that’s a total bummer. Those are the three I would most like to hang out with.
Sandra looked back fondly on her memories as a teenager, watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Carol Burnett Show in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
I mean, there was just something about watching TV when I was growing up where it was special because it was limited. TV was on in the morning; it was on till like midnight and then it went off the air. It wasn’t like you could just stay up all night and tune in and constantly have your senses assaulted. There is something I miss about the simplicity of what life was like. There was a chance to really shut down and I miss that.
Switching gears … If you had a magic wand, what one thing would you change about yourself?
I think it’s what I’ve been changing throughout my life which is my ability to be patient. I am not the most patient person. And different things along the way have given me opportunities to become more patient. So, I think to just continue to wave that wand over myself and find ways of just being still and meditative and being okay with that.
And if you could change one thing about the world with that wand, what would that be?
To just open people up to truly accept the unique qualities in each other. That does not mean I want to accept somebody being racist or misogynist. It must be something positive. Like if you are transgender or are gay or black or you’re not skinny, you know, those kinds of things. Because people can turn around and say why don’t you accept me because I don’t want you to have an abortion? Because I do not want you to legislate what women do to their bodies. So, then we are back to having the same argument. I think really, if you are not going to be on the same page of what is good for most people, then just stay off the page completely.
This is our annual travel issue. So, with that in mind, what is your favorite travel destination?
Well right now it would be just about anywhere. There are a few places I love. I would love to go back to Morocco, it’s one of my favorite places. I love the mystical feeling of Morocco. I love Paris, London, Italy; those are some of my favorite places to go back to again.
Anywhere you’ve never been that you’ve always want to go?
Yeah, I haven’t been to Barcelona. I haven’t been to Japan yet, so … I’ll put Japan on that list.
When you travel, do you like finding really great places to stay or do you prefer off-the-beaten-path type places?
More recently, we have rented apartments and places to stay in different cities, which is cool because I like to get up in the morning and make myself breakfast. I like that feeling of being in a neighborhood in a city. But I also love staying in great hotels. So, it depends on what I’m doing and how long I’m going to be somewhere.
What did you think of the inauguration?
I thought it was one of the most incredible days – I wish it would happen every day. It was beautiful, it was restrained, it was poetic, it covered all the bases of what needed to be addressed in these times. I think Joe Biden has just been flawless in his first weeks as President.
What did you think of the poet laureate?
I thought she (Amanda Gorman) was phenomenal. Beautiful. I hope she can handle all the attention and the stress because she is very young.
You mentioned earlier that you and Sara meet for snack breaks during the day. What are some of your go-to snacks?
I eat a lot of apples. There is one kind of apple I love. It is called an “Envy” apple. You can get them at Whole Foods. Delicious. It is really crisp; you get a lot of taste. And I like eating carrots. And I love Sonoma Creamery Parmesan Crisps. They have quinoa and brown rice. I also get them at Whole Foods. Delicious. I like these puffs [Hippeas], made from chickpeas. I like Bark Thins, the one I eat has dark chocolate and pumpkin seeds. I love a cookie. I get these healthy peanut chocolate – they’re like M&M’s – but they’re from a healthy company. I like chocolate covered ginger. I kind of graze all day long.
What is your cookie of choice?
I think it is called Back to Nature. They are like those Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies, but it is a healthy version of that without all the hydrogenated oil and stuff. Those are delicious.
Do you ever talk to Madonna anymore?
No. I mean, I would if I saw her or if I heard from her, but she is off doing her thing. I mean, she has four kids. Two little ones and then two older ones. I think she lives in Europe most of the time, but I don’t really run into her in New York. But nobody’s running into anybody right now.
This is kind of feels like ancient history now, but what did you think about what happened to Kathy Griffin? She seemed to be the first sacrificial lamb in the Trump administration.
You know, you put yourself in those situations with a person like that, you know you are going to get pilloried. I mean, what else can you say, he’s a horrible person.
Did you feel like you had to watch what you said during the Trump years? Or did you feel unrestrained?
I was careful. I wasn’t going to get into a pissing contest with him. I did it my own way, but no, I wasn’t going to start going straight for the jugular with him. He’s too scary and dangerous. But I got to say what I needed to say in my own way.
Before we wrap up our conversation, any other thoughts for our readers?
I just think this has been a very trying and obviously painful time for so many people, but also a great opportunity to shift our thinking and the way we look at life. So, I hope that when we finally come through this, we can maintain some of the sensibility of what we have learned. I think that is the most important thing to take away from it.
(Photos courtesy of Sandra Bernhard)
Last modified: April 6, 2021