Sandra Bernhard cuts a strange American figure. She's published numerous niche market books, she's cameoed in countless second-tier films ("Hudson Hawk," anyone?), she's recorded dance records and even made a spectacle on Broadway with her simple observations on society. But she's never been truly famous in her own right.
Rather, Sandra Bernhard seems more of an accessory to others' celebrity crimes. She was Madonna's raunchy lesbian experiment, Roseanne's television kiss, and now she's talking PETA with Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders. That's what friends are for, right?
This week, Bernhard hosts "Watermark's Laugh Out Loud" comedy event (watermarkonline.com) during Gay Days, starring the Big Gay Comics Scott Thompson, Lea Delaria and Harvey Fierstein. And although she's riding reasonably high on her hit Broadway show "I'm Still Here, Damn It!," Bernhard remains more of a small paparazzi picture in the back of Interview magazine than a box-office draw for the rest of America.
On the phone from her home in New York, Bernhard (with notable reluctance) recounts her midrange bouts with celebrity and gushes about the new life her 2-year-old daughter, Cicily, has brought her.
Orlando Weekly: I've just been cruising your websites looking for dirt on you, and there's nothing exciting to report.
Bernhard: Yeah, there's not much dirt on me that I don't reveal first.
So you're still here, damn it!
What's been going on with your life?
I've been writing stuff. I've been developing something for television, working on auditions, going on the road, doing my show and, you know, being very busy.
Has becoming a mother made life any less funny for you?
No! It makes it a million times funnier, and more fun. It's the best thing I ever did. It fills up your life. It takes away a lot of the jadedness and disappointments when things aren't going exactly the way you want in your career. You put things in perspective with your kid, it's a great thing.
Does it take some of the pressure off of being a celebrity?
I've never felt any pressure from being a celebrity. That's never been a problem. I like it.
How does your breeding float with your lesbian fan base?
I don't think my fan base is lesbian. I think my fan base is very eclectic. The lesbian element is probably a fraction of it.
I didn't mean that as an insult ...
No, no, no. But they're not my first concern. My fan base ranges from [age] 18 to people in their 80s. I cross the boards with what I say, and I think it hits a nerve in people who are honest and can relate to somebody who's just out there.
Your humor seems to me more of a fabulous glow than a slapstick punch.
Yeah, you're right.
How do you choose the projects that you do? You do a little bit of everything.
It's kind of a rotating schedule. If something comes up, and it seems like the right time, and I have the creative source going, then that's what I'll do.
What do you make of celebrity baiters like Howard Stern, when they're constantly ridiculing your physical appearance?
Howard's been a big supporter of mine for years. I mean, everything Howard says, I'm glad he's talking about me. He's a pretty smart guy.
Speaking of relationships, which Madonna do you like better: sassy ghetto boy-toy or Brit-lipped-yoga-DJ girl?
Sassy boy-toy, for sure.
OK, more celebrity talk. Do you think that the fall of Roseanne has been a loss for the brash female leading lady?
I don't think there's been a fall of Roseanne. I just think that Roseanne sometimes makes sort of crazy choices, and she gets a little stubborn and self-defeating. She'll be back.
How hot was that period for you, when the lesbian-kiss episodes were happening?
Didn't mean a thing to me, honey. Wasn't my show. I was just there as an actor. It didn't affect me at all.
What's this about you hating Orlando?
Well, Orlando's a little bizarre. I think there's pockets of interesting people wherever you go in the world. [But] it's a really commercial town. Obviously, I mean, it seems like it's just a big cement block with lots of water slides.
We don't really need streets here. We're connected by water slides.
How did you get involved with "Laugh Out Loud"?
They just called and asked if I'd host it. They're paying me and flying me down. I show up at a lot of gigs and don't know that much about them. It's a big part of my financial security. [Laughs.]
Scott Thompson and Lea Delaria?
Yeah, they're the other two reasons. They're good friends of mine.
When Scott and I talked, we talked about the sort of ignorance of the gay press, and the reverse stereotyping of gym boys and their linear gay politic. Do you share any of that kind of concern?
Yeah, the three of us share pretty solid observations of the whole gay scene. You know, honestly, I'm not that involved with the gay world. I have a lot of gay friends, but we're all pretty eclectic people in terms of what we do.
You've been at it for some 20 years now. Is there anything that you think you would have done differently?
I don't think you can ever look at life like that. [Begins baby-talking to her child.] Whatcha eatin', some cheese? String cheese ... ooooh ... what are you doing with your pants open, honey? [Writer reflexively looks down.]
Is there any burning urge that makes you get up and do this every day?
I think you have to always stay really connected with things that you believe, and renew those things everyday. The ultimate statement is to be comfortable in your own skin. The more people are happy with themselves, the less they torture other people.
If you were a lipstick, what color would you be?
I'd be a real kind of natural, with a little bit of shimmer and shine.