Publication: City of Edmonton News. Posted by Lexi Schwartz
Posted by Lexi Schwartz
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Early Life and Career
The daughter of a proctologist and an artist, Sandra Bernhard was born on June 6, 1955, in Flint, Michigan and was raised alongside her three brothers in Arizona. She knew from an early age that she wanted to perform and often forced her parents to watch her put on performances at home. “When I was really little, I remember forcing my parents to watch me sing ‘(Won’t You Come Home’ Bill Bailey’ in their bedroom,” she recalled. “They were staring at me like I was nuts. I had choreographed it and worked it all out.”
Bernhard saw a 1963 production of Hello, Dolly! in Detroit and knew instantly that she would one day take the stage. By the time she reached her teens, she was determined to follow her dreams and practiced her comedy routine on her friends at Saguaro High School. She graduated in 1973 and traveled to Israel for a few months before she settled down in Los Angeles, California. The 19-year-old didn’t waste any time taking the stage and tried her jokes on a live audience that wasn’t exactly impressed when Bernhard joked about her unattractive appearance and her Jewish family.
“I really thought I wanted to be a musical comedy star, but I didn’t want to go all the way to New York and be that far away from home,” Bernhard said of her early career plans. “So, I thought maybe I’d be a rock ‘n roll singer or an opera singer. I went through a lot of different phases, but then I went to the Ye Little Club in Beverly Hills and met comedians Paul Mooney and Lotus Weinstock. I got up and did my first five minutes on a Monday night. I wore a surfer hat and safari shorts and a safari jacket and lace-up espadrilles, and I told my first joke.”
Under the guidance of Mooney and Weinstock, Bernhard developed a variety of crazy characters and returned to the stage. This time, her routine was a big hit and she caught the attention of television producers and casting agents throughout Hollywood. She became a staple at The Comedy Store and, in 1977, made her television debut on The Richard Pryor Show. She joined the main cast and remained on the series for several years before making the rounds on late-night television with guest appearances on Late Night with David Letterman.
Becoming a Household Name
Bernhard made her film debut with a voice-over credit in Shogun Assassin (1980) and snagged a minor role in Cheech & Chong’s Nice Dreams (1981). She caught her biggest break in 1983 when Martin Scorsese cast her alongside Jerry Lewis and Robert De Niro in The King of Comedy (1983), which earned her a National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress. The next year, she appeared in The House of God (1984) and followed up with a cameo in Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird (1985).
She developed and recorded her one-woman show, I’m Your Woman, in 1985 and continued honing her talents on stage. During this time, her personal life made headlines when she met and befriended Madonna after one of her comedy shows. Many assumed the two were lovers as they frequently alluded to their relationship going far beyond friendship. “She came to my show in 1988, came backstage, and then we started hanging out,” Bernhard said. “We would go out, we would have a genuinely great time, and I think we were a really good example of two women being friends.”
Bernhard’s relationship with Madonna confirmed she was openly bisexual despite the fact that she never officially came out, at least not yet. The publicity surrounding her sexuality only helped her career as she joined comedian Roseanne Barr on the primetime sitcom, Roseanne (1991-1997). On the show, Bernhard played Nancy Barlett Thomas, one of the first openly gay characters on television. Because of this, Bernhard became an outspoken advocate for gay rights and confirmed she was bisexual when she walked the red carpet with her partner, Sara Switzer. A year after she wrapped up Roseanne, Bernhard gave birth to the couple’s daughter, Cicely Yasin Bernhard, on July 4, 1998.
Since wrapping up Roseanne, Barnhard returned to film with credits in Somewhere in the City (1998), Playing Mona Lisa (2000), Dinner Rush (2000), Zoolander (2001), Searching for Bobby D (2005), See You in September (2010), and Looking for Lenny (2011). On television, she snagged the hosting gig on Reel Wild Cinema from 1994 to 1996 and went on to make guest appearances in Ally McBeal (1997), The Sopranos (2000), Will & Grace (2001-2002), Law 7 Order: Special Victims Unit (2003), Crossing Jordan (2005), Las Vegas (2007), and The New Adventures of Old Christine (2007).
Today, the 64-year-old Bernhard is still busy as an actress and comedian. Her most recent work includes several television appearances on 2 Broke Girls (2015), Difficult People (2016), Pose (2018-Present), and American Horror Story: Apocalypse (2018). Aside from her busy work schedule, she spends the rest of her time with her partner, Switzer, and their daughter living her life to the fullest. “I’m anti-bitter,” she says of her perspective after four decades in the spotlight. “I love life, new experiences, meeting people, and new friends. I’m incredibly open. I love everything that has happened in my career. I feel the same way now as I did when I was 20. I’m always ready for a new, wonderful experience to come my way.”