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Sandra Bernhard: A Cruise to Reality

Sandra Bernhard: A Cruise to Reality


Things are about to get even hotter in Cleveland as Sandra Bernhard and pal Laura San Giacomo make a guest appearance as a lesbian couple on Wednesday's episode. Bernhard chatted with The Advocate about the show, her big plans for New Year's Eve and about which of the GOP candidates is craziest.

The Advocate: You just did a hilarious episode of Hot In Cleveland. Was your first lesbian cruise with Betty White and Valerie Bertinelli everything you thought it would be?
Sandra Bernhard:It was everything and more. All of the ladies on the show are hysterical and I really connected with everyone. It's hard because they are doing one episode after the next so it can be tough to come in as a guest star. They went above and beyond. I love Laura San Giacomo (Bernhard's girlfriend in the episode) too. I've known her a long time and she is a class act. I'd love to come back.

You were my very first lesbian experience, so to speak. Your character, Nancy, on Roseanne was the first lesbian I ever saw on TV.
I think Roseanne's approach to everything was so revolutionary and people just got into it because they related to the blue-collar experience back then a lot more than they do now in a certain way. Whatever she talked about was fresh and new and we never approached it in a heavy, political way. It was fun and accessible and still within the realm of what her show was about. She never took it to a place where people felt threatened by it.

Did you get a good response from the gay community back then?
Not particularly. With a lot of gays back then, you had to be political. I was one of the first performers to walk a line with sexuality and I got a lot of shit back then. If you didn't fly your flag a certain way, you were a traitor in the community. I played with a lot of images in my show, so it was never black or white and still isn't. Sexuality is fluid and people have a lot of emotions about it. I've always rebelled from sticking to a didactic emotion about gayness. Gay people enjoyed Roseanne because it was fun and smart, but I wasn't particularly recognized for it.

What about from people like me, watching in rural America? It was all new to me.
Over the years, I've gotten very nice feedback from people like you who have said that I've helped them through turmoil and tumultuous times. To be a positive influence is very satisfying as a performer. I just try to do good work.

You've been known for having a political opinion or two. I think the current lineup of GOP candidates are fish in a barrel for stand-up comics. Who's your fave?
One is crazier than the next. I guess it would be a toss up between Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann. They're just caricatures. The wheels are off all of the carts and there's nobody viable so the whole thing is an impossible serious conversation to have about any of these people. The Republican Party is in shambles. Not that the Democrats are at the top of their game either, but I do think everything is shifting. Things are in flux right now so hopefully something positive will come out of it.

You've had a longtime partner and are raising a teenage daughter. What are Sandra Bernhard's tips for raising a teenager?
You present ideas of morality and respect and present it in a way where they can figure it out for themselves. I don't over lecture or beat a drum but certainly there are parameters. That's how it is around here. It's not a runaway train. There has to be appreciation for what they have in their life and other people. I'm heavy in the discipline area but I don't beat a drum about it.

Do you see yourself becoming your parents?
I'm nothing like my parents. I'm very present and involved but I step back and observe the whole person. Kids go through a lot of changes and you have to weigh everything and decide what battles are worth fighting and I think my parents' generation wasn't as savvy.

You should write a parenting book. The Queer, Feminist Comedian's Guide To Raising A Baby. It'd be a way more interesting read than Dr. Spock.
I've actually started to write. I have about 10 chapters about parenthood from my perspective. Not about how to be a parent, just observational stuff. It might be part of a book or something. We'll see.

You do a pretty big New Year's Eve show every year here in New York City. Can you tell us about it?
The whole point of the show is a year-end wrap up. I kind of take a look at what's happened in a year and where we are headed. There's bits and pieces from my show that I'm touring with, I Love Being Me, Don't You? and a few new songs. It's just a big holiday party. It's fun because I don't have to go out on the road and it has become a holiday tradition for me.

Any New Year's resolutions?
I don't do New Year's resolutions. Every day is a work in progress for me. I kind of take stock in my life every day when I get up and see what changes need to be made in my relationship, with my kid, with the way I perceive the world. On a spiritual level, it's a day-to-day task. I don't think you change everything overnight. Resolutions don't work. They have to be subtle, and you have to be persistent to affect change.

Bernhard will be performing at Joe's Pub in New York City December 28 to 31. Tune in for her episode of Hot In Cleveland on Wednesday.

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