Talking With Sandra Bernhard: Things Are Great in Sandyland

by Robert Nesti

EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor

Monday August 21, 2017

Catching up with Sandra Bernhard is at least a semi-annual event at EDGE. The iconic LGBTQ commentator remains one of the most provocative, funny and musically creative artists on the American cultural scene, so why pass on the opportunity to speak with her?

GSince the last time she has found a niche for her daily musings and opinions on "Sandyland," her hugely successful talk show on Andy Cohen's Sirius channel Radio Andy that is heard a number of times a day in which she interviews cultural figures, celebrities, even a politician or two. She is also touring the country with her latest solo show, "Sandra Monica Boulevard: Coast to Coast," that offers her usual mix of songs and commentary. It is next up in Provincetown at the Crown and Anchor on August 28 and 29. (For more information about her Provincetown dates, visit Sandra's website.

We spoke with Bernhard just days after she took an unusual step on her radio show and ranted against Trump. Unusual because she avoids politics, but the onslaught from the White House's tweeter-in-charge led her to a boiling point that she expressed in an explective-ridden rant. (And those expletives can be heard in full since it was on Sirius.)

Bernhard next projects will likely bring her to television where she's working on a number of series, one with Justin Vivian Bond as long-lost cousins, and a second that looks back at her personal experiences of being a manicurist in Hollywood during the time she was breaking onto the comedy circuit in the mid-1980s. That didn't take long as her career attests and she's been a regular, sometimes controversial and opinionated, and always sharply funny commentator on American culture as only she sees it.

Sandra Bernhard

EDGE: How are things in Sandyland?

Sandra Bernhard: Things are great in Sandyland. I got a wonderful Gracie Awards in June for one of my shows that I did on the M train with Debbie Harry and Chris Stein. We rode the subway and I interviewed them. It was fun and interesting and captured the essence of New York. And I got an award for it, which is amazing. I also did this very spontaneous rant the state of politics that really went to the heart of matter, which went viral. The show is really picking up steam - great guests. It's also been a great incubator for me for new material. It's really keeping me on my toes. And I am working simultaneously on a lot of other projects - scripted projects that are showing some movement. And doing my live shows and going up for roles on other scripted shows. It's life - day-to-day. And always looking forward to going up to Ptown. This will be a little more pared down that in previous years. We are back in the Crown and Anchor, which is fine. It is good to mix it up. I'll be there with Mitch Kaplan (her long time musical collaborator). It will just be the two of us, and we'll make it a party. It will be fun, like it always is.

EDGE: What will you be doing in the upcoming shows at the Crown and Anchor in Ptown?

Sandra Bernhard: No originals, but definitely things I put together this past year at Joe's Pub. It was called "Sandra Monica Boulevard: Coast to Coast," and I have done it a handful few times around the country. I am always keeping it fresh and mixing it up. That's it. You just have to keep your creative juices flowing and bring freshness to each performance.

EDGE: Is it your usual mix of songs and patter?

Sandra Bernhard: Yes. There will be some stuff that will be topical. I think it will be another great show. Another entertaining show and reflective or where I am at. For my Sandyland whisperers, it will be fun to see me on stage.

Sandra Bernhard in a promotional photo for "Sandra Monica Boulevard: Coast to Coast."

EDGE: Your radio show on Sirius "Sandyland" is a huge success. How did it come about?

Sandra Bernhard: Well, it was through Andy Cohen directly. He's a fan. We have known each other for a long time. He loves my work. And I think it was kind-of, and this my sound presumptuous, but something of coup that he got me. Not a lot of people want to that or have the time to do it, but I was between things and thought, this is nice. I can stay right her in New York if I want do and do something new that I hadn't really done on a regular basis. I was bored and it was a good time to do it.

EDGE: Are you enjoying the talk show format, especially when you speak with celebrities?

Sandra Bernhard: I don't think of them as celebrities, I just look for people I find interesting. I am trying to get Patti Smith to do another one of the M trains. There are people that come through Sirius all the time and some of them I'm not that excited about, but when I interview them, they turn out to be cool. But there is always a long wish list of people and I have gotten to talk to a lot of them. A lot of actors, a lot of performers, I'd like to get a few more artists on; but artists aren't that conversational, per se. I have had a lot of great fashion people on. It is very eclectic. I have a few political people on. I have had people that have done some great documentaries. It is really not a celebrity-driven show per se, it is really people that excite me and inspire me. They interest me the most.

Andy Cohen and Sandra Bernhard

EDGE: What prompted the anti-Donald Trump rant earlier this month?

Sandra Bernhard: Nothing in particular. I didn't come into the studio fired up. It kind-of flared up in the moment and I let it rip. I don't like to do that to the audience. I think it gets to be punishing when people only talk about politics day in and day out. Things are happening and the needle is moving, and really smart people are doing something about it; unfortunately it takes a long time to undue the knots that this situation is tied into. I am just fucking sick of him. I am sick of his people. I am sick of their cynical shit. And it is not fair to the people who work their asses off in this country who aren't getting by, or are just getting by. It takes its toll every day. I just jumped in and it came flowing out, like lave. Molten lava.

EDGE: Considering how expletive-laden the rant was, you could never have gotten away with that on a regular radio show...

Sandra Bernhard: No. And that's the other great thing about Sirius - no one comes around and says a word to me. First of all, Andy wants me to be outspoken; but the people that run Sirius have such diverse programming and let people do what they do. That's the beauty of it. It has certainly be great for me.

EDGE: You have been a New York City celebrity for nearly as long as Trump. Over that time did you run into him at all around the city?

Sandra Bernhard: Oh, yeah. A couple of times over the years, but it has been years. I haven't seen him out and about in 20 years. But we don't go to the 21 Club. That's not our scene. I rarely run into him, but there was a time when he was out and about for sure, but that was before politics.

Sandra Bernard in a screen shot of her YouTube clip of her recent Trump rant.

EDGE: It was announced recently that "Roseanne" is coming back. Any talk of whether or not Nancy, the character you played, will be returning?

Sandra Bernhard: I will know when they start fine-tuning the scripts. They don't start shooting until October. And I don't know. Hopefully Nancy will drop in. She should.

EDGE: Where do you think Nancy is now?

Sandra Bernhard: She has probably opened a boutique having gotten into her fashion sense fully. She's probably been in and out of couple of relationships. She's on the move. She flipped and went bisexual after she divorced Tom Arnold, but she might have flipped back again. You never know with Nancy.

EDGE: I read where you are working on a number of television projects, including one with Justin Vivian Bond. What is that?

Sandra Bernhard: Yes. It started out as a musical Justin wrote about five years ago, but we thought it better suited as a television series than a musical. Now the producers have it and we are turning it into a scripted show called "Arts and Crafts" in which we play cousins who haven't seen each other in many years and we reconnect. I come to New York after my marriage falls apart and move in with them. It's rollicking and frolicking and musical and fun. We'll see if it actually gets done. That one seems a little bit on hold for a minute. I have to light a fire under the producer's ass again. Some other things are moving a little quicker, but everything takes time.

EDGE: And you are working on another series that takes place in the '70s?

Sandra Bernhard: It is based on my first years in LA working as a manicurist and starting my career. It will be slightly fictionalized. It is the fun '70s, not the bummer '70s. Being a manicurist was a means-to-an-end, within a year I was supporting and starting my career. It was a great way to support myself without having to be on my feet all day as a waitress and be a clichť. It was fun. I met a lot of great people, lovely women who were very supportive. Some of them I still know today.

Sandra Bernhard with Jane Lynch whn Lynch appeared on Bernhard's Sirius radio show.

EDGE: How is your daughter Cicely adjusting to college life?

Sandra Bernhard: She just starting her sophomore year in the fall. Her first year had its ups and downs. I think it was a little bit of an eye opener, but she's doing great and she'll go back and pick up where she left off, but have a little more under her belt. But I hover, and that bugs her. But I think a lot of kids need it, and she needs it. She wants it sometimes; but when she doesn't want it, she gets irritated; but she can't have it both ways.

EDGE: What's the hardest thing for you to do in your work?

Sandra Bernhard: I think anytime you are putting together a new project. I don't think anything is hard. I just think it is disciplined and challenging. I don't necessarily have to do anything, but when I do something i want to do that is a little more of a challenge, you just have to do it. You just have to batten down the hatches and do it. Work is work. That's what life is all about. You got to get up every day, turn over a new leaf and jump in.

EDGE: Do you find it strange that Caitlyn Jenner still supports Trump even after his call for a ban of transgender soldiers in the military?

Sandra Bernhard: Well, she's an idiot. He's an idiot and she's an idiot. There is nothing else to say. It's absurd.

EDGE: Is it difficult for you to avoid talking politics on your show?

Sandra Bernhard: No it is not hard to avoid it. Like I said, if I said I want to address something, I address it. For instance, Caitlyn Jenner. I think Caitlyn is kind-of sad excuse for a woman and was a sad excuse man when he was Bruce. Who is this person? It's absurd. But if I don't want to talk about politics, I don't. I go days without talking about politics. Part of what I do on the show is give them a break from politics, but still keep the conversation intellectual and smart and cutting edge. And I think my work is inherently political because it reflects what I believe and I don't let it slip below a certain level.

Most of the time I having a great time. Some days are harder than others. I come up with all my material at the top of the show and I am not always inspired to be the best I can be because every day is not really inspiring. But I somehow manage to translate the mundane and the protean into something interesting.

Sandra Bernhard

EDGE: When I heard you live last year, your voice shows little wear. How do you keep it in such good shape?

Sandra Bernhard: I have always been very healthy. I have never smoked. I don't do drugs. I only drink a little. I take care of myself I try to get a lot of sleep. I exercise. It's just about your lifestyle. And it is also about your DNA. Either you get the luck of the draw or you don't. I feel like I have been pretty blessed, but need to take advantage of that and take could care of yourself.

EDGE: As someone who has played Ptown for decades now, what do you think of the changes that have occurred there over that time?

Sandra Bernhard: It has gotten very homogenized. As you know, it's not the way it was ten years ago. But it is still when you play places like the Crown and Anchor, it is still very gay and still pretty fun. Provincetown is a special place. It is an enclave. It's the end of the world. It's as far out as you can go and still be in America. You get that special feeling of being in a village, being by the ocean and wandering around. It's a cool feeling.

EDGE: And, lastly. You would make a great Dolly in "Hello, Dolly!" Has anyone expressed any interest in you replacing Bette Midler?

Sandra Bernhard: I would like that and, well, you know, anything can happen.

For more on Sandra Bernhard, including how to access her Sirius radio show, upcoming public events and news, visit her website.

Hear Sandra Bernhard's anti-Trump rant:


Robert Nesti can be reached at [email protected].