It might be stretching things to suggest that American comedienne Sandra Bernhard's off-kilter spin on life was caused by her family's moving from the cozy confines of Michigan to the rough-and-tumble expanses of Arizona. One gets the feeling that Bernhard would have been on the outside looking in wherever she went. Utilizing her outsized lips and jutting chin for comic effect, Bernhard became a standup comedian at age 19, and two years later got her first big break as a regular on the short-lived Richard Pryor Show (where the press release misspelled her name as Bernhart). Her act, which like all good comedy acts was better seen than described, consisted of cutting-edge commentary about sexual stereotyping and survival; one felt compelled to laugh lest Bernhard bolt from the stage and physically assault the audience. This dangerous quality carried over into her star-making film role in King of Comedy, as a psychotic fan of talk show host Jerry Lewis. While Bernhard's funkiness worked in this film's favor, it was detrimental to her villainous turn in the 1990 fiasco Hudson Hawk, though she was no worse than any other element of this notorious bomb. A tireless creator of comedy, Bernhard has scored with her 1985 best-selling record album I'm Your Woman, her 1988 solo off-Broadway show Without You I'm Nothing (made into a film in 1990), and her autobiography Confessions of a Pretty Lady. While she spent much of her early career skirting around the subject of her own sexual preferences, in recent years Bernhard has "outed" herself, which has added an extra layer of public fascination to her onetime close friendship with Madonna, as well as her recurring appearances on the TV sitcom Roseanne.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Briefly volunteered and lived on an Israeli kibbutz after graduating from high school.
- Worked part-time at a salon as a manicurist while trying to break into the Los Angeles stand-up comedy scene in the mid-1970s.
- Won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress for her turn in director Martin Scorsese's 1983 feature film The King of Comedy, costarring Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis.
- Posed for a nude pictorial in the September 1992 issue of Playboy.
- Was offered and turned down the role of Miranda Hobbes (played by Cynthia Nixon) on the wildly popular HBO series Sex and the City.
- Has never publicly revealed the father of her daughter, Cicely.