Who says you have to do just one thing?

Certainly not Sandra Bernhard, who has built a 30-plus-year career on being hard to pin down.

Is she an actress? A comedian? A performance artist? A musician?


And she says she plans to show off a little bit of all her various vocations when she brings her live show to Jonathan’s in Ogunquit on Saturday.

The show, called “Sandyland,” is billed as blending theater, rock ’n’ roll, cabaret, stand-up comedy and a little bit of burlesque.

“There’s some political stuff in the show, I talk about being a mother, I sing, there’s a piano player,” said Bernhard, 58.

Bernhard’s career breakthrough came as an actress, playing a quirky and obsessed kidnapper in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy” in 1982, alongside Robert DeNiro. She was nominated for a Grammy for her album “Without You I’m Nothing,” which was based on her 1988 one-woman Broadway show of the same name.

In the 1990s she co-starred on the hit ABC sitcom “Roseanne,” playing a gay character at a time when that was not common. This year, besides doing her tour of live shows, she has a recurring role as an art teacher on the ABC Family network’s show “Switched at Birth.”

She’s a favorite of late-night host David Letterman, having appeared on his show more than 30 times.

So how did Bernhard end up being able to do all these things? Well, she says, it all started with Carol Channing, the big-eyed, platinum blonde Broadway and film star whose voice and stage presence were impossible to ignore.

“When I was eight I went to see Carol Channing at the theater, and I knew I wanted to be a performer. That was the turning point for me,” said Bernhard, a native of Michigan who still roots for Detroit sports teams. “She was bigger than life and so commanding. I was always attracted to people with lots of style and stage presence, actors, singers, comedians. So I wanted to be all of them.”

Bernhard went to Los Angeles when she was 18, not knowing what exactly she was going to do. She tried singing, but quickly met some people who convinced her she was naturally funny. So she started putting material together for an act that combined observation and music.

Bernhard doesn’t consider herself a stand-up comic, and she tends to like comedians who are more known for doing characters than telling jokes, including Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert.

Bernhard, who lives in New York City with her teenage daughter, has some observations in her act about social media. But social media is not necessarily a laughing matter for Bernhard.

She says she feels that social media has been “detrimental” to performers, because today anyone can be a critic and say whatever they want about a show or performer, for the whole world to hear.

“Being a critic used to be something that was a craft, people honed their craft and worked to become a quality critic,” said Bernhard.

If Twitter had been around when Bernhard started performing, the social media critics would have had quite a dilemma on their hands.

Bernhard simply can’t be summed up in 140 characters.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: RayRouthier


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