Sandra Bernhard has been an actress, comedian, activist and gay favorite for decades.
Bernhard makes her latest guest starring appearance on a new episode of TV Land’s Hot In Cleveland, Wednesday, playing a lesbian couple with Laura San Giacomo (Just Shoot Me, Sex Lies and Videotape).
It’s not the first or last time Bernhard’s been a major player for LGBT visibility on TV, and she spoke with The Advocate’s Jami Smith about working with Betty White and Valerie Bertinelli, playing gay on Roseanne in the 90s, and which republican candidate is the craziest.
Check out Bernhard’s chat with Advocate.com:
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.
For more on Bernhard’s parenting tips and her annual New York New Years Eve show, check out the full interview at Advocate.com.