SANDRA BERNHARD is an American actress, comedian, singer, and author, born today. She first gained attention in the late 1970s with her stand-up comedy, in which she often critiqued celebrity culture and political figures.
Bernhard is best known as portraying Nancy Barlett Thomas on the ABC sitcom Roseanne from the fourth season to the end of the show in 1997. She is currently starring as Nurse Judy Kubrak in the FX drama series Pose. Bernhard is number ninety-six on Comedy Central’s list of the 100 greatest stand-ups of all time. Bernhard was born in Flint, Michigan, the daughter of Jeanette (née LaZebnik) and proctologist Jerome Bernhard. Her parents raised her as a Conservative Jew.
She began performing her first one-woman show called I’m Your Woman in 1985, and an album version was released. Bernhard appeared in a variety of tiny film and television roles throughout the 1980s while crafting her stand-up routine into a more performance art-oriented show. She launched an off-Broadway one-woman show called Without You, I’m Nothing, With You, I’m Not Much Better in 1988, which played at the Orpheum Theatre. In 1990 it was turned into a film and a double album of the same title. The film was mostly shot on location in 1989 in the coconut grove at the Ambassador Hotel.
It was during the run of ‘Without You, I’m Nothing, With You, I’m Not Much Better’ that Bernhard appeared with her then-good friend (and rumored lover) Madonna on a 1988 episode of Late Night with David Letterman. The two alluded to their romantic relationship and staged a sexy confrontation; the appearance received much publicity. Bernhard and Madonna would continue to be friends for several years, with Bernhard making an appearance in Madonna’s film Truth or Dare.
In 1991, Bernhard began playing the role of Nancy Bartlett on the hit sitcom Roseanne. She appeared in 33 episodes between 1991 and 1997 and was one of the first actresses to portray an openly bisexual recurring character on American television. The role is one of her best known, something she has lamented in her stand-up as being both a blessing and a curse. In September 1992, Bernhard did a nude pictorial for Playboy. She hosted the USA Network’s Reel Wild Cinema for two seasons beginning in 1995. Bernhard continued acting in mostly independent films and TV guest roles and forays into mainstream films such as Hudson Hawk and Dallas Doll. In 1991 she released her first studio album, titled Excuses for Bad Behavior (Part One). In 1995, she briefly appeared as a guest in the animated talk show Space Ghost Coast to Coast, in an episode titled “Jerk”. In 1996, she guest-starred on an episode of Highlander: The Series called “Dramatic License” in which she played a romance novelist writing about the life of the main character. She also appeared (as herself) on Will & Grace in an episode dealing with Will and Grace’s spuriously bidding on Bernhard’s Manhattan apartment in order to become friendly with her and culminates in a diatribe from Bernhard when their ruse is exposed, with obfuscating sounds of a blender (she was having a smoothie made) blotting out supposed obscenities. She returned as herself briefly, two years later.
Bernhard returned to Broadway in 1998 with the show I’m Still Here… Damn It!, recorded for a live comedy album. At that time of the show, Bernhard was pregnant. She gave birth to daughter Cicely Yasin Bernhard on July 4, 1998. Bernhard returned to New York in 2006 with the Off-Broadway show Everything Bad & Beautiful. The CD Everything Bad & Beautiful was critically lauded as one of her best, released by indie label Breaking Records. That year she also hosted the first season of the reality competition show The Search for the Funniest Mom in America on Nick at Nite. In 2007 saw the debut of her one-woman show Plan B from Outer Space, and the inclusion of her Hanukkah-themed song “Miracle of Lights”, which she co-wrote with Mitchell Kaplan, in the Breaking Records compilation album Breaking For the Holidays. She toured Plan B through 2008, and performed “Miracle of Lights” on some morning shows in New York.
Bernhard is bisexual and a strong supporter of gay rights. On July 4, 1998, Bernhard gave birth to a daughter, Cicely Yasin Bernhard, whom she raised with her longtime partner, Sara Switzer.