This much I know: Sandra Bernhard

The comedian, 55, on fame, posing for Playboy, and being thick-skinned

As a five year old I'd lie in bed fantasising about performing on stage in big musical comedies. You could say I knew what I wanted to do from a young age.

Every performer worries about maintaining their success. What gets me down is worrying about keeping my material fresh and relevant. Then I realise it's just a waste of time to think about it too much.

I'm Jewish, but I'm not particularly religious. I believe there are higher powers that we connect with and channel, but that we certainly have the ability to control most of the things that happen in our lives ourselves.

When I was growing up, the idea of fame ran in tandem with being a great performer – people loving you and celebrating you because you made them feel good and you took them places they couldn't take themselves. The reality TV culture we live in now celebrates fame without anything to back it up: people on reality shows don't inspire. They're just there to laugh at and mock. It's destructive.

I'm very domestic and willing to roll up my sleeves and do things that are not glamorous. I love to cook, clean and make sure everyone is warm and cosy. It's a counterpoint to being a performer and being indulged.

Suffering isn't something I'd equate with what I've done as an artist. I haven't had a "low point" in my career. No embarrassments, nothing to recover from. I'm constantly writing and creating and being rewarded for it.

People have this idea that I'm very thick-skinned, difficult, hardcore and bitchy, but that's just a persona to sell my words and ideas.

There is a pressure for women to look a certain way in Hollywood, but it's not something that affects me. I'm not exactly a fading ingenue; I am who I am and I haven't tried to make myself into something else.

I move quickly through a crowd and don't give people much time to latch on to me. Fans these days are usually nice and just want to say hi, get a hug or an autograph. It's not as crazy as it used to be 20 years ago.

People tend to take things at face value because of the internet, so you have to be a lot more careful. The sense and depth of irony can get a little lost when people can't hear you or see you.

The ability to connect to my creative source is one of my biggest achievements.

I don't ride horses or play golf, but I love cooking, so I guess that's my hobby. I make a wonderful baked chicken, which we usually have on a Friday night as our Sabbath meal.

Madonna and I had a fun time and it was a great friendship, but I don't miss her particularly. What I do miss is the times: it was pre-internet, pre-TMZ [the showbiz gossip site] and all the scrutiny, so you could run around, have a good time and be an inspiration to young women.

I keep my emotions close to my chest. The best advice I was given was from the my friend, the comic Paul Mooney. He said: "Never let people catch you crying."

Posing for Playboy was a feminist statement. I wanted to say it's OK to be comfortable in your own skin and that you don't have to be obsessed with your body.

I don't feel good about Conservative America. We're caught in a weird place right now: people are afraid and unsure of where we're headed, but I don't think it's likely Sarah Palin will ever be president.

It's quite self-indulgent to wonder how I'll be remembered when I die. I'd much prefer to think about how I'm being perceived right now.

Sandra Bernhard's Whatever It Takes is at Leicester Square Theatre from 9-13 February (0844 847 2475)

To read all the interviews in this series, go to


Shahesta Shaitly

The GuardianTramp

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