Sandra Bernhard calls everyone “honey.”
The celebrities she interviews. The celebrities she satirizes. The SiriusXM employees she passes in the studio. And Lori, the Latina immigrant mother who called into her radio show the morning after the presidential election, fearful for family’s future in Donald Trump’s America.
“Let me just tell you something,” Bernhard, wiping away tears, told her on-air Nov. 9. “It’s going to be all right. This man is not going to walk into the White House and start throwing people out of this country.”
Bernhard has been on board Radio Andy ever since Andy Cohen launched his SiriusXM channel a year ago. Her guests have included A-listers like Jane Fonda, Bette Midler and Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, whom she interviewed on New York City’s M Train.
In Sandyland, she tries to epitomize Michelle Obama’s oft-quoted maxim: “When they go low, we go high.”
“What I think is interesting for the listener is to have these great conversations with people who have been around, who know what they’re doing, are intellectual, smart, street-savvy, musical,” she says. “I weave it all in with great music … and funny conversations with phone calls, people that are starting to get on board Sandyland, and of course my monologues that I start each day with, which are quotidian in nature but things that people can relate to and that they have a certain absurdity and profundity that all kind of come together.”
Sandyland is an evolution of the material that made Bernhard famous in the 1980s: She took the mic and eviscerated pop culture. Her delivery was, and still is, intimate, almost like an off-hand, sassy, conversation between old friends.
“My style of performing has been influenced by all the things I grew up with, from Broadway to rock ‘n’ roll to great movies … Turner classics to the great movies of the ’60s and ’70s,” she says. “All the things that I was exposed to as a child, you know, cocktail parties and chatter that I would listen to as a kid.”
Bernhard was discovered and mentored, so to speak, by Paul Mooney and Lois Winstock, “two brilliant comedians,” after her first routine at Ye Little Club in Beverly Hills.
“One of my first jokes was, ‘I’m a medium. I understand you’re a large, you’re an extra small,'” she says, adding that she followed with a Mary Tyler Moore impression. “I wowed the kids, a solid seven minutes of comedy. Mooney came over to me and said, ‘Bernhard, you’re a cigarette come to life. They’re gonna put you through hell in a pair of kerosene drawers here in Hollywood.'”
In 1983, she landed her first feature film: Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy. She wasn’t starstruck or intimidated, just ready to learn from the iconic director, Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis.
“Jerry Lewis was kind of the wild card because he was really like my father’s generation, kind of spiky, a little bit anti-feminist. I mean, that’s all been very well-established. But I felt right at home,” she says. “I felt like these are the people I should be working with. I mean, when you work with people who are talented, uber talented, who are not threatened and who want to bring out the best in you … it’s all there. You just flow. It was one of the best acting experiences I’ve had. I’d love to have some more.”
The role brought Bernhard critical acclaim. After honing her life performances and late-night appearances, Bernhard was cast as a recurring character on Roseanne — making TV history as an LGBT character on a sitcom.
“The thing that I loved about Nancy was she was actually bisexual, because she was married to Tom Arnold’s character, who was obnoxious and horrible, so in reaction to being married to him she ran into the arms of Morgan Fairchild,” she says with a laugh. “So it was never really like, ‘Oh now we’re going to do a gay character.’ It was really kind of like a funny idea that a woman had been totally turned off to men because of Tom Arnold, but then it became this really kind of important, groundbreaking statement about sexuality and the fluidity of sexuality long before anyone else did it.”
Looking back on her career, Bernhard is happy where she is: Talking to Americans every day about topics both frivolous and serious, funny and sad. It’s a platform to promote causes dear to her, like fixing the water crisis in her hometown of Flint, Michigan.
It’s also a place to be the sardonic celebrity critic fans have loved for decades.
She’s assembled a “Sandyland squad” modeled after a certain pop princess’ pretty clique, and she references the members on-air with imaginary anecdotes. The members?
“Well, Selena Gomez, Karlie Kloss. Of course Taylor Swift. I can’t remember all of them, there’s so many,” she says with a smile. “Oh, Mariska Hargitay, because every squad needs a bad ass. Lorde, because we need someone who’s a little sullen and introspective. Lena Dunham, because she sees things before God, of course. Who else? Oh, Jennifer Lawrence, who every time she stumbles, I pull her back up. Those are some of my ladies.”
The monthly series Behind the Voice profiles SiriusXM hosts in one-on-one interviews and gives listeners a closer look into our on-air personalities and their shows.
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