Aha Moment: Sandra Bernhard

Aha Moment

Friday, March 01, 2013

“Larger-than-life” doesn’t do justice to performer Sandra Bernhard. She can be cartoonishly tough and irreverent, but also intensely sincere. Her breakout role came in Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy (1983), in which she plays an obsessed fan who helps kidnap the talk show host played by Jerry Lewis.

Turns out Bernhard has her own (healthy) obsession with a famous performer. When she saw a touring production of Hello, Dolly!, starring Carol Channing, “right from the get-go, I assumed I should be a part of the cast. ‘Why am I not on stage here, playing at least one of the supporting roles?’” For one reason, because Bernhard was only eight at the time. But sitting there in the audience, “I felt I was home and where I belonged with these bigger-than-life characters.” Bernhard set out to have a career that would make her idol proud.

(Originally aired: October 28, 2011)

→ Is there a work of art that’s changed the way you see the world? Tell us in a comment below — or by email.


Video: Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly! (1979)

    Music Playlist
  • Hello, Dolly!
    Artist: Original Broadway Cast Recording
    Album: Hello, Dolly!
    Label: RCA Victor Broadway
    Purchase: Amazon


Michael Raphael

Comments [4]

lynn parkerson

The work of art that changed my life was Michel Fokine's "Les Sylphides". It was my first ballet performance, 1965 The Royal Ballet in Boston with Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn.
The curtain opened onto a beautiful painted set of forest trees and sprit beings. The conducter raised his baton, the music started (gorgeous orchestrated Chopin waltzes, mazurkas...) and then magically the scenery came alive. It wasn't a painted still life --those spirit beings were dancers!
Lynn Parkerson, founding artistic director, Brooklyn Ballet.

Mar. 04 2013 02:24 PM
ayana lowe from New York City

Music that Changed the Way I see the World – “What a Difference a Day Makes”

Every Sunday morning in my Spanish Harlem walk up apartment that I share with three cats, I listen to WNYC Studio 360 while drinking freshly brewed vanilla bean coffee. Today on WNYC, Sandra Bernhard talked about Ms. Carol Channing. When I heard Sandra say she received a hug from Ms. Channing and that Ms. Channing told her that she is her “spiritual grand daughter” I placed the cup of coffee down on the table and covered my eyes with my right hand and bowed my head.

Like Sandra I perform and like Sandra I have been touched by grace. Yesterday evening I sang at the 55BAR. Started singing there in 2003 on May 10th. While I took an inhale to sing a song made famous by Dinah Washington- “What A Difference A Day Makes,” my body shifted. Nothing prepared me for what happened next. The voice that came out of me wasn’t my on. I sang like someone else. An effortless tone sounding like eggs crackling on a hot skillet came out of me. For the length of that song I felt like Dinah. I felt as if I knew Dinah’s secrets.

Mar. 03 2013 09:40 PM
Richard Skipper from New York

I'm with Sandra on this. Hello, Dolly! is my favorite musical. I have made it my like's work to celebrate this great work as we move towards this great work. Please check out CallonDolly.com
Sandra, IF you see this, I would LOVE to interview you. Perhaps we will see you play Dolly some day.
Richard Skipper

Mar. 03 2013 02:12 PM
Jamie Brickhouse from New York City

The work of art that changed the way I see the world is Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?”. The way I’ve interpreted that work of art has changed over time, both after I spoke to her once on the phone in the middle of the night and after I got sober.
I must have been five when I saw Miss Lee on some variety show singing that haunting, fatalistic song. She was wearing about 200 yards of white, diaphanous chiffon and blue-tinted sunglasses with lenses the size of my head. Her platinum blond hair was in a severe pageboy, and she had a black dot on her right cheek, just like Miss Kitty on Gun Smoke.
I was mesmerized by her and she had me hooked from the first verse. Even though it was a very grown up song, it wasn’t that odd that it spoke to my five-year-old mind. It was a story song, after all. To the beat of a gentle Oompah band, she told me that when she was a little girl her father gathered her up in his arms as they watched their house burn and “the whole world go up in flames.” Her little girl, pragmatic answer to the situation?
Is that all there is to a fire? If that’s all there is, then let’s keep dancing. Let’s break out the booze, and have a ball. If that’s all. There is.
Wow. That’s my kind of little girl. I couldn’t wait for the day that I could break out the booze and have a ball.
Years later, I called Miss Lee (before she died) with my best friend who was also a “Peggy Person”. We had broken out the booze and were repeatedly listening to “Is That All There Is?” At that point in my life, I saw the song as a license to drink because life is full of disappointment. Miss Lee took my call even though she didn’t know me. I told her, “You don’t know how many drunken nights you’ve gotten me through with that song. Her whispery response: “Then I guess my life was worth living.” Now sober, I don’t see the song as fatalistic, but a song about acceptance and the celebration of life, despite life’s disappointments. Like Miss Lee, says near the end of the song, “I’m not ready for that final disappointment,” so let’s have a ball.

Mar. 03 2013 01:04 PM

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