Pose’s Sandra Bernhard on Trump, Madonna, Roseanne—and How Misogyny Stops Women From Winning the Presidency


America under Donald Trump, said Sandra Bernhard, taking a bite of grilled fish, has become “a cheap soap opera.”

We met just after Robert Mueller’s brief press conference, which didn’t clarify anything and seemed to upset all sides even more.

“Mueller is not the person to pursue,” said Bernhard sitting in Cookshop, one of her favorite restaurants near to the Chelsea home she shares with longtime partner, Sara Switzer. (Her 20-year-old daughter, Cicely, is in her junior year of college.) “Now it’s up to Congress. We just need to get that man out of the White House.”

If you are a Bernhard fan, be assured that off-stage the voice is still that low, ambiguously toned growl of mischief, if quieter. Bernhard is “concerned, frustrated, and fed up, but I’m also activated and doing everything to put the word out, like supporting Planned Parenthood, and women’s reproductive rights.”

Her past and present-day politics and activism mean that her casting in FX’s Pose as Judy, an HIV and AIDS nurse involved in ACT UP, has an acute echo embedded in it.

In the second, just-underway season of Pose, set in 1990, Nurse Judy is both taking care of Blanca (Mj Rodriguez) and Pray Tell (Billy Porter), and is also an avatar of the passionate activists of the time who fought governmental indifference and ignorance to the decimating AIDS pandemic in a time long before HIV-as-a-treatable-condition and PrEP.

In 1990, in her real life, Bernhard was entering the public consciousness because of the movie of her one-woman show, Without You I’m Nothing. A much bigger audience awaited her in 1991, when she began appearing as the lesbian and later bisexual Nancy on Roseanne.

She and Madonna notoriously appeared on Late Night with David Letterman in 1988 in matching white T-shirts and denim shorts. Subsequent appearances by Bernhard on Letterman’s show were unpredictable hurricanes of chat show insurrection, self-promotion, flights of bizarre verbal fancy, diva-ishness, and diva parody, which Letterman looked happily flummoxed by.

Bernhard and Trump’s worlds didn’t cross in the 1980s. “He was a sideshow,” Bernhard recalled. “No sentient New Yorker would vote for him.”

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