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Giving Til It Hurts – Sandra Bernhard

“I didn’t belong when I was in high school. Now people are trying to buy lips”.

Sandra Bernhard by Herb Ritts

A love letter from Barry Church-Woods:

I first fell in love with Sandra Bernhard when I was 16 years old. That’s in 1992 for those of you too polite to ask.

Before then, I’d known her only from her work in Hudson Hawk, Roseanne and a performance of Angie on Velvet Cabaret, a decadent low budget entertainment show on Channel 4.

Of course, I also knew who she was from her appearances on Letterman and In Bed With Madonna, but until the evening of the 30th August 1992, I really had no idea what she did.

That night, me and the Craigs (my two best friends) jumped on a bus to Edinburgh, headed to the Playhouse and plonked ourselves down in the fifth row, waiting in anticipation for what she’d do. The title of the show was Giving Til It Hurts. Would this be about S&M? Would it involve a strap on? As it happened, it involved several, but only because that was the name of her band.

Shortly after 7.30pm, the lights went down, the band started up and Ms Bernhard staggered onto the stage, glass in hand and made her way to the mic amid the cheers and shouts of ‘I love you Sandy’ from the very exuberant students on the balcony.


That’s what she opened with and that’s what I felt. From that moment, the show went from strength to strength. One minute she was recreating her audition for Funny Girl, the next, parodying Justify My Love. Later, she’s mocking vacuous supermodels:

“Let’s jump on Concorde and go somewhere”

“It only goes two places Naomi!”

Dropping names like other comedic performers drop F bombs, she convincingly played the part of a strung-out star teetering on the edge. Warren, Liza and Bianca were all there (in her anecdotes) and all were fair game for her relentless storytelling.

Halfway through the show, she asked if we’d mind if she took a moment to freshen up. Expecting an interval, music started, the lights changed and she got her kit off. On stage. In front of 3000 people.

3000 exciting, diverse and interesting people. Never in my life had I been in a room with so many folk I identified with. People from every walk of life. Gay, Straight, Bi, Transgender, she’s brought them all out. They were fabulous, smart, sexy, old, young, pierced, bearded…every kind of people.  My kind of people. People that were happy holding hands with each other, regardless of their sex. People that didn’t apologise for who they were.

I wondered where they all came from. I lived 15 miles west of the city and up until then, the only gays I’d ever met were trusted pal Craig, our perma-tanned maths teacher and a Freddie Mercury impersonator at Melvilles, our local nightclub. It was the most eye opening experience of my young life. A night of hanging out with a superstar diva. A night of knowing that I wasn’t alone in life. A night of thinking I might eventually have a boyfriend. That there were other people out there like me, and different to me, that might like me.

I fantasized about the gorgeous tall blonde guy I seen in the venue bar. How if I was a couple of years older and looked a bit cleaner, he might want to kiss me. I looked up to the balcony and thought that in a couple of years I could be sitting up there with my boyfriend, camply screaming platitudes to someone I’d never met. I imagined a day coming home from work (as a very famous actor), to a hot Italian guy that liked making me food and washing himself in slow motion.

Leaving the Playhouse exhausted but ecstatic we were met by my on/off girlfriend at the time. As we snogged relentlessly on the bus home, I told myself, that when I went to college, I was going to get a lot of cock.


From 1991-1996 Bernhard played Nancy Bartlett—the first openly gay character on a network sitcom—on Roseanne. And she has had guest starring or recurring roles on numerous other shows, among them: Good Christian Belles, Hot in Cleveland, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Crossing Jordan, Law & Order: SVU, Will&Grace, The Sopranos, The L Word, Ally McBeal, The Larry Sanders Show, and The Richard Pryor Show. She has appeared more than 30 times on Late Night with David Letterman and has been a regular guest of Howard Stern’s since the early ‘80s. For more information on Sandra Bernhard, visit her website here:


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