Sandra Bernhard werd bekend in de jaren tachtig met haar standup-show op Broadway, Without You I’m Nothing, die ook uitgebracht werd als film en album. In haar optredens combineert ze confronterende comedy, meestal politieke en seksuele satire, met zangnummers. Ook was ze te zien op televisie in onder meer Roseanne, The L Word, Will & Grace (als haarzelf) en Ally McBeal. Ze heeft ook drie boeken geschreven.
Bernhard is openlijk biseksueel. Haar relatie met Madonna deed destijds (jaren tachtig) veel stof opwaaien in de roddelpers. Bernhard was ook te zien in Madonna’s documentairefilm Madonna: Truth or Dare, in Europa uitgebracht onder de naam In Bed With Madonna.
Ze heeft ook in een reeks films gespeeld, waaronder The King of Comedy en Hudson Hawk, maar haar meest ophefmakende film is ongetwijfeld Dallas Doll van Ann Turner uit 1993. Hierover schrijft Alison Darren in The Lesbian Film Guide: “When Dallas is invited to stay with the Sommers, the family quickly realize that life may never be quite the same again. Each individual reacts to her in a different way and all — with one notable exception — are mesmerized by her extraordinary confidence. As if possessed by some magical power, she begins to go through the family one by one, providing them with their dreams. Before long she is assisting Dad with his business (as well as giving him the opportunity to fulfil his masochistic fantasies). She gives the son the sexual experience he needs. For Rosalind, the rather staid wife, she provides an opportunity to change her career and her entire life, but not before a hilarious sequence in which the two play strip-golf in the living room, to the strains of Doris Day singing ‘A Woman’s Touch’! This lesbian dalliance is viewed positively and can be seen as the route by which Rosalind achieves her liberation.
But dreams usually have a price and the family become disillusioned when Dallas appears to be on the verge of selling out the Australian way of life to overseas interests. She must be stopped! An extremely strange ending puts paid to alien Dallas and life resumes a semblance of normality, with Rosalind the happiest with the outcome.
As a representation of otherness, the fabulous Sandra Bernhard is perfectly cast. Her real-life glamorous weirdness, coupled with her out bisexuality gives the audience a useful persona on which to base Dallas even before the movie starts.
Rumour has it that Sandra Bernhard was a tad ‘difficult’ on set, and for reasons which are still not completely clear, she appeared to take against the film on release and refused to assist in the publicity campaign. Reports suggest that Bernhard felt director Ann Turner had fallen in love with her and that this somehow warranted her withdrawal of services. Ann Turner denies this, however, and has diplomatically suggested that it was more a result of her star’s `personality’. Whatever the truth is, Sandra Bernhard no longer refers to the movie on her CV, which is a pity, because it is her best film by far.”