People who only know David Letterman from the CBS show are like people who only know Tina Turner from her Private Dancer 80’s. It’s not that there wasn’t greatness there, it’s just that you would have missed out on the sweaty dirty (and brilliant) early days. Dave in the 80’s took risks, and the fact that some of the risks failed made the show exciting. Anything could go wrong. Sometimes it did. A guy walking a high wire on Network TV was rare then and is still rare.
No one brought that sense of danger to David Letterman’s Late Night show more than Sandra Bernhard. She was Dave’s fun house mirror equal. Dave was button down suburban and Sandra was Downtown Chic. It should have been a train wreck and their chemistry always flirted with going off the rails but it sizzled.
Dave’s best work as an interviewer has always been as a counter puncher and Ms Bernhard charged in like a wild animal. She brought out the best in Dave because he had to stay in the moment. She took to the couch like a cheetah, flirting and pawing Dave and being outrageous enough that Dave’s quick wit had to be on point.
Late Night was not the Tonight Show. It wasn’t a comfortable night cap for the old folks. It was an after hours club for tweekers and insomniacs. It was urban and edgy at the time that SNL stopped being all those things. Dave needed guests like Sandra Bernhard to grab that vibe. Her sexuality was fluid before we had the term. Even her ethnicity was in flux. Was she black? Was she Jewish? She seemed equal parts Totie Fields and Miles Davis. She strutted like Jagger and dished like Joan.
Their improv was a Late Night Rom Com. Sandra was outrageous and hip. Dave was the Midwesterncorporate manager who lit up when she was near. It was Barefoot in the Park for the 80’s. The more they sparred the more viewers thought ‘don’t they know they are in love!?’
We’re hoping Sandra on the surprise guest list for the last week of Letterman, but Sandra has already said on Twitter that she hasn’t heard anything. But fortunately we have the original clips to enjoy- or most of them anyway. With 27 appearances fabulous appearences on NBC we rounded up all the early Sandra clips we could find, to create our own tribute to the best guests in Letterman history- – the person as Dave himself said “embodies all that is chic and fabulous in the world” —Sandra Bernhard .
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Sandra had four appearances in 1983. February, July, August, and December
February 21, 1983 (go to 28:00)
July 27, 1983
Sandra appeared on Letterman in March and November of 1984
Sandra had two appearances in 1985, one in June and one in December.
Sandra had five appearances in 1986 including one in February, July, September, October, and December
February 17, 1986
July 7, 1986 (jump to 28:00)
September 10, 1986
This one might be October 28, 1986 although we can’t confirm the date.
December 18, 1986
Sandra had 3 appearances in 1987 including one on January 29, as well as the clips below from July 16 and November27.
July 16, 1987
November 27, 1987
February 10, July 1, and October 14 were all Sandra Bernhard shows.
February 10, 1988. (34:00)
Sandra brought Madonna on Letterman on July 1, 1988
October 14, 1988
Three appearances in 1989 in February, June and December
January and August 1992