There are three things one is never supposed to discuss in polite company: religion, politics and money. Lucky for us, “GCB” isn’t very polite. A sly, sudsy satire of a city with more churches and strip clubs per capita than “anywhere else on Earth,” “GCB” has grown into a funny, worthy successor to genre favorite “Desperate Housewives.” The women of “GCB” are bold, driven and unafraid to speak their minds, so it’s no surprise they called on Sandra Bernhard to guest star on the May 6 season finale as eco-terrorist Debby Horowitz.
Known for her brassy delivery and biting satire, Bernhard started her career in stand-up in the 1970s and has been a TV staple for the past 20 years with recurring roles on “Roseanne” and “The L-Word.” We spoke with her about her time as a GJB on “GCB” (that would be a Good Jewish B—), her love of musical theatre and her thoughts on the way women are currently portrayed on television.
What brought you to “GCB”?
They called and asked me to play this amazing fun character. I play this eco-terrorist who kidnaps the girls in Mexico as they’re trying to break ground for this Christian condo project on sacred land and I put a stop to it. I hold them hostage in this tin shed in the middle of the desert. The writing is just as good as it gets. I love Kristin Chenoweth and the girls and we just had a ball. It’s a really fun character. Tough, tongue-in-cheek, but not over-the-top. I think it’s just another good notch in my belt and in my acting career.
With a name like Debby Horowitz, I’m guessing she’s not a “Good Christian B—”.
No she’s a Jewish eco-terrorist who considers herself to be one-fourth Nahua Native Indian. So that’s a funny little moment between me and Kristin’s character. “Eco-terrorist? Nahua? Debby Horowitz?!” It’s just really funny. They just sort of play on all of the religious stuff and it’s just so fresh and funny and right on.
A lot of the women on the show get to sing. Did you get the opportunity?
No, I didn’t get to sing. We sang in-between takes. I hope I can come back on and sing because I’d love to sing with Kristin.
What were you guys singing between takes?
Some Broadway tunes, which was also my first love. [Kristin is] encouraging me to put some musical stuff in my act, which I actually have now. I do this whole kind of tribute to her in my one woman show. It’s really fun and when she comes to see me I think she’ll get a kick out of it.
What songs will you be singing?
Hello, Dolly! was the show that kind of inspired me to become a performer, so I do a song from Hello, Dolly!. I went to see the show when I was eight years old in Detroit before it came to Broadway with Carol Channing when I was really little. I fell in love with Carol Channing and I just loved the musical. It was so full of life and that was kind of like, Wow, this is what I want to do. I want to be Carol Channing when I grow up.
“GCB” is a show that’s filled with really strong female characters and many critics have actually called this past season of TV “the year of the woman,” mostly due to the influx of shows with the word “girl” in their titles, like “New Girl,” “Two Broke Girls” and now the show “Girls” that’s on HBO. What’s your take?
My take is that it’s woman’s time. There’s always been this misnomer that women can’t be funny and edgy. Also, people like Kristen Wiig and Bridesmaids the movie, I think, opened a lot of doors for women in comedy. I think people can be more outrageous than they’ve ever been before. It’s really time for women to shine and I think people are really into it.
How do you feel the way women are portrayed on female-led shows has changed since your time on “Roseanne”?
I just think anything goes now. It’s been an evolution. It’s kind of a part of the whole feminist movement. It’s the next level of women being able to be totally forthright and outspoken. Certainly people like Roseanne set the tone as a lot my contemporaries have and people that had come before. It’s a path that keeps evolving.
What are some of your must-see TV shows right now?
I love “Modern Family” and obviously I love “GCB.” I really happen to love “Girls,” the new show on HBO. I think it’s brilliant. I watch “Smash” just because I think it’s sort of an interesting take on Broadway musicals. I end up watching some stuff with my daughter that I wouldn’t normally watch on my own like “Glee,” just because I like to monitor that show. There’s so much stuff [on there that are] mixed messages for anybody who’s under 40. So I kind of watch it with her to make sure it’s not too insane. And of course I love “Mad Men.” It’s one of my favorite shows, so I’m glad that’s back right now.
Catch the season one finale of “GCB” on Sunday, May 6, on ABC and Monday, May 7, here on Hulu.