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'People who come to see me know what they are going to get. She doesn't like consistency in her life; she likes to push things away.' Was she hurt? We were great friends; I would still like to be friends with her.' Bracing myself, I ask the question I have never seen asked before. 'No,' says Bernhard equably, 'we were just friends.' And she is more than happy to discuss how she met her partner, Sara Switzer, until recently a publicist at Vanity Fair.

I don't want to talk about anything that is a hot topic; I want to talk about the most obscure esoteric things in the world because that's what I find interesting.' From now on the interview fluctuates between moments of awkwardness, when she takes offence at the most innocuous questions, to moments when she is relaxed and friendly even as the conversation heads into tricky territory. For example, when I ask her what is the truth behind the story of her relationship with Madonna – thinking she'll probably tear me to pieces – she just shrugs. 'Years ago she was an editor at Harper's Bazaar and asked me to write a piece for her.

She has, someone once wrote, the lips of Mick Jagger and the rebellion of Keith Richards. 'I don't think we really need to go that deeply into it.' Considering she is trying to publicise her show, this is an unexpected response. Can she give us any idea of what material she will cover in her show?

'I'll take that,' says Bernhard, 'it's In February she is bringing her one-woman show, Whatever It Takes, to London. 'Anything I experience or encounter,' she says dismissively. I might talk about how many teeth Heidi Klum has – that's the most I can tell you.' She does not care if people are offended by her.

She'll tell me to stop it – I don't blame her, I understand, so I pull in the reins, put the focus on her.' In New York, says Bernhard, no one bats an eyelid at the fact that Cicely has two mothers. It's not so much about being good, it's about tenacity and honing your craft.' In 1982 Bernhard starred as Masha, an obsessive stalker, in Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy, a role she executed so well she looked destined to become a Hollywood star. Also I don't like necessarily what it did to the way women think about themselves.' Bernhard is of course a feminist – despite volunteering to pose naked in Playboy in 1992.

'The only people that are giving us a hard time are the 65 and older crowd. 'I'm a post-feminist mostly as a result of the women who came before me.

The adjective most often used to describe Sandra Bernhard is 'scary'.

In interviews she has a reputation for being stroppy.

'Becoming a mother used to be the last thing on my mind, but I decided I didn't want to miss the opportunity. I didn't mean I look up people's a-holes and see something abstract.' Her parents wanted her to train as a dental hygienist but Bernhard had other ideas.

I did it on my own, so I wasn't worried about being held accountable to somebody else. I really cannot imagine not having done it.' Her daughter, she says, is not as extrovert as she is. I don't want to defend it.' Bernhard herself comes from a conventional family background. 'I have no complaints.' She was always, she says, a little different. I was never into drugs but I had my sense of humour and a rebelliousness that came out of that.' 'My father,' she once said, 'was a proctologist, my mother was an abstract artist – that's how I view the world.' Asking her what she meant by this elicits the sneer. 'From the age of five I knew I wanted to be a performer.' So at 18 she moved to Los Angeles.

It is taxi changeover time, the 4pm witching hour in New York when available cabs are rare as hen's teeth.

Bernhard strides fearless into the middle of the traffic and nabs the only one.

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