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Desperately seeking Sandra

It's not mentioned in Radio Times, but Friday was oral sex night. You can't yet show it, but there's nothing to stop people being vocal about it. Sandra Bernhard, the lesbian beanstalk with the Wyf of Bath leer who was the subject of a hagiography on Arena (BBC 2), has constructed a career out of talking about it. And the sniggering Viva Cabaret (C4) returned with a compere whose act is rather more lingual than linguistic. Here we ask the question on everyone's lips: exactly how side-splitting is the word blow-job?

Call me old-fashioned but if you've got to draw the line somewhere, please could it be anywhere above Mark Thomas. Those about to scan this space for quotations from his act may as well stop now: all you need to know about it is that here is further proof that female genitalia are wit-resistant, especially if it's male wit. It's only fair to report that Thomas's live audience laughed until they were as blue in the face as he was blue in the mouth, but that just confirms the suspicion you must always have had that audiences in studios will laugh at anything. Especially when the floor manager is holding up a large card that tells them to.

Bernhard's comedy might not be in good taste, but at least it's in a good cause. It's just that when that cause needs exegesis, you're reminded of the adage that a joke requiring explanation is no joke. 'Confession of a Pretty Lady' was one of those Arena profiles that fawningly takes the subject at their own word: 'Sandra Bernhard has approached the concept of fame entirely on her own uncompromising terms,' the voice-over loftily advised. 'She's an actress, singer, writer and model who has generated for herself a myth of sexual ambiguity . . . one of the most recognisable faces in the counter-culture scene.' Don't you just retch at that ghettoising phrase, 'counter-culture scene'?

There's a time and a place for a polysyllable. For some reason, the analysis of the socio-political aspirations of lesbianism has found its time and place this month on our screens. We found out in the course of this portrait exactly what statement Bernhard was making when she posed in nothing but gold paint for Playboy, what her mum wanted her to be (dental hygienist or manicurist), and how she gets around Los Angeles (in a soft-top flanked by leathered women


But a more interrogative profile than one which drew on plaudits from all over New York (Scorsese, Paglia, other machine-gun mouths) might have asked Bernhard about her very public relationship with Madonna. Not, 'Did they sleep together?' but 'Did they come together for shamelessly promotional purposes?' The footage of Bernhard on Broadway that formed a big chunk of the film included a good joke about her new coffee-table book, Neurotica; elsewhere she has saucily referred to Madonna as Madinner. Also, Bernhard claimed that her brand of lesbian triumphalism makes women of both bents feel good, but the evidence from her stage act suggested that the flipside of straight tolerance of gays is gay intolerance of straights. That heterosexuality is boring is one of her staple gags, but a minority of her audience is not amused.