Sandra Bernhard, an award-winning comic and star of the FX drama POSE, has been accused of cheating charities out of their money through phony invoices. It has come to light that her former long-term manager, James Sliman, has filed a lawsuit against her, claiming that she pressured him into sending out fake invoices to bump up her interview fees as a way to supplement her income. Sliman worked with the “difficult” star for almost eleven years and is now demanding $250,000 for breach of a verbal contract, wrongful termination, and unpaid commissions and fees.
Ordinarily, venues subcontract with Bernhard to receive twenty percent of her merchandise sales as the standard rate. However, according to Sliman’s court documents, Bernhard refused to pay or would tell them only ten percent would be given. In addition to this, Sliman claims that Bernhard would often pressure him to fire or threaten other representatives, leaving him feeling very uncomfortable.
The night before the former manager’s firing, he states he had a very difficult conversation with Bernhard about her “rapidly declining ticket sales” at her performances and her “too high” asking fees. He believes that Bernhard fired him due to her unwillingness to admit she could improve her career.
Sliman alleges that Bernhard has an undeserved “difficult” reputation in show business due to her inability to admit failure, blaming everyone else for her issues. He recalls an incident in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where the 68-year-old comedian accused a young girl of skimming money off the total; Sliman gave the girl $50 of his own money to avoid a situation.
Bernhard has three live performances coming up: on October 16th in Palm Springs, California; on October 19th at The Wallis Performing Arts Center in Beverly Hills; and on December 26th at Joe’s Pub in New York City. According to Sliman’s lawsuit, he is also suing for commissions and fees due from the performances at Joe’s Pub, which total $13,000.
Before his firing, Sliman states he was able to revive Bernhard’s career after their initial meeting. He believes her prioritization of live shows led to increasingly decreased ticket sales and the difficulty of their conversations right before his termination. As a result of being “held hostage” to pay his partial funds, Sliman signed an agreement “under extreme duress and undue influence”; he now insists that he should never have signed it and still should have been paid the money he was owed.
At the time of the complaint filing, Bernhard’s California-based attorney, Lawrence Kopeikin, said his client had no comment on the situation.
No matter the outcome of the lawsuit, this case puts the spotlight on the importance of maintaining professional boundaries in show business. As an employee of a tumultuous comedy giant, Sliman calls attention to the difficulties of standing up to a powerful celebrity and the responsibility of up-and-coming management professionals to know their rights and remain firm. He stands as an example of the courage it takes to speak out.