BRIDGET EVERETT ON HER HAPPY ACCIDENTS

Bridget Everett’s career is full of moments she calls “happy accidents”: her love of Karaoke turning into a landmark NYC cabaret-comedy act, her growing list of film roles in movies like Fun Mom Dinner and Patti Cake$.  Accidents aside, Everett is a performer with so much intention, giving 150% to every show she does.  It’s no accident Everett is noted as one of the most talented comedians of today.  She’s original, full of energy, uninhibited, and humble: the recipe of a great artist.

When did you realize you wanted to pursue comedy?

I guess it was kind of a happy accident because I was just looking for a way to sing. I’m a classically trained singer. Making a living singing opera wasn’t going to be the thing for me, so about ten years ago I stumbled into it. 

What brought you to New York?

I went to college and studied opera. I was always singing the national anthem at sporting events.  I did a lot of karaoke and I was like, “I’ve got to go to New York. I always wanted to be there.” I didn’t really know why or what or how being a singer was going to work out for me there, but I just knew it was the place to go. When I grew up, I was obsessed with Debbie Harry. New York just seemed like the coolest place in the world. I wanted to be a rock singer or a pop singer but physically didn’t feel I had the build for it [Bridget laughs]. I thought I could be on Broadway, but turns out I didn’t really have the build for that or the money notes either. So I just worked on making my own path. 

Was there anyone or anything that inspired you in the process of making your act into what it is today?

Yeah. When I first moved to New York I was going to see a lot of shows downtown like Murray Hill and Sweetie, who was a drag queen. Through lip-synching she could bring you to your knees and make you cry. But she also had the funniest, nastiest mouth in the world. I just loved the juxtaposition of the two and the dichotomy…They were so unique and individual and totally wild. It was a kind of performance I had never seen and certainly didn’t know existed.

Did you do any training besides opera before getting up on stage and performing?

Okay, don’t laugh, but the Karaoke bars were the real ground zero for where I mastered what I’m doing. I used to go to Karaoke bars and have some drinks and just get on top of the bar and rip open my shirt and just go totally wild. I didn’t really realize you could do that for a career. It took a while to put two and two together [Bridget laughs].

Bridget showing off her Karaoke skills on The Tonight Show

For my show, I built my set around the songs I sang at Karaoke like “You Oughta Know,” “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers, and “Piece of My Heart”—songs that I had grown up singing. I just made stories that worked with those songs. People were then—and still and kind of are—a little slack jawed at times. They’re like, “What is going on?” It was really the only thing I could do: be wild. It’s who I was and who I am. Now that I’m getting a little older, I’m certainly not like that in my personal life anymore, but I was when I was younger. So I took all the parts of me—the drinking, the crazy singing, and the ripping my clothes off—and I slowly put this into a show.

Have you always been able to tap into this space of complete freedom—not being in your head at all? When I watch you perform, I feel like you must be blacked out because you’re so in it. I know that happens for some people when they’re so in the moment.

That was never the problem, being wild and open. I guess because I started a little bit later and I have such great appreciation for people coming to see me perform, I feel like I have to go 150 miles per hour and give 200% every time. I’m the youngest of six kids so in order to get anyone’s attention, I had to be loud and crazy just get anyone to pay attention to me at the breakfast table. It’s who I am. It doesn’t feel put on. It feels like I’m not being true to myself unless it’s that wild, open thing. So that’s not really a problem for me. I guess the problem now is to think of new ways to capture the same spirit because there are just so many body parts you can write about and heartbreaks you can sing about. I keep trying to think about what’s the next thing for me? And that’s the tricky part.

Because you give your whole self, are there any nights you don’t feel like going on stage? If so, how do you get past that?

It definitely can feel that way especially if I’m on tour alone. It gets a little lonely. I just started bringing friends with me to open and it makes a world of difference…It’s so much fun getting ready for the show with a friend and you’re talking with somebody. We get excited to make the audience have a great night. But you know, sometimes when I’m by myself I’m like “Why’d I do this to myself?” Actually, I say that every time before I go onstage. “Why’d I do this to myself?” It feels like you give so much of yourself, you’re like, “Why’d I pitch everything so high?” The energy level, you know, it’s emotionally depleting to go out and do that every night at such a high intensity. I’m like, “Why do I do this to myself?” But then I have a couple glasses of wine—usually chardonnay, always chardonnay. Definitely prefer Ron Bower…Once you get onstage, cue the lights, see the people, you’re like, “This is why I’m here, of course.” It’s just that kind of tryptophan feeling before you go onstage like, “How am I going to get through this?” Sometimes the first song is a little trying but then I do my song “Titties” and people will start going crazy and it’s just like they plugged me into a wall and you’re about to get shocked [Bridget laughs]!

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Bridget Everett performing at Joe’s Pub for her Comedy Central special Bridget Everett: Gynecological Wonder

What do you typically do after a show? Are you depleted and exhausted? Or do you ride that high?

If I was in tip-top physical condition I think I’d be riding around on a high for a while but I’m usually exhausted and probably sweaty. I close myself down, get my dog. If a friend’s there, we go out for drinks. Otherwise, I sneak [my dog] into some steak house and keep her in her bag. I get myself a nice piece of fish and a couple glasses of chardonnay. Then I go to bed and call it a night. 

How do you keep your voice healthy and sounding amazing?

I’m actually really vigilant about doing vocal warm-ups and stretches and vocal cool-downs and drinking tons of water and not speaking much during the day if I have a show that night. My number one priority in life after making sure my dog is happy and safe is making sure my vocal chords are happy and safe [Bridget laughs].

When did film and TV come into the picture for you?

It’s sort of a happy accident. I did a show almost ten years to the day called Lisa’s Pink Ars Nova with Michael Patrick King. He had just finished the TV show The Comeback and he was about to do the Sex and the City movie, so he wrote me a small part. He said, “I wrote you a small part in the movie but I’m still going to make you audition, so don’t fuck it up” [Bridget laughs]. I was like, “Okay!” So my first film was the Sex and the City movie which was a huge movie and I thought, “Oh my god this is going to be like the moment I’m going to breakthrough.” It’s just doesn’t work out that way.

I ended up waiting tables for another eight years. And slowly my friends happened to put me in their TV shows. Like Amy Schumer is a really good friend of mine and she was like, “I want you to perform on my show. Come and do this sketch.” It was really only because people were asking me to do it. It wasn’t because I was actively seeking it out. But this year I shot a bunch of movies and I did Maria Bamford’s TV show on Netflix [Lady Dynamite]. Those were, really again, people asking me to be in their project. I’m terrible at auditioning so it’s probably going to keep going that way. But now I have [Fun Mom Dinner and Patti Cake$], so maybe things will change. You never know. We’ll see.

And they’re being released within a couple weeks of each other!

The writers of both movies are people who would come see my shows at Joe’s Pub. I basically did everything I could not to do [the movies] because I was so filled with fear about trying something new and different. So this movie called Patti Cake$, which is not a comedy, at least my role is not, and ended up going to the Sundance Lab where [writer/director Geremy Jasper] was doing a Director’s Lab…He came to my show and he saw my potential when I didn’t see it in myself.

And the same thing with Fun Mom Dinner, Julie Rudd—she’s married to Paul Rudd—wrote the screenplay. Originally they had a scene where they’re at Joe’s Pub and I’m performing. And then she was like, “You should really be one of the moms.” And I was like, “Okay” [Bridget laughs]. So then I did a table read with people from the cast and I got the part. It was actually really fun. Instead of making a room full of a couple hundred people laugh, you’re just trying to make the crew laugh. It’s the same thing, it’s just a different mindset.

Patti Cake$ Trailer

That’s the dream for most people, to skip the auditioning phase and have people writing for you. The fact that was really your foray into the medium is amazing and so cool and obviously well deserved.

Yeah, but I’m also no spring chicken. I’m old and I’ve been working at that for a long time. It was hard for me to accept it and embrace that somebody else was doing something for me. You know what I mean? That they were giving me an opportunity. I’m so used to fighting to get an audience and fighting to get to do shows in different cities. So when you’re used to doing everything for yourself, it’s a real mind-fuck in a way.

When you’re conditioned to fight so hard for an audience, do you get to a point when you’re like, “I earned this. I’m owning it?” Do you ever have that conversation in your head?

No [Bridget laughs]. I still feel like, “What am I doing here?” I still lean on the people around me and ask a lot of questions. I want to do a good job. There are a lot of people who will walk onto the set who feel like they deserve to be there and they know they’re good. I’m not one of those people. I’m not that way in general. It’s just not who I am.

What’s your advice for aspiring comedians and performers?

I know it’s what everybody says, but it’s really to stay true to who you are and what makes you you. When I started I was trying to be something different, like smarter or better or edgier than I am. Adam [Horowitz]—Ad-Rock from the Beastie Boys—was in my band. We were playing softball in the park one day. I started singing a song about different kinds of titties. We when we were walking to go get egg sandwiches afterwards I sang it to him. I was like, “This is stupid, right?” And we was like, “No. That’s a hit. Go home and write it.” It was really validating having somebody as successful as him telling me that something I actually thought was funny, was funny. I was too scared to tell anybody that I thought it was funny. And then I just started writing songs that made me laugh and I started writing stories. I’d just sit in the bathtub and tell myself stories and if it made me laugh then it was good and just go for it. I would never share them with anybody until I was onstage. I guess the lesson being that, if it’s good enough for me then it’s going to be good enough for somebody else. So I would say, listen to the voices in your head. Anything that makes you smile is going to make a room full people very happy.

I worked with somebody at the very beginning who said things that were undermining like, “That’s not very smart.” So that’s all I would hear, “That’s not smart enough.” It took me a long time to get over that. So anybody that’s undermining you in any way or not lifting you up, you’ve got to trim that fat right fucking out. So trim the fat of any underminers and stay true to yourself. ♦

Fun Mom Dinner is in select theater and VOD now and Patti Cake$ comes to theaters August 18th!

Photo Credit: Allison Michael Orenstein
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