“I’d rip my shirt off and throw Jack Daniel’s on the crowd” – how Bridget Everett went from waitress to superstar | Television

‘IIt’s kind of like Sliding Doors,” says actress and cabaret artist Bridget Everett, from Manhattan, New York. She talks about her new comedy-drama Somebody Somewhere, which is set in Manhattan, Kansas. “Basically what life might be like if I had stayed in Kansas and never moved to New York and found my voice.”

I think I should point out that Somebody Somewhere has nothing to do with Sliding Doors. Everett plays Sam, a subdued and laconic woman, sometimes depressed, sometimes just not feeling it. She has a quiet life and a gigantic voice, which she slowly comes to unleash in drab community centers and church halls where upset and flamboyant people hang out. The drama focuses not so much on Sam as on the stealthy shift from one low-key struggle to another: Sam and his sister’s grief at losing their other sister; their mother’s alcoholism, which, like bankruptcy, evolves slowly at first, then very quickly.

It’s poignant, haunting and funny in a way that sometimes means you won’t laugh until two days later. To say the show was about disappointment would be too simple and deceptively dark, but part of what makes it so unusual is the richness it finds in a life that drama might ordinarily ignore — that of a person, says Everett. , who “floated through life in her 20s, 30s, 40s and just gave up”.

The HBO series is called “semi-autobiographical,” but “semi” doesn’t exactly cover it. Everett, like his character, grew up in Manhattan, Kansas, and spent years waiting for a break. “I had a few early failures and let that be the litmus test of what was possible for me. I slipped into a life of waiting tables and staring at walls – for 20 years. Continued. From maybe when I was 14 until I was 40.

“I want to give myself a high five”… Everett as Sam in Somebody, Somewhere. Photography: HBO/2019 HBO, Inc.

Everett flattens the picture a bit: there was a bit more in those years. While she was “pretty settled, watching my friends succeed and just be their cheerleaders, there was something about me that really missed music, missed singing. Once a week we would go to a karaoke bar and I was going wilder and wilder I would start with a microphone and by the end I would be on the bar, ripping my shirt off, throwing Jack Daniel’s at the crowd.

Somehow it didn’t matter if it was a karaoke bar or Madison Square Garden. “There’s something in the singing,” she says. “I feel really connected and electrified. When I was little, my family – we didn’t communicate well, but the only time we really felt joy was during the holidays, when every day was drinking and singing. My sister was pouring me a glass of Blue Nun. And I would be so happy then. There’s something I’m clinging to about this.

Everett wasn’t lost in karaoke – she just had a talent that karaoke couldn’t contain. So, in the early 2000s, a friend who ran a small theater asked him to turn his weekend craziness into a cabaret act. It’s a niche art: it’s not comedy, it’s not musical theatre, there’s no “general public” cabaret. It was not a fast track to fame.

“Cabaret doesn’t pay as well as some people might think,” Everett says dryly. “So I still had to scramble to keep the roof over my head and buy the occasional bottle of chardonnay.” Yet it was a passport for something: “A lot of my stuff was rock, because I originally wanted to be a rock singer. I just had to figure out how to get scene time. When I was encouraged to write an act, I put my voice more forward. I have a bunch of songs about various parts of the anatomy. I think you should sing what you know – and what I know is different types of boobs.

Everett in Patti Cake$ (2017).
Hot ride… Everett in Patti Cake$. Photography: J Park/20th Century Fox/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock

So maybe it was pretty cult and subversive, and barely managed to keep the wolf out of the door, but Everett’s act in the late 2000s was pretty established. She had opened for comedienne Amy Schumer and had attracted the interest of various film producers. In 2008, she starred as an insanely drunk woman in the movie Sex and the City. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m in a movie now. My life is going to change. But life just doesn’t work that way. I’ve been waiting tables for at least another 10 years.

Everett must have been kicked and yelled into an audition for the 2017 American independent film Patti Cake$, because by that time she had a reputation. “It takes incredible confidence and courage to get on stage and perform. The shows are very personal. I talk about my body – there are a lot of tender moments. I had worked hard to feel like I belonged. I thought if I got to Sundance and stank the whole place, it was going to shake my confidence.

Cabaret is, she says, “much more embraced in London and Sydney. But in New York, there’s a whole cabaret counterculture — people who do very subversive and wild things. Maybe everyone in showbiz is the black sheep of their family, unless they’re part of a dynasty. But Everett is drawn – in Somebody Somewhere – to the question of what remains of family relationships; which part of the black sheep is still very attached to other sheep.

The series is not directly faithful to reality in all its details: Everett is one of the six, while Sam, his character, has only two sisters. They’re similar but not identical, and the show is quieter than the stage number. “If people knew what I was like when I was off stage,” Everett says, “they would think Sam makes sense. I can be a little depressed. We constantly talked about how much Bridget-ise Sam, how much to bring in the hot lyrics or the dirty side. Sam isn’t me but there are parts of me in her. There is, however, a crucial parallel: Everett and his character have lost a sister. “Families work because everyone has their role. Lose a cog and it can all come crashing down. ”

In the drama, Sam and his sister Trisha try to work through their differences: Trisha is uptight, judgmental, pious, homophobic; Sam is surly, avoidant, alienated. But they can’t make it work without their late sister Holly. Instead, they must change their way of being. Everett said she didn’t want Somebody Somewhere to be one of those dramas where people grow up. And, yes, it’s a cliché when a character goes on a trip – but that’s a drama East. She changes her position a bit: “It was important for me not to make Sam grow up because of a romantic relationship. I feel like I’ve seen that 1000 times. It wasn’t my experience and I just didn’t want to do it.

Somebody Somewhere just got the green light for a second season, and Everett has, I think, achieved something impressive: She got her big break with a complicated, unconventional show at an age — 49 — where the performers females are expected to step out of the limelight and join the chorus. “When you say it that way, I want to give myself a high five,” she says.

But Everett just isn’t good at even the most fleeting complacency. “I watch the show alone. I don’t like being with other people when I watch myself. HBO tag lights up, this static sound. I don’t believe it’s me. It’s hard to understand that I was able to achieve something. It’s hard to sit with that. It’s a Midwestern thing – keep your head down, keep working and hope for the best.

Somebody Somewhere is on HBO Max in the US, Binge/Foxtel Now in Australia and starts on Sky Comedy in the UK in March.

Elizabeth J. Harless