We Speak With Bridget Everett About Drag Queens and Getting Her Start in Gay Bars
In December of 1969, a 30-year-old Tina Turner performed at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Penthouse, part of Hefner’s show Playboy After Dark. During the show, Hefner interviewed Turner about how she used the term “grease” instead of the world “soul” when talking about her music.
“Most black people, when we say things we say it top service, we don’t cover it, we don’t go around. We say exactly what it is,” Turner explained. “So in other words, when you say ‘grease’ it means you’re getting down to the nitty gritty. The actual thing. Not hinting.”
Basically saying it like it is.
The word ‘grease’ is the exact word someone could use to describe Bridget Everett, the bold and brazen “alt-cabaret provocateur” New York City has grown to love over her two-decade-long career. Infamous in the city’s theater scene, Everett’s performances have graced the stages of Joe’s Pub and Carnegie Hall. She’s shared a duet with Patti LuPone multiple times, and she’s best friends with Amy Schumer.
But this year feels especially significant for the bright New York star, as she’s appeared in two feature films, Patti Cake$ and Fun Mom Dinner. The former got her critical acclaim, while the latter got her incredible exposure alongside stars Molly Shannon and Toni Collette. She also got a standing ovation during a Jimmy Fallon appearance over the summer when the audience leapt to its feet after her performance of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of my Heart.” During that interview, she revealed her favorite mantra borrowed from LL Cool J: “Dreams don’t have deadlines.”
Another dream of the 45-year-old performer’s that finally came true this year: her own television show. The pilot for her new series Love You More is available on Amazon now, where people can watch and vote for the show to be picked up by the streaming service for an entire season.
“A couple of years ago, Michael Patrick King — who I would consider my mentor — said to me, ‘I think it’s time we do a TV show together,’” Everett tells me over the phone. “And I burst out into tears because I had been waiting so long.”
Bridget Everett teamed up with King, Bobcat Goldthwait and Carolyn Strauss, leaders in television she had always wanted to work with. Together they came up with the idea to capture the different parts of her that could work in a TV show, a story not just about a struggling waitress in New York who sings songs.
“It’s been a dream, and you never think when you’re a six-foot-tall, blonde woman in your 40s that people are going to be knocking down your door to create a TV show for you,” she says.
Everett plays Karen Best, who works in a home for young adults who have Down syndrome. In her personal life, Karen “drinks and sleeps around and makes some poor choices” and lives with Jean, a widow played by Loni Anderson.
You don’t need Amazon Prime to watch, Everett tells me before joking, “I don’t understand anything about technology.”
While audiences are familiar with Bridget Everett, especially in New York City, the pilot features a side of the performer never really seen before by anyone: her vulnerable side.
“I was terrified of letting this go out into the world because this is all sides of me,” she says. “The character is Karen, but it really represents me, and I am a lot of different things. I’m a maniac on top of a bar singing and ripping my shirt open, but I am also an introvert, oversensitive and all kinds of things … wracked with insecurity. I think this is the most personal thing I have ever shared, so I have been like, ‘Oh my god. What the fuck is going to happen?’”
The show will only get picked up if Everett gets enough votes, and she has some stiff competition alongside Sea Oaks, starring the indomitable Glenn Close, and The Climb, billed as Amazon’s version of Insecure.
Charting new territory, Bridget Everett initially went into the experience doubting herself.
“I didn’t think I had enough of a fan base to rally behind me and vote for the show,” she admits. “What’s really been overwhelming is how many people have reached out to me from all over the world and have said how much they love it. It gives me a lot of hope that we will be able to do the exact type of show that we want to do, and that there will be an audience for it. And that makes me very excited.”
What’s helped Everett explore her vulnerable side off-screen and on is her Pomeranian Poppy, who fans and followers are familiar with, as she shares pics of the pooch on her social media frequently.
“I got this fucking dog and this cunt just ripped my heart wide open and I love her so much,” Everett tells us. “I operate like a Lifetime Movie. I could just burst into tears at any point. I just feel so vulnerable and exposed all the time. I think it’s important to share that. When I was growing up, my family didn’t really talk about our feelings. We just laughed and made jokes. I like that, too, but I like to explore all parts of me and other people.”
When asked about the failures that have made her the person she is today, Everett mentions memories of playing gigs with only a few people in the audience. “The nights of playing to, like, six people,” he says. “And just feeling like, ‘What the fuck is it going to take?’ You know? And how heartbroken I would be going home, ‘Nobody wants to see this. What am I doing?’ But the truth is in those moments, I would perform more intensely and fiercely for those six people than sometimes the biggest audiences I ever had. I was so grateful that they were there and that they would stick around. When you’re in a room with just six other people, performing for them, it’s also awkward for them. They feel very exposed. It’s like a gangbang. You just say, ‘OK. We’re all here. We’re all naked. We’ll get off, we’ll go home and we’ll talk about it another day.’”
While the metaphor is a bit brash, like her, these orgy-like experiences — intimate, honest and rough — is what has made the fan following of Bridget Everett committed and loyal to the end.
Admitting that it sounds kind of corny, she says, “They have been with me as I have been struggling for so long. I think it feels like a shared moment when something good happens for me, because it’s happening for them, too.”
A huge part of her fanbase is gay men, as Everett got her start performing in the back of a gay bar in Hell’s Kitchen on Sunday nights. The bar was The Ritz Bar and Lounge on 46th Street, where her roommate Jon Jon Battles would DJ.
“Those were the nights sometimes when there would be only six people,” she says. “It would be a real moment of exploring and trying the most buckwild, dangerous things I have ever done in my career. Stuff my friends would question, ‘I don’t know if you should be doing all that.’ It’s like the bathhouse without the bathhouse. Those were some really wild nights, and I feel like those audiences created me.”
“Thats where I started, where I learned about performing … in gay clubs, in gay bars,” she says. “With drag queens and performance artists and where there are just no limits. It’s so exciting what you can see and what you can be when there are no rules.”
Bridget Everett explains that her onstage persona is similar to the drag queens she once performed side by side with in the gay clubs and bars. “Bridget Everett onstage is fearless and wild and totally confident and self-assured and still has cracks,” she says. “But the real Bridget is much more fragile and gentler than that Bridget. It’s the dresses and the chardonnay and the lights that kick her into gear.”
Our conversation veers to inspiration and the women who have inspired her. “First and foremost, my mom,” Everett says. “She is so accidentally funny. She was the one who never wore a bra and just said inappropriate shit in a very endearing way.”
She also cites comedy queens Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball but looks to singers like Tina Turner — specifically that 1969 performance and interview with Hugh Hefner.
“I fucking love these old clips of Tina Turner singing at the Playboy After Dark party Hugh Hefner would host,” she says. “To me, it’s the most exciting and vital performance I have ever seen.”
Everett also names Erin Markey, Kiki and Herb, Jenn Harris and Murray Hill — other performance artists in the New York cabaret circuit. But she ends her list with a drag queen who recently passed away after his battle with cancer.
“Oh, but my favorite was Sweetie, a drag queen who performed at The Ritz, too. She passed away earlier this year. She was the quintessential, nasty-mouthed … she would say the raunchiest shit. But she would make me cry every time she lip-synced. She was really special and incredible.”
“I love people who are dangerous and walk a tightrope,” Bridget Everett says. “That’s exciting for me.”