Bridget Everett: an interview with the queen of alt cabaret

Downtown shock singer and loose cannon Bridget Everett is movin' on up. Here's why you should bow before her.

Photograph: Todd Oldham
Bridget Everett is not a blond bombshell—she's a blond nuclear missile. Prowling the stage in billowing fabrics, swigging Chardonnay and darting out her tongue lasciviously as she belts ultra-raunchy original rock songs, she scrambles hotness itself into a mess. But surprising sweetness and vulnerability lie just below the surface of everything she does. This combination has brought her prominent gigs on Inside Amy Schumerand an upcoming special on Comedy Central, which will be taped in November. Before that, though, is Everett's new show at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater, Rock Bottom, which may be her filthiest yet. (Sample lyric: “Tell me, does this dick make my ass look big?”) We talked with her recently about sex, karaoke, being tender and not just being nice.

How did you get your start as a singer?
I studied vocal performance at Arizona State, which is singing classically, whether it's art songs or arias or whatever. But I didn't do a whole lot of operas, because I couldn't get cast in anything at Arizona State. I stayed in Arizona a couple years after college—I was singing a lot of national anthems at spring training games. And then I discovered karaoke, and that's when everything changed [laughs].

What brought you to New York?
When I left Kansas, my heroes were all rock singers, you know? And I always remember thinking Debbie Harry was the coolest one, and she lived in New York, so I wanted to live there. And then shit hit the fan in Arizona, and I was like “Fuck it!” I just got in a car and decided to move to New York. That was in 1997 or ’98.

What happened when you got here?
I did one of those children's-theater tours and it felt like—I don't want to say prison camp, because that's harsh, but it was not what I moved here for. Then my friend Zach took me to see Kiki and Herb at Fez, and I was like “Oh shit!” I was losing my mind, because I had never seen anything like that. We'd go every Sunday night, and we'd be the first people in line. And then Murray Hill, and Sweetie at Cheese Wiz at the Parkside Lounge—It felt like my calling. I was in my late twenties at the time, so it's sort of taken me a long time to hit my stride, but I saw the language that I wanted to speak. How did you start tapping into that as a performer?
I went to karaoke bars. I went there to do the same shit that I'm doing now: I'd just be on top of a bar, rip of my shirt, grab somebody, spit in their face. Jason Eagan [the artistic director of the Off Broadway venue Ars Nova] saw me doing it in 2004, I think, and was like, “Oh my gosh, you should do a show at Ars Nova!” So Kenny Mellman [of Kiki and Herb] and I got together and that's what happened. We did this thing called Automatic Vaudeville every couple of months at Ars Nova—they were just trying to give me a training ground, ’cause you just have to log the hours to get good, you know? And we met [Sex and the City writer] Michael Patrick King at the Aspen Comedy Festival and we hit it off, and we did At Least It's Pink.

At Least It's Pink was pretty hardcore on the sex side, but your act has gotten even raunchier in recent years. Is there any particular reason for that?
It's just who I am. When I was on the swim team growing up, when I was eight years old, I was always going and sitting on the laps of the guys in high school in their Speedos. I've always been a dirty-minded person—it's who I am and how I communicate. That shit is funny to me. And it's also the way I enjoy interacting with the audience because, you know, when you're single you've got to get your action somewhere, and for me it's onstage [laughs].

You've done comedy gigs with Amy Schumer, and you've been prominently featured on her TV show. Is that something you're going to continue doing?
Yeah, I've opened for her, I've been on the road with her, and because of that I've been asked back to some comedy clubs. And I closed both seasons [of Inside Amy Schumer, with recorded musical numbers at Joe's Pub]. The generosity of that blows my mind. If I had a TV show I hope that I'd be the kind of person who'd be like, “Hey world, take a look at this friend of mine!” But in reality, who does that? Amy does that, because she's that great. I want to say I could, but if we're being real honest, I don't know.

How did you and Amy become friends?
Maybe three or four years ago we started hanging out more—we both liked Chardonnay and we were at this comedy festival hanging out, at Just For Laughs at Montreal. Those festivals are very intimidating: There are so many people there, and I would typically hide out in my room. But Amy really helps bring me out of my shell, because in those situations I'm a social recluse. I cannot operate. I cannot operate. So she helped me get out and we really hit it off.

As great as it is to see you on TV or YouTube, I feel like people need to see you live to really get all of it.
It's always different. Every show feels like a date: I'm definitely happy to be there, I'm certainly hoping to get laid, and it's just all the flirting that leads up to that, you know? I want it to feel wildly different every time and that's how it feels like to me. I don't want to lose that.

You're not shy about going into the audience. It's become a big part of your act now.
Yeah, I have to find ways to not do it, because if I could I would just be out there the whole time, just talking to people, touching people. That's what I like to do the most, but I know that you can't do that the entire time. But I would and probably will do a show where that's all I do. Lets talk about your fashion sense. I know that Larry Krone does a lot of the designs. What you want to present onstage as glamour?
Well, I love Halston from the ’70s with all those low necklines and stuff. And when I look at myself, I feel like I'm a Halston girl. I want to present somebody that's a sexual beast but with a heart of gold. Because when I'm onstage, I feel like a giant and I want the people to see the entire fucking animal. And he does that and gives it a little bit of grace and shimmer. I want to represent somebody who's on the loose. And you can take that however you want!

How do you respond to people who think your show is too much, or too sexualized?
I feel sorry for them. Because the idea of the show is just let your guard down and party! You're there with your friend who always hangs out till last call, who sometimes says shit that embarrasses you but you still love her. I don't set to have a message other than for you to have fun and walk out feeling a little bit better about yourself, maybe. I don't want people to have any shame, you know? If it's too much for anybody, great, I'd rather people walk out and be like “What the fuck was that?” or “Oh my God, I fucking loved that!” than to walk out and say “Oh, that was nice.” I would rather have a tiny little audience of warriors who want to see that shit again than a hundred of, “Oh, that was nice.”

One thing I've always loved about what you do is that there's always a human being onstage in addition to all the shock tactics.
Everyone just wants to be loved, Adam.

Speak for yourself! I want to be feared. Feared and reviled. I'm doing well with the second part at least. But that vulnerability/power balance—how much of each of those are drawn from your real life?
Those are all real life experiences. Any time we do a tender song or have a tender moment, for lack of a better word, it's a real experience. But also, the reason I do those is for me. Because I'm up there singing about titties, dicks, ass—whatever, you know? But I don't want to misrepresent who I am. Underneath the wildebeest is somebody who's very sensitive, if not oversensitive. So I want to share that because those things make my world turn round. And I also consider myself a singer—I don't think of myself as a comic or whatever—and I want to sing a pretty song because I fucking like pretty fucking songs and I want to sing goddamn pretty fucking songs.

Rock Bottom is at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater Sep 9–Oct 11. Click here for tickets and more information. 

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