Comedic dynamo (and Amy Schumer squad member) Bridget Everett has made her name as the go-to gal for raunchy laughs. Anyone who’s seen footage of her live performances — or her recent appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon — knows that she is, quite simply, a force. An Amazonian beauty with a powerhouse set of pipes and a penchant for chardonnay, the woman known as the Cabaret Hurricane runs around the room motorboating and mounting audience members, whether they like it or not. (They usually like it.) The word confident might spring to mind, though it feels like a little sissy of an adjective given the off-the-wall artistic cataclysm that is a Bridget Everett show. But when it came to playing the hard-living, not-always-nice Barb Dombrowski in the drama Patti Cake$ — about a young woman trying to escape her dead-end New Jersey town by becoming a rap star — Everett felt wobbly. We caught up with her on a rare day off.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I spoke to [Patti Cake$ director] Geremy Jasper earlier today, and he said that when he first approached you about workshopping the script at Sundance Labs in 2014, you were kind of cagey.
BRIDGET EVERETT: I basically did everything I could to not do it, not because I didn’t want to and not because I didn’t think it was a great opportunity but because I thought that I would bomb, that I would totally eat s—, and I was really scared. So, y’know, I guess I thought I had to show up and hit it out of the park right away and I wanted the opportunity but I didn’t think that I could fill the shoes. After talking to Geremy, he’s like, Just take the pressure off yourself; we’re gonna go, we’re gonna figure it out together. It was his first time [directing] and Danielle [Macdonald, who plays Patti] was figuring out the rapping thing. So we were all just in it together. That really helped.
Are Sundance Labs like a workshop?
Yeah and then they have various mentors there that help with the project and it’s just all these wonderful, effervescent people that come to only help you and only make your project better because they love filmmaking. It’s kind of a utopia — you can’t really believe that there’s that much generosity of spirit in the world. I’ve been slugging it out for 25 years trying to make my dreams come true and then all of a sudden you’re like, “Oh, this is how dreams come true.” You have people giving you a hand up that are helping you and making you better. And then it helps you have faith in yourself in a way that you didn’t before, so it was really cool.
You’re a classically trained singer, and there’s so much music in this film — did that help you get comfortable with the role?
Absolutely. Those were the only moments when I felt centered and in control. Which isn’t necessarily the way you need to feel, but like, the one thing I thought I have going for me with this part is that I can sing, and I can sing in the style that Geremy wants for Barb. So I felt like if the movie went forward after Sundance that that might give me an opportunity to not get booted out by a bold-face name. I remember just having nightmares of who was going to replace me once I got to Sundance. Because as soon as I got to Sundance and I realized how wonderful it was working with Geremy and Danielle and how this was like kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I was just like, “That bitch can’t sing, and that bitch can’t sing…” Like I’m the only person on planet Earth that can sing a song on top of a bar, which is not true.
One of those singing-on-top-of-the-bar moments doesn’t go so well. Did you do that stunt yourself?
Yeah, I sure did. There was a stunt coordinator and everything, and literally I just rolled off onto a couple of mats, but the mats were like 4 feet down. It was not just a little drop, like falling off a chair and landing on a seat. I’m a big woman and that’s a lot of meat to crash down. It was totally worth it.
After watching your performance in this film, were you happy with it?
Um…yeah, I mean, I hate watching myself, I think there are plenty of people that feel that way. When I watched the film I watched it with Danielle for the first time and Geremy was sitting right behind us and I was really just so excited watching her performance and what she’d achieved. And I was happy with what I did, and I was really happy with our chemistry. It’s nice to walk away from something that you never thought you could do and be able to hold your head high and not just run to the bathroom wetting yourself because you’re so ashamed.
Barb is a pretty complicated character. What was it like to play her?
At Sundance she was just a four-letter C word with exclamation points. And I think [Geremy and I] both thought it would serve her and the film better and Patti if we showed a few more colors of Barb. And really when you play anybody, you bring a little of yourself to the role. And I can be a total c— and I can be the person on top of the bar, but I think…I feel the way I looked at Barb was like, she was for sure trapped and lonely and can’t express love to her daughter but she realizes part way through the movie that she wants to.
Were you filming Fun Mom Dinner [a comedy costarring Toni Collette, Molly Shannon and Adam Levine] concurrently?
I shot this and then I went right to L.A. and shot Fun Mom Dinner, so they were back-to-back. They were two totally different experiences, obviously. Fun Mom Dinner was like another thing where [screenwriter] Julie Rudd was like, I have this part for you I think you’d be great for and I really had you in mind while writing it but the producers want you to do the table read of it. And I was like, if you’re asking me to audition, I’m not going to get it because I will choke. And I went and I did the table read and it went well and they offered me the part right away. For as confident as I am onstage motorboating people and running around the room making love to my cabaret audience, acting is a different muscle I don’t feel comfortable yet in, I don’t feel comfortable in that skin. But I’m working on it.
With the stage thing, I definitely feel like a powerhouse and in charge and while I know it’s not for everybody, I know I have figured out the best way to be me in that scenario. You know what I mean? And I think the more I give of myself onstage as a cabaret hurricane, the less there’s left for me offstage. So I’ve definitely become a little bit of a lap pet. I just want to curl up and sit in the darkness when I’m not onstage.
Well, a lot of us do that lately, for a lot of reasons.
We’re all doing the best we can right now.
Now that you’re doing more acting and going to more auditions, do you want to take acting classes? Or would you rather learn it on the job?
I’ve been doing a lot of learning on the job. It’s like how I used to have waiting-table nightmares about losing my s— in my section, now I kind of have that I show up on set and I don’t know my lines — it’s a different kind of anxiety now. I feel like I want to take acting classes but I’m also nervous to because I’m wondering if I start thinking about it too much, I don’t know if it’ll help or hurt.
Speaking of waiting tables, I read a quote about how you just gave it up and decided you wanted to do things your own way — other than not wanting to be a career waitress, how were things going then that you wanted to change?
I just wanted to make enough money as a cabaret singer — which is harder than you think, to quit waiting tables. And then I was getting offers to audition for like regional productions of X, Y and Z and I was like, I don’t f—ing want to be doing Bye, Bye Birdie in some Podunk town. If I have to wait tables to sustain my cabaret habit, then that’s how it’s gonna be. And that was how it was for a very long time. And then there came a point where I kept my waiting-tables job for probably a little longer than I needed to, but I had health insurance — we all know how valuable that is. And then at one point I was like, What am I doing? And so I was doing a show at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater called Rock Bottom and I remember at the end I sing this big ballad called “I’ll Take You Home,” and I was like, “I quit my waiting-tables job today,” and the audience was on their feet and we were all crying. And it was such a cool thing to jump off that cliff in front of the people who had given me the opportunity to do so.
The show that you’re bringing back to Joe’s Pub…
It’s me and the Tender Moments [which also includes Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz] and we’re slowly working on new songs. We did a few during this last run of shows. I was in a writer’s K-hole for forever — not the good kind, I just could not come up with anything. But I have been more inspired to write. We have a song called “P—y Grabs Back” that’s very cathartic to sing, it feels so f—ing great, and then some other stuff I’m working on. So I’m just trying to keep the dream alive.
I was going to ask about how political the show will be.
I’m not really a political performer/comedian/performance artist or whatever you want to call it. But I feel like maybe I’m political just in the way I use the female body, so there’s that. But do I like sit down and write critiques of Trump? No, because there are so many people that do it better than I could ever dream of. And honestly like, for me, I wouldn’t be on Twitter at all because I feel like it can be so nasty, but for me it’s been really cathartic to read what some of these people put into words how I feel in a way I just couldn’t do. But what I can do is sing a song about it and I think it’s a really good song and it feels f—ing great to sing it. And the audience gets real fired up, so it’s very rewarding. The first time I sang it there were two people who got up and walked out. And I was like, What the f— is a Trump fan doing at a Bridget Everett show? It made no sense to me. But I guess even Trump voters like to hear about different kinds of tits.
Let’s talk a little bit about your upcoming projects.
Little Evil is a comedy/thriller written and directed by Eli Craig and his mother happens to be Sally Field, and she’s in the movie and I got to do a scene with her. I play Adam Scott’s sort of tagalong best friend and Evangeline Lilly’s also in it. It was really fun…. I actually auditioned for it and got the part which is crazy. That’s coming out on Labor Day on Netflix. And then also I have a pilot, I don’t know if you know about that…
Is that Permission?
Permission I got cut out of. They were really sweet about it, and I got to work with really great people. But yeah, this pilot that’s coming out Sept. 1 on Amazon, it’s called Love You More, and I wrote it with Bobcat Goldthwait and Michael Patrick King (Sex and the City, 2 Broke Girls). And we also created it with Carolyn Strauss, who’s an amazing producer who does like Game of Thrones and all kinds of s—. And it’s funny, because I would never have been able to do the kind of work or performance in that pilot if I had not had the experience of Patti Cake$ because it just sort of gave me…it opened me up and gave me a lot of faith in myself. I’m really excited about. I get to sing in it. I play Karen Best, she’s a big girl with a really big heart and a messy life, and she works in a home for young adults with Down Syndrome. My roommate’s played by Loni Anderson, who’s incredible. She’s so great in this. She’s sweet and funny and so touching. And yeah, it’s such a cool experience. I’m excited for people to see it.
Do you have a dream gig?
Singing a duet with Barry Manilow. Any time I think about sitting at a piano with Barry Manilow, I could start weeping. And then my other idea is that I want to do a movie with Jennifer Coolidge and Amy Schumer and we’re all playing private detectives. Mostly I just want to hang out with them.
I feel like it could actually happen.
But the truth is that every job I get feels like a dream because I’m not waiting tables anymore. And I’m really grateful.
How has your life has changed? Do you still live in New York?
I still live in New York, in the same s—-y apartment, but I’m hoping to move. The way that my life has improved, I got a dog, Poppy. Do you have a dog or cat?
She just has like opened up my heart so much and she’s just completely changed my world, I’m always like, I have to get up at like 5 o’clock in the morning or 4 o’clock in the morning to go do something, I’m just like, “Poppy’s gotta have that organic chicken,” or “Somebody’s gotta pay those bills for you, Poppy.” It’s a nice thing to worry about taking care of somebody other than myself.
Before I quit waiting tables, I never had more than like three days off in a row really for many, many years. I never really took vacations. And now I work hard and I get to treat myself to a little pool time. And the best part is I can pull out my credit card and not have to call Chase bank before hand to make sure she’ll fly. That’s a treat.
Do you feel like you’ve made it? I don’t even really know what that means…
Yeah, I don’t know what that means. I’m surrounded by so many people that have success beyond my wildest dreams and also I feel like, I’m just doing great for me and that’s kind of all I can think about. I wouldn’t say I’ve made it but there are moments where I look around and you know, we did a screening of Patti Cake$ in Chelsea the other night and I was really emotional just sort of looking at some of the people in the room. Like, Michael Musto was there — these are people who when I first came to New York supported me and came to my shows. The gay bars were really the only places where I was allowed to come and be the crazy Bridget that eventually made me enough money that I could quit my waiting-tables job. So it was a really cool full-circle moment. But mostly I’m just looking for the next thing and hoping that I keep getting to punch the clock in the way that I want to.
Where did you wait tables?
I was at Ruby Foo’s on the Upper West Side for 10 years. I opened and closed that motherf—er. And then I stayed on the Upper West Side waiting tables because I felt that’s where I was safest. Like if I were downtown, people would know who I was and it would be too humiliating. It only happened on occasion on the Upper West Side. Like, “Oh my god, I just saw your show, oh my god, you were so good! Okay, so…what are your specials?”