We’re Not in Kansas Anymore: An Exclusive Stargayzing Conversation with Bridget Everett, the Outsider Who Is Redefining Cabaret Music for a New Generation
Singer Bridget Everett sat down for an exclusive conversation with Stargayzing’s David Munk and explained how a nice girl from Kansas became the toast of the downtown alt-cabaret music scene.
Half-way through the recent Joe’s Pub debut of Rock Bottom, Bridget Everett’s terrific new show which was written in collaboration with musical theater titans Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray, Smash), along with Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz of the Beastie Boys, the audience had the opportunity to witness the full range of Everett’s particular brand of show business alchemy in just one song. As she began the ballad “Why Don’t You Kiss Me?,” the singer/comedienne made her way into the audience (as she is wont to do) and targeted a particularly attractive young man. In an extreme twist on the stand-up comic’s device of using an audience member as a prop, Miss Everett first charmed him out of his shirt, (she is nothing if not persuasive, along with many other qualities that are most useful to an entertainer) and proceeded to physically pick him up, put him over her shoulder and carry him back to the stage, all the while singing the song without missing a note. To the extent that there was a plan, everything appeared to be to be sticking to it, then something extremely unexpected happened: as the song was nearing its finish, Bridget Everett dropped something much worse than a note or a cue, she dropped the man—nearly on his head—and together they fell to the floor in a big unscripted heap.
The audience gasped and no sooner had we begun to process what had happened then something extremely brilliant happened: having established that the gentleman was unhurt, Everett remained seated on the stage, clutching the poor guy to her not unimpressive bosom like an injured bird and reflexively began a five minute stream-of-consciousness riff of exceptional, turbo-charged creativity that was nothing short of stunning. Fueled by her own fear of the near-catastrophe and the shock that still hung over the room like a sustained, suspended chord, Bridget Everett turned a potentially terrible moment into a reason for the audience to love her even more. When her bravura ad-libbed monologue had ended, the handsome man returned to his seat, apparently no worse for the wear, and the thrill ride that is a Bridget Everett performance continued (relatively) uneventfully. The sequence of events resonated like a fever dream that mounded an entire performance’s worth of emotion into a single number.
“I don’t ever want to have a scripted way of getting around something,” Bridget told me, recalling the incident over a glass of wine a few weeks later, “I want to deal with things as they come.” She needn’t have worried, as I doubt there is a scripted way to get around accidentally dropping a fan on his head, but her point about taking risks and challenging convention is well-taken and very much at the heart of what she does. “It was horrible,” she went on, “that’s the most damage I’ve ever done to somebody and luckily he was fine. But it could have been bad.” This is an understatement.
Everett’s aerialist approach to live performance is only one of the qualities that makes her the rising star of the downtown cabaret scene. A second is a first-class singing voice. Her ability to deftly fuse the stand-up’s fearlessness with such a prodigious set of pipes is why she is rapidly becoming the first performer to break out the cabaret scene and onto a national stage in many, many years.
That Miss Everett is essentially exiled from the mainstream cabaret scene, a moribund community frequently engaged in a bizarre act of collective denial that it is not, in fact, 1955, is but one of the more ironic examples of this artist’s adroit skill surmounting obstacles. “It would feel good to feel more connected to the older guard cabaret establishment,” she admitted with a slight shrug of her shoulder, especially since she has great respect for both the American Songbook and its many iconic interpreters. But from where I’m sitting, cabaret needs Bridget Everett far more than she needs them. After all, she’s got Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys, the hottest songwriting team on Broadway, and a burgeoning cult of passionate fans tucked into her ample décolletage. Indeed, the future looks bright, but it wasn’t always so.
I recently caught up with Bridget on a chilly autumn night in a dimly lit, west village watering hole. It seemed like the perfect place to meet, though the woman I met was different in many ways from the raunchy, boozy, and frequently vulgar stage persona she has created. In fact, I found her to be sweet, candid, self-aware, and—dare I say it—almost demure. Unlike many performers, her interest level didn’t flag when we spoke about something other than her. But what I discovered the real Bridget Everett shares with the stage version of herself is tremendous personal warmth, a quality that comes through even in Everett’s most over-the-top moments on stage and grounds her most outrageous antics in something very human. It is certainly one of the qualities that has elicited frequent comparisons to the great Bette Midler.
After the jump, we’ll go in-depth with an exclusive Stargayzing interview and find out how a nice girl from Kansas became the foul-mouthed downtown darling of cabaret. Be sure to catch her show with her band Bridget Everett and the Tender Moments at Joe’s Pub this Wednesday and Thursday.
“I don’t ever want to have a scripted way of getting around something—I want to deal with things as they come”
David Munk: So let’s talk about last week. Do you remember what happened after you dropped that poor guy?
Bridget Everett: No, in fact I have a live recording of that show but I still haven’t listened to it cause I want it to live in my memory. I have no idea what I said but I am a little curious about how I got out of that.
DM: I knew that if he was not hurt you were going to get out of it. It was just so authentic. When I see things like happen on stage to performers and they’re just true to whatever’s happening in the moment, it just pulls the audience in closer in a way. I knew if he was hurt the show would have to stop and it would have totally sucked.
BE: My career would be over before it started!
DM: I don’t know if you remember this, I was sitting in the audience to the right of you and you actually spoke to me because I was sitting there slack jawed—I’m no prude, but I was kind of in shock, having never seen you perform before. You spoke to me and told me to pick my face off the ground or something like that, right before you came over to my friend Travis, put your long, Grecian dress over his head and directed him to sing a duet with your vagina.
BE: [laughing] Oh what am I thinking sometimes? It just sort of happened.
DM: I was doing some research on you earlier. So there was a moment on an Amy Schumer clip I saw on YouTube where you’re setting up the “Titties” song and you sang with a very legit, beautiful alto before the beat came in and you completely subverted the moment. I was wondering if there was ever a more conventional version of a you as a singer/performer that got jettisoned along the way to creating this persona?
BE: I didn’t know anything else. I didn’t know any better. I studied at Kansas and that’s a pretty conservative place, I was in show choir, my mom was a music teacher but she was also really funny and so is my dad. I don’t see my dad as much, but my mom always encouraged my singing. I also have had this kind of folky, blue streak thing since I was a kid getting in trouble for pulling people’s swimsuits down and talking really dirty. I was really weird that way. But I love classical music and that’s what I went to school for, I thought that if I wanted to be a singer I had to be Broadway or I had to be maybe an opera singer—what I got my degree in was vocal performance—and I didn’t really realize, when I went to New York, there’s no fucking way I’m ever going to get on Broadway, I’m just not.
DM: Because of the way you look?
BE: Yeah, there’s just such a small amount…a whisper of those roles that go around and they’re just there for the few people who get them. So this all came out of necessity, because I knew I wanted to be a singer I just had to figure it out. I love all kinds of music, the kind of performing that I do is because I’ve been screaming for people to listen for so long and it just sort of developed. I was the youngest of six kids so I was always trying to be heard. I just had a pretty big weekend of performing, and it’s so exhausting—obviously I’m not in the best shape—just the physicality of it and the full-throttle is so intense, so I really like to have moments where I can just sort of sing something pretty to catch my breath and to sort of stay centered.
DM: That’s part of why I’m interested in you, because what you’re doing just on a musical tip is pulling from all over the place. Nobody does this anymore. And a lot of Bette Midler comparisons come from that. Because she was pulling from standards, Bob Dylan, girl group stuff, and I feel nothing’s come along in a long while that’s as musically eclectic as you.
“The kind of performing that I do is because I’ve been screaming for people to listen for so long”
BE: The beauty of not having a record label is that I can do whatever I want. And I also think that people want you to have your flavor and your style, but I feel like my stage persona is the flavor and then the music is like the different crayons in the box. An audience doesn’t just have one flavor that they want to hear. And Adam [Horovitz] has been really great about that too, he’ll say “we don’t have this kind of song,” and then sometimes it will just inspire an idea for me, like there’s a song that I wrote from Rock Bottom song called “Why Don’t You Kiss Me?”—that’s where I picked up the guy and dropped him—it’s more like a Carole King song and I’ve never had a song like that before, but I love that style of music so, whatever the feeling is I try to match the style of music to it and that tuck the story within the lyrics.
DM: Right—we need artists like you. You’re going to be a bridge to other things that came before you for younger people who might not know. I don’t see this very much anymore. When I was young and buying Bette Midler albums and Roberta Flack—before everything got so corporate—I would hear this full range of songwriters and influences. I’m very responsive to it.
BE: I was definitely a huge fan of Bette Midler growing up, I used to watch The Rose and I was obsessed with it and the music. I think there is a resurgence of cabaret, though sometimes I struggle with my relationship with being called a “cabaret artist.” Bette Midler was an entertainer—she was funny and had a great voice. I’ve been doing comedy clubs and stuff, and the audience does a lot of that [she scrunches up her face in confusion]…is “confounded” the right word? It takes a minute to work it out with the audience, some people need a minute to adjust. I don’t think I’m the first person to do what I’m doing, but I just happen to be doing it now.
DM: But you may be one of the first people to do stand-up who sings as well as Linda Ronstadt. Those kinds of reference points are what kicks this up so many levels.
BE: Well I think it’s important because if it’s just “tits, tits, tits” it’s too much. And that’s enough even with my friends, if there’s someone who just wants to just talk about Grindr all day, or whatever, I want my show to me like what I want in a friend—all the pretty colors, all the different levels of that—I want a well-rounded friend. Anything that’s one-note is going to get old, with the exception of maybe Lisa Lampanelli. I went to see her and I’m a huge fan of hers and it’s great to go watch an hour of balls-out humor, but for my show I want to have some warmth to go along with it, especially with all the audience interaction, it has to feel like you’re in it together, and nobody want to just get insulted the whole time.
DM: And those dynamics I think, that’s part of the Bette Midler reference too, she was someone who was funny in a different way than you but she was extremely funny. And then she would go to a place where she would really touch you because you could feel she had had a lot of pain in her life—she’s a great communicator in her singing. One of the things that I sense with you is that it’s a bit of a juggling act on stage a little bit between the comedy and the standup elements and the music piece. Is it hard to calibrate those things, especially when you’re in the moment? I knew with Rock Bottom you’re anchored, there’s more structure there, right?
BE: I worked with a couple different people putting it together, but particularly with Marc and Scott. First of all they worked with Bette Midler and Patti LuPone, but I wanted to work with them because of the history that they have in cabaret. They are incredible musicians and their songs are great, but I also wanted to try working with someone to try to get more structure than my normal shows have. They also were totally hands-on, they let me be free but they tried to help me to tell a clearer story. The shows with my band the Tender Moments have a lot more mayhem. I think with the Tender Moments I put together the song list for that show I think in terms of increasing the energy of the songs, I think that people will walk away feeling a certain way, I want them to feel uplifted, like they had a great time. But with Rock Bottom, I talked about things I never talked about before, like my dad. Usually at the end of every show I’ve done that’s when you’re fucking sitting on someone’s face and going crazy, but this time I wanted to try to end differently, and they really encouraged that—Scott and Marc did—and not to worry about, sometimes I worry about I think people are used to being the “wild one”, I don’t cater to the audience but I want people to have a good time and I’m most comfortable being the loudest, but they encouraged me to…
DM: —To trust.
BE: To trust, and I’m very reluctant to change, and they really had to push me hard.
DM: But some of it’s in the DNA of the music that they wrote. Did they write that for you or did you write that with them?
BE: I wrote about half of the songs with them and wrote some by myself and wrote one with Adam—just a collection. I like to work with other people and I tend to write songs very simply so I need someone to help me flesh them out. They have a different style of songwriting that’s a little more [laughing] “pro”? I also love my Tender Moments songs, like “Titties” is a Tender Moments song and I wrote that pretty much by myself, Adam made the track for it.
DM: Did you start with a list of kinds of tits?
BE: Well my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer—she’s fine. And she had one of her tits removed—she had a great sense of humor about it. But my brother Brock had always called her “beaver tails”, and I was at catch club one day just shaggin’ balls, and I just started singing [she sings] “you got them beaver tail titties put ‘em in the air” and I was coming off the field and Adam happened to be there that day and I said “is this stupid?” and he said “no, it sounds like a hit.” And so he encouraged the ridiculous and it’s not like I’ve never had encouragement about writing stupid songs, well they’re not stupid songs, but…
DM: —A ditty.
BE: A ditty. He’s like, “ridiculous has been working for me and I think it’s going to work for you.”
DM: Well if you read the liner notes on a Beastie Boys album, there’s like a Stephen Sondheim Company sample in there, it’s very deceptive, and he and I used to talk about that, “I see you sampled Sondheim,” and he was like, “you saw that huh?”
BE: There’s something reassuring about coming from the world of cabaret and I’m working with a hip-hop person and he’s into it, I think maybe I should listen to what they’re saying. Maybe my crazy ideas are actually good.
DM: I mentioned your name to some people in the cabaret world and got some pretty polarizing responses. I’m surprised time and again to realize that it is a community that is truly stuck in the past and resistant to anything that doesn’t have a gardenia in its hair while it sings an Irving Berlin song—not that there is anything wrong with gardenias or Irving Berlin.
BE: They are stuck, and they need to pay attention. But I don’t have the interest in knocking down the door of cabaret elite and asking why they’re not paying attention to the rest of us.
“It would feel good to feel a little more connected to that older-guard cabaret.”
DM: And they’re calling you “alt-cabaret”, which is…
BE: —Which is fine, but I’m never included in any of those cabaret events. But there’s so many people—I don’t know whether you’re familiar with performers like Erin Markey, Cole Escola, Justin Vivian Bond, Amber Martin—I think there’s a lot of people who are working in this genre who are really great and I think we all have a following. I’m probably more a polarizing figure than some of them, but it would feel good to feel a little more connected to that older-guard cabaret.
DM: I saw the clip of you with singing with Patti LuPone, who so clearly loves you.
BE: [Beaming] She’s legendary in my opinion! I sang with her at Carnegie Hall last week.
DM: I saw something about that. How did that happen?
BE: Scott directed that show. She lives in North Carolina or South Carolina—one of them—it all blends. Anyway they were hanging out and Scott texted me and said “Patti and I were just talking about you and how would you feel about singing at Carnegie Hall?” And I said “I’d feel fucking great about it!”
DM: What did you sing?
BE: “Me and Bobby McGee,” Saturday night we did it and it was great, and she just is so generous and so excited about something different and that’s really encouraging to me. I’ve been listening to her Live at Les Mouches CD… I mean she’s been doing this for years and it’s really, I love listening to that.
On LuPone: “She is so generous and so excited about something different and that’s really encouraging to me.”
DM: Do we even have rooms like that anymore? Reno Sweeney was another one—I love that 1970s period. I’m just old enough to remember the older gay guys that I knew when I was a kid going to clubs like this back when stars would actually emerge from that culture, it doesn’t really happen anymore. I think you’re connected to that tradition, but at the same time you’re taking a back route. I think one of the problems, once again, is that the (cabaret) community isn’t more inclusive. I went to that cabaret convention for the first time in 20 years because I was reviewing one night of it, and it might as well have been 1997, which was the last time I had been there; absolutely nothing had changed, except the room was nicer, they were at Rose Hall now.
BE: Lincoln Center—and it’s funny because Bill Bragin who does the programming at Lincoln Center comes to my shows all the time, and I’m always like “when are you guys going to do a blue night up at Lincoln Center?” What I really wish is that there would be a blue night or something.
DM: I think it’s going to take a little time, and by then you might not need that community, you may have completely stepped over it. I know from the conversations I’ve had with people because I said I was going to see you and some people were like…well you know how you affect people
BE: What’s in front of me are the people who are coming again and again and again. There’s internet commenters but, in general, as the audience is growing, I feel it catching fire, but things feel like they’re finally turning. Just the other night, the range of people who come to my show—Patti [LuPone] was there, Amy Schumer was there, even Meg Ryan! There’s all sorts of walks of life who come to the show and enjoy it? And that to me is, I’m not looking for validation, it just shows me though that there’s something—that what we’re doing has a broader appeal than maybe I thought. I want it to be like that, I’m not looking for fame or anything, I just want…because I don’t really feel like I’m just a singer, just a comic, just a cabaret artist, I feel like I’m a little bit of all those things? So it’s been a challenge because it’s like if you’re a hip-hop artist then you do A, B, and C, if you’re an actor you go to an audition and you get the job, if you’re a stand up you go to the clubs, but.
DM: It’s always been this way for people who don’t fit into a box.
BE: It takes a long time. It’s tiring.
DM: Well I wanted to just have a reference, what I thought about you. Speaking of thinking, how much do you think about, there’s something very authentic about what you’re doing, something very connected. Do you spend time thinking about your affect? What you’re doing onstage and how it’s affecting people? What is going too far?
BE: No. What I think about is what I think is funny. I tell myself stories. It’s not like I’m trying to be funny. I just have a certain way of talking, and I tell stories that amuse me or that are a way of getting into a song that I want to sing. I don’t think about what I’m going to do is going too far because I feel everybody’s game. I have to think that way.
DM: Your stage persona at times almost seems haunted by trauma or sadness. I know you’re creating something theatrical, but I was wondering, how much of this is rooted in your pain, because comics are…
BE: —All of it, though I’m one of the only people I know who don’t go to a mental health care professional.
DM: Well you’re a New Yorker now, you’re supposed to be going to therapy.
BE: I know, right? But I don’t. But it’s funny because through all the singing and through the stories, that’s probably the only time I feel safe and in control is when I’m singing. That’s the only time. And it’s because of the shows that I feel like I’m getting to know myself better. And I’m not trying to shock anybody it’s just the way we talk, if you talk to my mom she just talks a certain way. But she’s also very charming in a very singular way. So that’s just the way I was raised. I guess you could call it over-sharing, but really I just feel like I’m talking, having a conversation in a way that feels comfortable for me, and I’m just more at ease on stage talking to somebody than I am at a party. You’re actually making me very comfortable. So I’m happy to have that outlet of my songs and my music. Because it saved my life in a way. Everybody’s been through a lot of pain and everybody has their own way of working it out, but mine just happens to be with a bottle of wine and a microphone and a song. As stupid as that sounds.
DM: Before you started getting traction with this whole thing, was it hard when you were struggling without validation or any…
BE: —There’s definitely a part that’s validation, but there’s also it makes me so happy to be singing and doing music. It’s what I really love. When you’re doing something you love it makes you happy and I just wasn’t having the opportunity. I moved to New York because I wanted to be a singer, and then I met a friend who’s been my oldest New York friend and we’d go to a karaoke bar and drink and that was my outlet. I never dreamed that a world would exist where I could be singing and lowbrow. I didn’t even know that this language—cabaret, existed. So everything I backed up into. And before I was just angry, I was really frustrated and it came out in my relationships and I was just unhappy. As silly as that sounds. So in the early years I guess it was probably not great being friends with me cause I was just…
DM: —You pushed people away.
BE: Yeah, I pushed people away, I had no understanding of why I was sad, I thought that the way I grew up was normal. I just didn’t have any way of addressing it because I was so shut down. So through the music I’ve opened up and hopefully become a better person for it. And that started with karaoke.
DM: But you were really a singer. You trained classically. And you were exposed to a lot of different kinds of music growing up?
BE: Yeah. My mom was a music teacher, we listened mostly to Barry Manilow.
DM: That’s funny because in Rock Bottom you mention the musical troika of Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow growing up, or “The Unholy 3” or whatever you called them, which is funny but I suspect you were only half kidding. So what’s your favorite Barbra Streisand album?
BE: You know, in fact my mom will play her a lot and I have a real…I love her for that reason, but for me it was always Barry Manilow.
DM: So let’s talk about Barry.
BE: My mom just liked to listen to “Evergreen,” and my mom would just sit at a table and go “aw” [making a vaguely orgasmic sound]. But when she was really going through it she would listen to Barry Manilow. And Barry Manilow was big in my whole family which is a nice connection.
DM: Was it a car ride kind of thing?
BE: It was car rides, it was albums on holidays, he was the rock star in my house.
DM: Well listen, there are very few things as uplifting as “Daybreak.” Very few things in the whole world ever invented, and I will still put on “Daybreak” if I’m having a hard time; I put it on and something happens and I just start to feel better.
BE: The funny thing was that we covered that once, I think twice we did it. The first time we did it, my guitarist Mike is a huge Barry Manilow fan, but the best part was Adam emailed, cause he has to learn the songs, and Barry Manilow’s kind of hard.
DM: There’s a lot of chords.
BE: There’s a lot of chords. So he emails all of us and says “I’m on the corner of whatever and whatever, standing at what used to be whatever record store, where I used to buy my punk and hardcore music and I’m listening to ‘Daybreak’” and there was something very sweet about knowing that a Beastie Boy is listening to Barry Manilow because I’m making him do it.
DM: So were you an outsider growing up?
BE: The thing is I feel like I was popular growing up, homecoming queen and all that, not that that matters, but I still feel like an outsider in some way. I wasn’t a cheerleader in high school I just happened to have a lot of friends. But I feel like that’s important because I don’t really understand why I don’t belong. I feel like an outsider but I don’t get what the problem is. I know with Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, and there are comics and people who look a certain way, but then I feel like I go out into the audience and people are like “what the fuck is this?” I just feel like I have a set of challenges. I mean I’m a big girl but I’m not obese, I’m not physically unattractive. You either have to be fat and ugly, or you have to be—what’s the word I’m looking for? Not grotesque, in some way, but just so different in a certain kind of way to sort of to be accepted, but if you’re physically, I don’t know, I’m not really making sense right now…
DM: —That’s okay.
BE: What am I trying to say? Well, I definitely know that I’m a big girl, that my body shape isn’t the same way as other people’s, but I also have always never had a problem having friends even though I feel like an outsider, so I don’t understand why it’s so hard to accept different things, like why can’t I be successful? I don’t understand it.
DM: I think these questions are part of why you’re connecting with people. Even though it’s maybe not expressed all the time, I think that there’s a dialogue that’s happening (with your audience) around this kind of stuff and I think that’s part of the heart of it.
BE: I don’t feel like a lovable loser, I feel like maybe that people feel like that way like the outsider on the TV show has to be someone you sort of feel sorry for.
DM: Or has a handicap.
BE: Right. But I don’t feel that way. I feel different but I don’t get what the big deal is. And sometimes before I go onstage—like I’ve toured with Amy Schumer and I know going out there that people aren’t going to know me, I know that they’re going to love it, it’s just showing up and having to work that hard every time gets a little tiring. I did a festival over the weekend and Sarah Silverman was the headliner…this is always the point that’s hard to communicate…
DM: —Well I’m interested so I’ll just sit here until you work it out.
BE: I love that people respond to what I’m doing, the audiences are excited about it, it’s weird for me to qualify it in a way—because it’s not the norm and I don’t understand why it can’t be the norm. Because other people, like, Cole Escola, he played my—
DM: —Oh, the baby. [She is referring to one of the highlights of Rock Bottom—and the only cover song in the show called "Let Me Live." It was written by none other than Pat Boone and is performed as a soaring duet with her unborn child, played by the diminuitive Escola, who waddled out in a diaper, moved through the audience, and finished the song in "mother" Bridget's lap. It was all very wrong, very Bridget Everett, and very funny.]
BE: He’s a little different. Or my friend Erin Markey, he’s really talented. Or even Justin Vivian Bond, all these people that to me are huge stars because they’re so talented. They’re outsiders but they totally belong.
DM: You know, you have something that they don’t have though, which is this big, beautiful voice, a singing voice. I thought of Linda Ronstadt.
BE: She can’t sing anymore. [She is referring to Ronstadt's recent public admission that she has Parkinson's Disease].
DM: Which is so horrible. Especially because she has no money.
BE: She doesn’t?
DM: No—and that’s why she wrote the book. [Her autobiography Simple Dreams came out in September]. She said didn’t want to write a book but she can’t sing, so she can’t perform, so she has no income stream. Although I think she should call Don Henley, her friend, because he is richer than God and could give her some money. I mean even though she sold out arenas and was one of the best selling female artists of the 1970s, how long can that money last? Nobody buys CDs anymore, it doesn’t…
BE: —I read something today that somebody who had a million streams on Spotify got a check for $3,000. $3,000 for a million streams! There’s no way unless you’re doing it live.
DM: Getting back to what we were saying, I feel like you have something that’s a lot more commercial than the other artists you mentioned which is that you have a big, recordable pop voice. It’s versatile, and I think one of the challenges for you is going to be how you use that. Because recording an album is really different. What you do live is kinetic, everyone responds to it. Capturing that in a studio is a whole other thing. That was one of the challenges that Ahmet Ertegun had with Bette Midler at Atlantic, which was how do we capture this lightning in a bottle, which was this thing that she was doing live. So let’s talk about the album. Adam produced it?
BE: Adam and my friend Andre Kelman who works at Oscilloscope and it’s called Pound It.
DM: And it came out a month ago? It’s great. What was it like in the studio for you? Was it your first time in the studio.
BE: Yeah, 100% my first time.
DM: Did you like it? It’s a different experience, there’s no audience.
BE: It is a different experience, but not really, cause I like singing, so it was difficult in some ways because I wasn’t used to the way it sounded and I had to sort of get used to that. But we had an incredible resource at Oscilloscope which is Adam Yauch’s studio but the Beastie Boys use it so we were able to use it and some of the songs are all just one take…
DM: —The vocals one take.
BE: The vocals one take, and on some of the band’s stuff one or two takes. We did everything pretty clean—we were in and out, because I wanted it to have as live a feel as it could. But then again Adam had a lot of stuff going on so he could only be there sometimes so Andre, who is the engineer at the studio, he was super into it, he’s like a straight, young Russian kid, and he was into the songs, and everybody just sort of did it for fun and for free. Because, as you say you, don’t make any money in selling albums. I always wanted to have an album, and it was really great.
DM: Why didn’t you put your face on the album cover? I wanted to see your beautiful face.
BE: Because just time ran out, that’s really why. There were people who were gonna do album art and all just ran away, I love cats, and I thought it would be funny to have a pussycat, so that’s why I put a cat.
DM: Well you talk about pussy a lot. Speaking of pussy, is being nude onstage cathartic?
BE: It must be!
DM: What’s it like?
BE: It’s honestly…I think I used to be more free with it, to me it’s part of the language of what I’m saying. My mom used to walk around the house naked all the time, she would wear just underwear—it always cracked me up. I feel like it’s no big deal. I think the outfits that Larry makes me, the House of Larry, I think they’re hilarious and charming and funny and wonderful, and to me it’s part of the joke. Sometimes, like there was somebody posted a picture of me on Instagram and my tits were totally out and I don’t like that, I don’t like when people put it on the Internet because I feel like it belongs to the people in the room? But that’s just not the way things are anymore. But I never set out to get naked or take anything off, but it feels like a full-body experience for me. So if I’m sucking on someone’s toe or a tit pops out or if I grab their crotch or if they do something to me it just feels like, it just doesn’t feel like any big deal, in the moment. I’m not saying, ‘Oh I’m a big girl. I’m gonna take my shirt off and you’ll see my tits and hey isn’t that great?’ It’s not like that. It’s just part of the conversation, if that makes sense.
“Oh what am I thinking sometimes? It just sort of happened.”
DM: I was thinking about all these things while I was watching you. I was watching the audience responding to you and I was as fascinated by the audience’s reaction to you as I was by anything that you were doing. I really was.
BE: [Laughing] I’m fascinated by it too, honestly. I can’t believe that they still sit there and listen.
DM: I think you’re on to something.
BE: Well maybe…but you know what’s funny is I always thought that my audience would be just gay men. But it’s not and the people that seem most excited and most affected are straight women in their 20s.
BE: Isn’t that funny?
DM: I was going to ask you about that because you obviously have a big gay fan base, or whatever percentage of the people who adore you are gay, yet even though your show is super sexual, afterwards I was thinking about it, I wasn’t sure if you addressed your own sexuality.
BE: [Laughing] I’m straight, but Murray Hill thinks I’m going to be a late in life lesbian like Kelly McGillis. And honestly I hope I am.
DM: So are you happy these days?
BE: Yeah, I am. At this particular moment I’m really tired, it’s been a busy spell, not that it’s bad, but, I put a lot of pressure on myself to keep driving and to keep going. But I do feel happy and I feel proud of what I’m doing.
DM: You should.
BE: It took me awhile to get there. Just because I felt like I had to keep proving myself.
DM: Were you struggling in New York for a long time before this started to happen?
BE: I originally started with Kenny Mellman back around 2004, so it’s been about 10 years.
DM: Was the persona in place at that point, or did it evolve?
BE: It evolved over time and it’s gotten sort of bigger and more fiery. But I do feel happy. My goal was to be singing live as much as I can so I’ve been doing that a lot lately, so of course I’m happy. The one thing that’s sort of a challenge is that I’m perpetually single and I worry that sometimes it’s in the way. Can you imagine if that was your girlfriend onstage putting her pussy in someone’s face?
DM: Listen, you’re gonna have a much bigger problem if you become really famous. It’s hard enough to find a guy who feels secure enough about himself.
BE: Well if the woman’s successful that’s sort of a problem for a lot of men. And if you add into the mix that she’s incredibly aggressive onstage and, I don’t know, I’m not making excuses…
DM: —Your audience is not going to be a complete compensation for emotional intimacy with one other person.
BE: I never even thought that I even wanted any of that until through singing a beautiful show it’s opening up and lightening up and I think maybe I could do that.
DM: That’s interesting; it sounds like something you learned about yourself through the work.
BE: I always thought singing would be enough, if I just had that with my friends that would be enough.
DM: —And a good vibrator.
BE: And a good vibrator! [laughs)] Although I gave my best one to a friend to use, my friend Neil Medlyn was doing a show, this was a while ago, and he wanted to play a guitar with a dildo, and I was like “oh use mine,” and then when I got it back it was all like janky, so, I’ve been using the B team vibrator for too long!
DM: Is fame something that drives you? The idea of being famous?
BE: No. In fact I think there are people I know that I feel are driven by that. I actually would rather not be famous, I’d rather just be able to be performing live, like you can’t work a lot and not be recognized at some point, but no, honestly it really is for me just I love singing so much. And I love performing and I love the connection with the audience. I guess that’s the most connection I get these days. That’s not really true. I just love it so much. But I don’t have any desire to be famous. I’d just like to have a little money in the bank and be able to live comfortably and sing—that’s it.
DM: That’s a really healthy aspiration, because the whole culture seems obsessed with the idea of being famous at this point.
BE: I think it’s gross, honestly. I think seeking out [she punctuates the sentence with a sound of disgust].
DM: Well the notion that doing that is going to in some way fill in the hole.
BE: How’re we doing? We doin’ alright?
“Probably I’m going to get tired of it—honestly. I think you scream you scream you scream because you want to be heard, it’s like a toddler, sort of having a tantrum and I’ve been having a tantrum for the last 10 years.”
DM: We’re doing great. If I said that you could become a lot more visible if you toned it down, what would you say? If you look at the arc of anyone’s career, they were invariably edgier at the beginning, and I feel like your edgiest period is now. At some point you’re going to move past this.
BE: Probably I’m going to get tired of it—honestly. I think you scream you scream you scream because you want to be heard, it’s like a toddler, sort of having a tantrum and I’ve been having a tantrum for the last 10 years, Some of the stuff with Marc and Scott I knew that I wanted to sing in a different place. I don’t want to just go out every night and just fuckin’ motor boat somebody—I love doing that, I think it’s really funny, and I enjoy doing it, but I also want to be able to, if I’m not in the mood for it, I’d like to sing other kinds of songs.
DM: Well that’s what I was going to say to you. I don’t want to sound pedantic. I can’t help looking at you, watching what you’re doing and not think about the long-term aspect of it. And I think that what’s going to be left is the music. And your voice. It’s all going to come down to your voice. I hope you can realize that your voice is enough. Once people fall in love with you, they’ll listen to the sound of your voice and they won’t need to see your breasts. And I’m not being critical, because I like your breasts—I mean as much as I’ve ever liked any breasts, which is not that much. But I feel like what I wanted was even more of your voice.
BE: You know it’s funny, I’m friends with Kathy Najimy. She basically said it would be nice to hear you slow down. And not a lot of people say that to me, and I listen to her.
DM: Well I’m not Kathy Najimy but I kind of just said that to you.
BE: I know.
DM: You’ve gotten people’s attention. Now I feel like I want to hear what your voice can do.
BE: So hopefully…for Rock Bottom, it’s still sort of outrageous with the subject matter, but it’s way less in your face than Tender Moments, so even that was a step, and I want to be able to…you know Bette Midler was really inspiring in the way that she’s gotten to do whatever she wants over the years, but I would like to be able to do music and performance-wise be able to have just a large catalog of different things I can do, and I hope to get to that place over the next couple of years, like do a concert, and if I want to do “Titties” I can, and if I want to sing a pretty song like “I’ll Take You Home” the one we to close the show, I’ll do that. And I feel like I’m on that track.
DM: I do too. Im’ actually fascinated by what you’re doing. I can’t remember someone who’s come along who’s really sort of polarized people as much as you have, and I feel like it’s important to talk about why what you’re doing is making noise. I’m thrilled that you gave me the time to talk to you.
BE: Oh thank you for taking the time. It’s interesting to talk to someone who has a connection to the whole cabaret world and stuff, because whenever anybody asks me, “What do you call yourself?” “A singer” is what I say.
DM: —”Cabaret” is just a room.
BE: I just call myself a singer. But it’s funny because like we were talking about before, it feels like there’s a real divide. What I’m doing is not an attack against the old guard in cabaret, it’s just a different way of interpreting it. I think what’s interesting about cabaret is that you get to tell your story.
Come hear Bridget tell her story: Bridget Everett and the Tender Moments will be performing at Joe’s Pub on December 11th and 12th.
For more Bridget Everett, follow her on twitter.
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