For Kansas-born and NYC-found comedian and cabaret singer Bridget Everett, it all starts with karaoke. “I was living in New York and I was in my 30s and my friends and I used to go to this bar (The Parlour, on the Upper West Side) every Sunday night, and do karaoke,” she told us ahead of the premiere of her new semi-autobiographical HBO series Somebody Somehwere (HBO, Sunday at 10:30PM). “I was going so wild because I was just desperate to feel alive. I was desperate to feel… seen. And so it just got bigger and louder and wilder.”
While Everett is known for her bawdy stage show and for appearances beside Amy Schumer (you also might remember her from Patti Cake$), she makes clear that there’s a softer side. “A lot of people know me from being on the road with Amy Schumer, where I do like 20 or 30 minutes. And that’s just all the wild shit. But if you see the whole hour show, I call it slam, slam, slam, tender. It’s like, banger, banger, banger, ballad, banger, banger, banger, ballad. You have to have some balance. The quieter moments and the tender moments are to show the conflict and the things that I’ve been through that have somehow led to this wild unleashed stage persona.”
In Somebody Somewhere, which is layered, heartful, and joyously inspirational, we’re shown a lot of those quieter moments and the re-construction of someone broken down by life — something sparked by the discovery of her people and her voice. It’s something that stands as the perfect vehicle for its star and something that makes her feel safe and able to be vulnerable and explore her past, an alternate universe where she never found herself in New York, and a character who is on her own journey. We spoke with Everett about all of that, working first and foremost for an audience of one, and what it was like to be in the middle of the Bobcat/Seinfeld kerfuffle.
Who are you making this show for?
I like that answer.
I mean, that’s how I’ve operated with anything that I’m a part of. I try to make it be something that resonates with me and then I hope that other people will hop on board.
That’s all you can really do. I’ve read that this is sort of inspired by your life. Can you take me through what is directly inspired and what is more creative license?
Our showrunners pitched the idea of the world and after they did that, I had a super emotional reaction to it. I think the idea of doing something based in Kansas, where I’m from, was something that is probably glaringly obvious, but [it was] something I never thought of doing. And the idea of going home and…basically, the idea was if somebody like Bridget Everett never moved to New York, right? If I was in Kansas, what would my life could look like? So we kind of took that approach. But there are similar themes to my actual life, for instance, I have a sister who’s passed away. So the grief part of Sam is something I can certainly relate to. And then also sort of sleepwalking through life and being rudderless and not emotionally engaged. I can relate to that. I waited tables into my forties and didn’t really start to have some success until I was in my forties. And so I think that the things that Bridget and Sam share are a desire and desperation to want to be with people, but a fear of it. And the way that Sam can connect with people is the same way Bridget can. And that’s through singing. Clearly, I’m not eloquent as a person, but when I sing, I feel like I can clearly communicate how I feel. And I know that that’s how Sam feels too. So we have that in common.
In terms of touching on certain things that might be emotional third rails for you, like loss and grief, do you have to talk yourself into it?
I like it because I think in my real life, I haven’t dealt with my grief very well. Like for instance, with my sister. And it’s the same thing when I do my live shows, I process my pain and my joy through music and through art. And so doing this show has been obviously an incredible experience because I’m going to be on HBO, there’s all of that. But it’s also been healing and cathartic for me in many ways. It’s given me a belief in myself. It’s given me the ability to stretch and to take chances, which is something I don’t typically like to do. And it’s given me a chance to say goodbye to my sister.
At the end of this, does this character wind up right here where you are right now on a stage in New York, big lights? Or is there going to be a different path for this character?
I think a different path. I think there’ve been a thousand shows about “small-town girl moves to the big city,” and the next thing you know, she’s Susan Boyle. That’s not this story. I think it’s more interesting to us to see how you navigate through life. If you have a talent that maybe doesn’t have a typical box to put it in, I think it’s going to be a challenge for us if we get a season two, or moving forward, to how to navigate that. But just as interesting to us is like, what’s Sam going to do with her voice? Because when I go home to Kansas, I have people that I love there and whatever, but I don’t always feel like I totally fit in. So I think she has to find her place and she has to find her voice. And who knows what that’s going to look like? I guess in season seven we’ll know. [Laughs]
Sam is finding a clique and her people, can you talk about the importance of that and how it’s going to unfold throughout this first season?
I think if you look at her, she has a fraught relationship with her sister, Trisha, that’s still alive. They’re very different people. Sam feels like a failure when she’s around her sister because her sister is married, got her shit together, has a store, has a business, has a life. And Sam has just been bartending and just gliding and through it all. But most importantly, she’s listened to that. She’s listened to the “if you don’t have a family, if you don’t have this…” then you’re not worth the same as others might be. So I think her finding her people, and her community, and Joel and Fred, and these people that look at her like she’s special… She just needs somebody to remind her of what’s inside, you know?
And that is such a simple thing, but in my life, I had a parallel experience. I came to New York. I started meeting… I met Murray Hill and all these people that loved the wild side of me, things that I used to get in trouble for when I was a kid. My foul mouth and my blue humor and all those things, and just being too much. And all of a sudden I was barely enough because my friends were so wild and big, and I just think it’s everything. Everybody wants to feel like they have a home and a safe place. And I think that’s what her new community of friends, as she will progressively learn, is what it’s all about.
The whole thing with Seinfeld and Bobcat. What’s it like to be listening to that conversation? Because to me, I’m watching that and I’m thinking like when I was a kid and a friend would get in trouble and I’d be there and you want to just like slide away while they have their, whatever that is. I just kept thinking “poor Bridget Everett!” What was that like?
Like the kid that just wanted to slide under my chair and hide under the table… [Laughs] These are two people that I really like and have a great deal of respect for. Look, I’m a Kansas person, I want everybody to get along, that’ll never change. I hate conflict. I just want everybody to like each other. [Laughs]
‘Somebody Somewhere’ premieres Sunday at 10:30PM ET on HBO