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By Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious

“They’re just tits!” Bridget Everett exclaims, letting loose the slightly melodic laughter of an opera singer. “I hate it when people are so locked up and freaked out about their bodies.”

The cabaret singer – who, in her words, “just happens to be funny” – is not one to bury her physical endowments under excess fabric. As the New York Times recently put it,”Her curves are part of an arsenal of eye-catching props.” But this openness is about more than easy laughs: “I share a bit of my body, and I hope it’s an inspiration for people to feel a little bit better and a little bit looser.”

Everett is a sharer in all facets of expression. The New York City transplant has developed a cult following in her adoptive hometown’s LGBTQ scene and well beyond thanks to her raucous performances. Backed by her band, the Tender Moments, she marries the musical chops of a formally trained vocalist with the oversized stage persona of history’s great, glamorous rockers: Freddie Mercury, Bryan Ferry, David Bowie-as-Ziggy-Stardust – all, of course, with a strong dose of sexual liberation, female empowerment, compassion, and plenty of white wine.

I spoke to Everett on a rainy evening in early June, prior to her performance at this Thursday’s “The Uncivil Union: Comedy For Equality”, a benefit in support of marriage equality and DC’s LGBTQ youth. The event also features W. Kamau Bell, Chelsea Shorte, and Rachel Dratch, of whom Everett is particularly fond. “I love Rachel Dratch,” she shares. “I think she’s so funny. I’m looking forward to doing something with her.”

Bridget Everett performs at Howard Theatre’s The Uncivil Union: Comedy for Equality on Thursday. Her record, Pound It, is out now on Beavertails Music. 

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First things first: Let’s talk about your love of karaoke. I know you’re a trained singer, but I read that karaoke is what got you into performing cabaret. What are your three go-to songs?

I’ll start with the three go-to songs. [Laughs] They are “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette, “Piece of my Heart” by Janis Joplin, and “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers. Those are my three favorites.

Basically, when I was living in Arizona for a long time – I went to school there – the only singing I ever got to do was the National Anthem at spring training games or karaoke. I would go to these bars and go apeshit. People loved it! Some people there think karaoke bars are the end of the earth, and maybe they are, and that’s probably where I belonged. It was a perfect match for me, and it’s really where I got my footing in being an all-in singing maniac.

Where you doing it as part of a karaoke league? Did they have those in Arizona back then?

If there’s a karaoke league and I don’t know about it, then I’m upset. [Laughs]

When I was Arizona, I was doing karaoke wherever I could find it. It wasn’t as obsessive as it is in DC or New York. And I was going to these equity open calls and trying to get jobs. I’m not really a chorus girl, and I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing, but I would go to this karaoke bar right around the corner from my house every Sunday night for, like, seven years.

There was this really fun bartender, and they would light sambuca on fire for us. I’d crawl on top of the bar and rip people’s shirts off. It’s basically what I do now, except without the paycheck. [Laughs] So, really I guess it was a precursor to how I make my living now – I just didn’t know at the time.

As a party trick back in college, I used take a swig of sambuca and light it on fire while it was in my mouth. Always weirds people out.

It’s pretty amazing, but it’s one of the nastiest hangovers you can have, I’m pretty sure. [Laughs]

 

You’re a self-described “social recluse” backstage at comedy festivals, which is a stark contrast from your delightfully open and big on-stage persona. At what moment does the switch happen for you? 

It’s when I’m walking onto the stage, and usually even then, I’m still a little terrified. I have this joke with the guys in my band that every single time I’m asking, “Why do I do this to myself? Why do I do this to myself?” [Laughs]

Even after all this time of performing and stuff, I still feel that way. I get really, really nervous, and making small-talk with strangers is completely terrifying and draining for me. But as soon as I grab hold of the mic, then the beast is unleashed and I feel at home. That’s when I go for it.

Have you always gotten a thrill from performing? When did you discover that you really felt at home?

I went to school for vocal performance, so I always had the intention of being a singer, but when you say “vocal performance,” that’s basically opera singing. I love doing musicals and stuff, but it never felt one hundred percent like the perfect thing for me. I just knew I wanted to be a singer. It took a long time, and a lot of years, and coming to New York and stumbling upon all the crazy downtown performance artists here – drag queens and the wild nightlife – inspired me. This is my home, and thank God I ended up here, because I finally found what I wanted to be. It was a happy accident.

I always wanted to be a singer. My mom was a music teacher. I’m the youngest of six kids, and everyone was really funny. We’d gather around the piano, get hammered, and sing Manilow songs. It was a lot of fun. [Laughs]

Let’s talk about finding your place in New York City. I know you have partnerships with Murray Hill and Herb [of Kiki and Herb]. What your entry into that world like? How do you go from spectator to participant?

It’s so funny, I used to go out with this guy and I called him “Can of Corn” – in relation to the size of his penis. [Laughs] So, I came to New York, and a friend of mine and I went looking for him at this party, and he wasn’t there. But that’s where I met my longtime best friend from New York, Zach. Zach and I just hit it off right away, and I moved in, like, the next day; it was so New York.

Zach and I used to go to a karaoke bar, and he suggested we go see Kiki and Herb’s show, saying it would change my life. And it totally did! We went to see Kiki and Herb, and Murray Hill, and Sweetie, who is my all time favorite drag queen. He just introduced me to this whole other world that I didn’t know existed, and it felt like I found my lost brothers and sisters.

Murray is one of my best friends now, and we talk showbiz all the time, and he’s a great ally and a really good confidant. He’s so funny and unique, and I love him. I’m really fortunate to have found him.

You know, I grew up in a really small town in Kansas, so there wasn’t any of that shit happening there. [Laughs]

You’re from Manhattan, Kansas and ended up in Manhattan, New York.

That’s right – from the Little Apple to the Big Apple.

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Barry Manilow is one of your all time heroes. Who are your other major influences? 

Definitely Freddie Mercury. I love Freddie Mercury. I love Debbie Harry and John Belushi and Richard Pryor. And Janis Joplin. Mostly, I love people who are unhinged and unpredictable.

I used to sneak into my brother’s room to listen to his Queen albums, and he’d get so pissed. But I love Freddie Mercury so much! [Laughs] It was a rock and roll album, but he had this really operatic range, and it was so cool. When I was growing up, if you wanted to be a singer you could either be on Broadway or you could be a rock star. But he gave me a glimpse that there was more, you know? Even though he was a rock star, he was kind of a performance artist in a way. He was bigger than life, and that really grabbed me as a kid.

How did you and Ad-Rock link up? How did The Tender Moments come together as a band?

I’d heard that Adam [Horovitz] and his wife Kathleen [Hanna] were showing up at some shows that I was doing. I wasn’t not a Beastie Boys fan, but I wasn’t a Beastie Boys fan, if you know what I mean? [Laughs] I saw them perform once at a festival at Giants Stadium, but I was really there to see Radiohead. I saw them live and was like “OK, I get it. They put on a fucking great show.”

I was going through this depression at the time, because I’d had a show that didn’t go as far as I hoped it would go, and my dad and my sister had both died. I was talking to Murray Hill on the phone, and he was trying to get me to get outside or take some vitamin D or do something other than drinking. He wanted to get me out of the house. So, Murray took me to a softball game, and it turned out Adam’s team was playing. Adam and Kathleen were so nice and came right up to me. They were really welcoming. They’re fans of the Murray Hill scene, and what I was doing, and what my friends were doing.

At one point, I told Adam I was getting ready to start my own band and try something new, and he was like “Well, you know, I’m a professional musician.” I guess he was saying he wanted to be in my band, so here we are. [Laughs] He was the first person to join my band, and he’s a great friend, and so smart. He really encourages to follow my instincts. He’s just like, “Yeah! Just do it.”

My friend Carmine [Covelli], who is also on the softball team, plays drums for the band as well. My friend Mike [Jackson, guitar] has been playing with me for years, and he joined. And Matt Ray was keys and percussion for Mike, and that’s how we formed the band. It’s been really great. Changed my life.

 

How do you prepare – mentally and musically – for transitioning from an intimate setting like Joe’s Pub to broader audiences who might not be as familiar with your work?

It’s interesting. This weekend I was in Seattle at The Comedy Club doing five shows without a band, just using tracks. And there were some people who are fans and know my work, and others who are just folks who go to a comedy show on a Saturday night. They’re like, “What the fuck is happening?” [Laughs]

I feel like most people feel that way during the first three minutes of my show. My job is to engage them quickly. It usually works out.

Sometimes, it’s weird at festivals, because people are there to see whatever headliner is playing. They’re walking in and seeing other shit, and what I do is certainly not for everybody. But I think people are a lot more open than I expected they would be, so I’ve been having great luck wherever I go.

I don’t know if I’ve ever performed in DC. I think I might have opened for Amy Schumer there, but I can’t remember.

I’m certain you get asked this all the time, but it must be kind of weird to be part of that rocket ship that is Amy Schumer’s show. You’ve performed on it twice already.

Yeah, and I’ll be performing on the show again this season, doing another bit. It’s interesting, she sort of helped me get out of that social anxiety at festivals. She was the first one to get me out of my shell, inviting me to parties and to hang out. That’s her element, so we had fun and got some wine.

We hit it off. She’s a person of her word: She asked me to hang out in the city, and she actually followed through. We went on the road together. She asked me on her show. She’s a good friend, and is incredibly supportive of all her other friends. It’s been interesting over the last few years, and especially this year – she is just blowing up everywhere.

It’s her birthday today, and we had breakfast this morning. She just won a Peabody Award last night, and also a Critics’ Choice Award. She filmed an HBO special at the Apollo last week. She’s killing it. She’s got a movie with Judd Apatow coming out, and she makes sure to really keep an eye out for her friends, and give them parts and opportunities in a way I’ve never really seen anyone else do before. She’s smart – she wants to have funny people around her, and I can’t say enough good things about her.

Now that you and Amy are comedians of renown and fancy New Yorkers, what kind of wine do you request on your rider? 

Oh we both like Rombauer. [Laughs] And it’s not cheap – it’s like forty dollars a bottle. But it’s what I like to drink on stage, and it’s what Amy likes to drink on stage. I don’t think Rombauer wants to be associated with either one of us. [Laughs] Which I think is foolish because, you know, free advertisement. But they want the labels covered up. They just want khaki pants and crisp white shirts drinking their wine, but I don’t care. I’m gonna drink it anyway. I love them, even if they don’t love me.

 

How do you see yourself in terms of what you do?

I consider myself a singer. I guess the best way – and I used to be embarrassed to say it – is that I am a cabaret singer. I just do it differently than some other people do it. I’m a singer, who happens to be funny, and I like to show my boobs. [Laughs]

I know you were in the market for a pet. What did you end up getting? Who rescued whom?

That’s a really good question. [Laughs] I got a Pomeranian; I always wanted a Persian cat or a Pekinese dog, and I’d go on Petfinder every night, usually after a couple of drinks. But this one time, I was actually sober! [Laughs] I saw this cute little Pomeranian who just had the sweetest face, and I finally filled out an application; I also applied for a special needs elderly Shih-tzu, who I did not get.

But I got Poppy, and she’s a puppy mill survivor, and she is really so angelic and sweet. It doesn’t hurt that she’s a little supermodel – she’s very beautiful, and soft and fluffy, and people always ask me if she’s a cat. So, it’s almost like I got a cat and a dog.

I would definitely say that she saved me. It’s nice to go to bed and have something nice to touch. Even though right now she has diarrhea, and I can’t figure out what’s going on. [Laughs]

That’s rough. Nobody likes the shits. 

“Nobody Likes the Shits.” I might have to use that for one of my new song titles.

uncivil-union-logo-new-652x367Additional contributions by Philip Runco

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