An interview with Bridget Everett
A fixture on the alt-cabaret circuit for years, Bridget Everett is the definition of a force to be reckoned with. Possessing a voice that rattles walls and windows, Everett is a dynamic singer, where she’s performing solo or with her band, Tender Moments. Currently Everett can be seen giving an outstanding dramatic performance as Barb, mother to the titular Patti in the movie Patti Cake$ (Fox Searchlight), written and directed by Geremy Jasper. I spoke with Bridget in August 2017, shortly before the film opened in theaters.
Gregg Shapiro: Bridget, if you don’t mind, I’d like to begin by talking about your August 2017 appearance on the “Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon – which went viral. Can you please say something about the experience?
Bridget Everett: It was my first time doing a network, late-night talk show, so I was kind of just like wacked out the entire time I was on there. I was so nervous. I’ve met Questlove (of “The Roots”) previously and my friend Seth is a warm-up guy (for the studio audience). My friend Nadia was there and she knew Jimmy, so it felt like not a big deal, even though I knew it was a big deal. They asked me if I would sing. Since I knew that was coming, that allowed me to not be so nervous.
Your performance as Barb in Patti Cake$ is unforgettable. Was getting to sing in the movie one of the appealing aspects of playing that character?
Yes. I think also it made it appealing to them to cast me. They wanted somebody who could sing and sing that style. It’s certainly a calming thing for me. I know I’m a good singer. That’s my asset. I was doing a dramatic role, which I’d never done before. I was like, worse comes to worst, they could just use the parts where I sing [laughs] and hopefully that’ll be good. Geremy is such a wonderful director and he did such a great job of making us feel comfortable that even though it was something completely foreign to me I felt capable that I could do it.
Barb is the kind of mother who would want people to think that she and her daughter Patti are sisters. How do you feel about mothers like that?
I think it’s weird [laughs]. My mother was 38 when she had me, so there was no sisterhood thing. I certainly see people who do it and it works for them. But for me and my family and my mom, there was a clear distinction between mother and daughter. I always think, “You’re the mother. There has to be some boundaries and [laughs] rules.”
Barb has a vomiting scene in the movie. As acting challenges go, how would you rate that?
It wasn’t fun, I’ll tell you that. I’ve thrown up so few times in my life that it’s always like you’re losing control. For some reason, it’s very emotional for me to throw up. Sitting over a toilet like that, I’ve been there, and there’s something that’s the-end-of-the-earth about it and I don’t like it.
Would you agree that “blood is thicker than Jager” as Barb says to Patti?
No [laughs]. I love my family. They’re cool. But I definitely have a chosen family in New York that’s just as important to me.
Patti has this supportive best friend Jheri aka Hareesh. Do you have a best friend like that?
I do! I have a lot of people like that. But (my friend drag king and comedian) Murray Hill reminds me so much of him (Jheri); a positive force in my life. Murray is literally my high command. He’s always texting me words of encouragement, “This is the day! You’ve got this! You live for this!” We do that for each other. I treasure my relationship with Murray.
The vintage Cadillac that Patti drives has the vanity plate PATTIWGN. If you had a vanity plate, what would it read?
The movie comments on the things people do to support their art on the way to being famous, including taking cater-waitering jobs and playing live gigs in gentlemen’s club. In what ways have you had to pay your dues?
I waited tables for 25 years. I also sang in a gentlemen’s club. Paper routes, all kinds of shit. Anything that would keep me going.
Cultural appropriation is big buzz phrase these days and in the movie Patti is accused of that by a famous rapper. Do you have any thoughts on that?
It’s interesting, I think, with this movie in particular. Patti loves hip-hop and rap music. It’s something that many people love. I love hip-hop music, too. I think it dominates the culture and people want to be a part of things they see and adore.
Your performance in Patti Cake$ is generating Oscar buzz.
[Laughs] maybe from you and my mom, but that’s probably it.
What would it mean to you to be nominated for an Academy Award?
That would be a dream on a dream on a dream. I just do things because I love doing them. I’m just lucky to cash a check that comes from doing something I love.
You’ve made your name performing on the New York cabaret circuit, which has also earned you a considerable following in the LGBTQ community. What does it mean to you to have been so warmly embraced by that community?
It means everything to me. My friends have always largely been gay, queer, or trans. That’s who showed up at my shows early on. Those are the people who have supported me and lifted me up and challenged me to be better. I feel honored that that audience has accepted me.
Gregg Shapiro is the author of Fifty Degrees (Seven Kitchens, 2016), selected by Ching-In Chen as co-winner of the Robin Becker Chapbook Prize. Other books by Shapiro include the short story collections How to Whistle (Lethe Press, 2016) and Lincoln Avenue (Squares and Rebels Press, 2014), the chapbook GREGG SHAPIRO: 77 (Souvenir Spoon Press, 2012), and the poetry collection Protection (Gival Press, 2008).
He has work forthcoming in the anthology Reading Queer: Poetry in a Time of Chaos (Anhinga Press, 2018). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBT and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.
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