FourTwoNine, Apr. 2014

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BridgetEverett-429


American Idol, The Voice, and The X Factor send a message that the only stardom that matters anymore happens overnight, with no dues paid. And while Woody Allen, Barbra Streisand, and countless other legends sprang out of the cabaret world, Simon Cowell’s familiar sneer—“It’s too cabaret!”—has branded the genre as a dead-end road of amateur kitsch.
 
A different kind of success story is happening at Joe’s Pub, the downtown Manhattan cabaret. In her monthly sold-out shows, Bridget Everett, 41, a Zaftig, white-trash blonde with rock-star chops and presence, gets naked in more ways than one. Clutching a Chardonnay bottle, she leads audiences hilariously and obscenely through the emotional wreckage of her life—a road littered with rejections, humiliations, sluttiness to rival anyone on Grindr, a “slave job” (waitressing), and achingly low self-esteem. “Some people might think it’s sad being the drunk girl on top of the karaoke bar with her titties hanging out,” she once declared. “But I think it’s special!”
 
Sexual aggression is the theme of her catchy original songs, like “Fuck Some Shit Up” and “Pussy Power.” Throughout the show she stalks the room, climbs on ledges, enjoins the audience to sing along on “What I Gotta Do (to Get That Dick in My Mouth),” then pulls the shirt off of some cute man, carries him piggyback to the stage, and sits on his face while singing her doo-wop hymn to one perfect night, “Stay with Me.”
    
The vulgarity can’t disguise a sweet, lovable girl, starved for sex but even hungrier for love. She speaks to the lost soul in many—and the cheering chorus has included stars
(Ben Stiller, Gloria Steinem, Julianna Margulies; Beastie Boy Adam (Ad-Rock) Horovitz , a member of her band, the Tender Moments; and Broadway’s Patti LuPone, who yelled from her seat, “There is nobody like you!”
 
Everett is today’s answer to Bette Midler at the Continental Baths. But while Midler had scored both a record deal and repeated spots on the
Tonight show by 27, such breaks are now hard to come by. And unlike Midler, Everett hasn’t cleaned up her act for mass consumption. Parental Advisory songs fill Pound It, her indie debut CD. And her 2013 Joe’s Pub show Rock Bottom (co-written by Midler pals Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman of Hairspray fame) was among her bluest.
    
The real-life Everett is a lot calmer than the onstage one, but that character isn’t fiction. Born in the Bible Belt town of Manhattan, Kansas, Everett was her parents’ last-ditch attempt to save their marriage. “They probably should have never had me,” she says with an uncomfortable laugh. As the youngest of six kids, she was “always trying to get people’s attention,” she says. “I had a foul mouth and tried to make people laugh, and did outrageous shit.” She went to Arizona State University on a choral scholarship, but karaoke and self-indulgence became her true majors. “I was slowly spinning out of
control,” she says. “I thought, I gotta fucking leave here.”    
    
In 1997 she hit New York like a loose cannon. Everett waited tables, haunted karaoke bars, and became a groupie of Kiki & Herb, the cabaret alter egos of Justin Vivian Bond and Kenny Mellman, who took alcoholic rage and disillusionment to comic heights. Pianist Mellman gave Everett her first major push. A decade after she’d arrived in town, her onstage persona was born at Ars Nova, the experimental theater space, with the outrageously filthy
At Least It’s Pink, written by Everett and Mellman and directed by Sex and the City’s Michael Patrick King. It included her defining song, “I Like You,” a high-school girl’s funny-sad valentine to the cool boy who treats her like dirt: “I like you/Even though you call me stupid/I like you, even though you never take me to a public place …”
 
Thus began a painfully slow climb. Joe’s Pub adopted her and stayed loyal to her even when audiences
were small. But encouraging breaks kept coming, from a cameo in Sex and the City 2 to an appearance on Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer, hosted by another Everett cheerleader. In 2013, Patti LuPone invited her to share a duet at Carnegie Hall, and sang with Everett—into a dildo, no less—during a Joe’s Pub set.
 
People are predicting big things for Everett. But she hears the ticking clock, and she’s dreaming cautiously. “I’ve met with all kinds of fancy people, and they’re like, ‘We love you, we just don’t know what to do with you.’” A quaver sounds in her voice. “I think that eventually somebody’s gonna figure out the right formula, but in the meantime all I can do is keep singing. I’m not young. But I think there’s still time to hit it out of the park.”
 
(Author’s note: Soon after this piece was published, the success of Rock Bottom helped Everett score a Comedy Central special, taped in December 2014. In 2015, Everett appeared on The Late Late Show; the dreamed-of national club dates are fast materializing.)