Bridget Everett Takes on Small-Town Queer Family
The alt-cabaret performer’s queer-aligned life becomes an HBO series about the power of chosen family
Bridget Everett is surrounded by queer people in her everyday life. She’s got queer friends, queer family, queer fans –– the latter of which she courted while performing her alt-cabaret (alt as in she’s been known to sing about buttholes to a ukulele-accompanied tune) at New York City gay bars.
Everett, who Amy Schumer featured in her sketch show “Inside Amy Schumer,” is straight but, at this point, you’d have a strong case for making her an honorary member of the LGBTQ+ community. And now, with her new HBO series “Somebody Somewhere,” in which she acts and produces, her queer-filled real life extends to the heart of this moving, semi-autobiographical show. That’s because a major part of the show is about chosen family, and in the case of Sam (Everett), who doesn’t fit her small-town Kansas mold, it’s the town’s queers who make her feel at, well, home. Among them are Joel (openly gay actor Jeff Hiller) and Fred Rococo (Murray Hill, comedian and NYC drag king performer).
In a recent Zoom interview with Everett, the actress talked about how the queerness of “Somebody Somewhere” mirrors her own life in some ways, her longtime relationship with Murray, and why she feels queer people “rescued” her.
I thought I knew you, until I started writing all these questions last night as if you were queer. Am I the first one to assume you’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community?
I think that, you know, the people I run around with [are], and people make some assumptions. But you know, we’re all doing the best we can. [Laughs.]
It must have something to do with your immersion in queer culture. Is the show a reflection of your real-world queer chosen family?
Oh yeah, most definitely. Murray Hill is one of my closest friends, and we’ve known each other for, like, 20 years. He was the first person to give me a job, to give me stage time, and was so supportive. And I started meeting people like Murray in New York, and I suddenly felt seen and encouraged to be more of myself. So I feel saved and rescued by the queer community [laughs]. So, I definitely wanted to be a part of this show because that’s who I think I would be looking for, you know?
How did your queer chosen family translate into “Somebody Somewhere”?
Paul [Thureen] and Hannah [Boss], the showrunners, pitched this world and the idea and had the character of Joel and the character Fred Rococo. They know that I’m friends with Murray. So that was nice. That also helped solve the concept for me. I was like, “Oh, well my buddy can be in this show. This is it [laughs].”
But I think that’s the thing: When you live in a small town, and you don’t feel like you fit in, you have to find your chosen family anywhere. We all look for our chosen family, right? But for me, thinking about what that might look like in Kansas was really interesting. I just know that if I still lived in Kansas, I would’ve found people like Murray.
What was it like for you growing up in Maine?
I spent summers in Maine at this “Dirty Dancing” kind of resort, and I would sing at night and wait tables during the day. And I went to school in Arizona, so I’d be there during the year. And then I finally moved to New York and left both of those behind. But in high school and growing up, I had a lot of friends. But I didn’t always feel seen by anybody. I had a foul mouth, I was dirty, I always got in trouble with my teachers for saying raunchy shit. I mean, even from the time I was a little kid. I was just always like that and always getting reprimanded for it. But also it made my friends laugh, you know?
When I got to New York, I remember doing this show with Murray, and we had this song called “Can Hole,” which is about butt sex, and I sang that. The response that we got, I was like, “Oh my god, people think this stupid shit is funny. These are my people.”
You got your start in gay bars, right?
I was doing a lot of Murray’s shows [at] gay bars. It feels like queer culture is always on the cutting edge; queer culture usually identifies what’s next and what’s new, and encourages you to be yourself. And the only way you’re ever going to succeed and have an original voice is if you’re holding true to yourself. That’s what I felt like I was getting.
As you were building a career, it must have felt like a real esteem booster for you to have your LGBTQ+ audience believe in you and your work.
Yeah, because I struggled with self-worth and all those things growing up, and low self-esteem. And even though I had a lot of friends, I just didn’t feel special. And I felt special when I got to the gay bars and the gay clubs, and also, encouraged to push it even further. [Laughs.] The reason I am the way I am is because of those days.
You get to sing in this show, you get to act, there’s a bunch of queers, you get to do Zumba. This feels like what you were born to do, am I right?
I mean, I hope so. I feel like I wouldn’t have been able to do it until this exact point in my life. I would’ve been too nervous or not comfortable in my skin. But because I got to be such a part of the whole process, I felt really at home in it and I didn’t let myself get in my own way, and I felt not just a part of it, but I felt celebrated, you know? I felt like we tried to make everybody feel like that on set. But we felt like we were doing something a little bit different, and let’s just be ourselves, and cut loose and see what happens.
You’ve come a long way since “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
Fully. Believe me, I remember… oh my god, that’s so funny. We did [that] in Maine at that resort, Quisisana, where I worked for many summers. I was singing “Those Canaan Days.” I felt like such a star. I didn’t know that I could go further. I didn’t know that life would get better from there, but it did. [Laughs.]
Going back to Kansas, where you were born, what was your introduction to the queer community?
Two of my favorite cousins were both gay. And my oldest sister, Brinton, who has since passed away, I remember her and my cousin Bruce, we would be at a big family event, and they would sort of take me under their wing.
And I still love my cousin Bruce. He’s great. Every Friday night, he goes and plays a piano at a nursing home. Super sweet, and he’s fabulous and works for Ralph Lauren. But I didn’t have a lot of queer friends in high school. College, yes. I mean, there were some. But now, I have found the queer people in my hometown, so when I go home, I see them. When I moved to New York, that’s when I found all my people, and my friends. All my queer friends. It was just the community I was looking for and waiting for. And I know that there were friends of mine that have since come out of the closet. But in Kansas, in the ’80s, it just, sadly, wasn’t as easy as it is now. And maybe it’s not easy now. You know, I don’t know. I don’t know the right answer. Please just edit some of this out because I sound like a real ding-dong. [Laughs.] But my heart’s in the right place.
How close is the series to your actual family dynamic?
We tried to make the character of my mom like my mom, who you can’t even believe she’s real because she’s so larger than life. I don’t even know how to describe her. We tried to make the character work, and it was just like, “No.” Every time, it just seemed like a clown. I’m like, we can’t do this. And then the dad, I didn’t have a close relationship with my dad at all, and I have a close relationship with my dad in the show.
But the dead sister was something that was really great for me, because like many Midwesterners, and many people from Kansas, I dealt with my grief in a very solitary, sort of bottled up way. And this show has been a nice way for me to grieve her and honor her.
I wish you could’ve seen me here while I binged it. I mean, I was watching this alone the other night eating a turkey sandwich and just, like, blubbering into the turkey sandwich.
Oh, Chris. [Laughs.]
It’s very, very moving, Bridget.
Thank you, thank you.
And this also feels like a big moment for you, career-wise. Do you feel like Hollywood has had a hard time figuring out what to do with you?
Yeah, most definitely. And, you know, it’s not their job. [Laughs.] I’m lucky to be in this position. I’m lucky that HBO wanted to take a chance on me. And HBO’s been super supportive and patient and helpful. But it’s hard for me to not get emotional. Even when we’re just watching edits and the HBO logo comes on and the sound — I grew up, like, thinking HBO was the shit. And now I’m on HBO. And not just on HBO, but I’m in my own show. And I can’t really stop and think about it that way, because it’s too much, and I’ll be the one crying into my turkey sandwich. [Laughs.]
Chris Azzopardi is the Editorial Director of Pride Source Media Group and Q Syndicate, the national LGBTQ+ wire service. He has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Cher, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, GQ and Billboard. Reach him via Twitter @chrisazzopardi.
Photo by HBO