Bridget Everett on finding herself in "Somebody Somewhere": "This experience is changing my life"

On "Salon Talks," the performer discusses her HBO show, the magic of small towns & figuring things out in your 40s

By Melanie McFarland

TV Critic

Published February 20, 2022 11:00AM (EST)

Bridget Everett  in "Somebody Somewhere" (Photograph by Elizabeth Sisson/HBO)
Bridget Everett in "Somebody Somewhere" (Photograph by Elizabeth Sisson/HBO)

Like most people who are familiar with Bridget Everett, my introduction came by way of her musical numbers of Comedy Central's "Inside Amy Schumer." In those clips this force of curves and bawdy confidence regaled her audience with a few of her cabaret show's top bangers, including "What I Gotta Do" and "Eat It, Eat It."

That second one doesn't refer to the veal special, as this lyric sample tells you. "Here's the combination to my lovely lady locker/ She'll pop in your mouth like Orville Redenbacher!" Everett growls, before inviting a bit of TV-14 audience participation involving whipped cream and her thigh.

That Bridget Everett is nothing like the version we meet in her outstanding HBO comedy "Somebody Somewhere," although it's plain that her meek 40-something Midwesterner Sam comes from a real place.

RELATED: Echoes of that "Ted Lasso" Midwest niceness in "Somebody Somewhere"

Everett's live performances at Joe's Pub at The Public Theater have made her a New York City comedy legend. But Sam can't bring herself to leave her Kansas hometown after her sister's death. Much like the hulking, abandoned mall in the center of town, Sam has a lot potential but little tangible progress to show for it.

But something shifts when her high school friend Joel (Jeff Hiller), who works with her at a spiritless educational testing center, introduces her to a hidden treasure within that mall: a euphoric, welcoming gathering place inside a small Presbyterian church. It's called Choir Practice, but it's actually a queer-friendly underground performance space where folks gather to drink, sing and relax together in community.

Choir Practice helps Sam finds her voice, and her people, in a place that has otherwise fooled her into thinking life's chances have passed her by. She needs it, and its regulars frequently let her know how much they need her.

This is only one part of what makes "Somebody Somewhere" such a feel-good treat. Sam's Manhattan, Kansas, is a place where everyone has space to become the best versions of themselves – or in the case of the fantastic Choir Practice emcee Fred Rococo (Everett's longtime friend and fellow performer Murray Hill) continue to be terrific.

But it's also where Sam finds the fortitude to stand up to her other sister, who belittles her, and help her father confront the truth about her mother's health struggles. Through Sam, Everett and her series co-creators Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen have created a story about finding what you need anywhere that you're rooted, including – and especially – in a Midwestern farming town like Manhattan.

"Somebody Somewhere" was recently picked up for a second season on HBO, but Everett and I chatted before that good news broke about the difference between her stage persona and the one she's crafted for her show, as well as the affirming significance of playing a 40-something woman who doesn't have her life figured out yet.

Watch our "Salon Talks" episode here or read a transcript of the interview below.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

This is such a touching show, but I wanted to back up a little bit, because when I was preparing for this interview, I of course looked at your official site. And one of the things that I saw that I just wanted to quote back to you was the Flavor Wire quote of, "There's probably no performer as exciting or frankly terrifying as Bridget Everett."  This is not the Bridget Everett we meet and spend time with in "Somebody Somewhere," and yet this character feels so close to your heart.

Yeah. Sam is definitely not like my stage persona. Which as you said, it's a little exciting and a little dangerous. But Sam is more like the real Bridget. I spent a lot of time in my 20s, 30s and early 40s just drifting through life, and not being able to find my people and find my voice. That's what Sam is going through. She's grieving the loss of her sister. She's just trying to plant her feet somewhere and feel at home, but she's also kind of . . . comfortable, drifting through life alone.

It presents this small town in Kansas we see is economically struggling. . . . There's the mall, which is this great meeting place, but at the same time it's very empty. And yet here's this little pocket of magic inside the church, inside the mall. Let's talk a little bit about that.

Yeah. That's such a great way of putting it. You know, Paul and Hannah have like an obsession with dying malls. It's true because when I was in high school, when I lived there, that's where the prom was or that's, like, where we went, when it was like so thrilling to get a mall. And now a lot of malls . . . even where we were shooting in Illinois, like the mall that was shot in, a lot of stores were closed and it felt like kind of like ominous in a way? But I love the idea of the Choir Practice because it's, maybe this doesn't exist in my actual hometown, something like that. But people finding a place to have their sanctuary, especially the sort of doing it in a mall, I thought was a fantastic idea. So I was all on board with that.

One of the things that I hope people are connecting with, certainly I have been connecting with, is the whole idea of connection and community and how that's so important to find. I think in any time that idea would resonate. But I think [it does] especially now, as people are really thinking about having to be separate, a lot of people are still quarantining and a lot of public spaces are either limited or still closed.

. . . I do feel like we got kind of lucky with the moment that I feel like the message of the show kind of meets a moment, in a way, that you're describing – with needing to connect to people. I was sort of worried we were telling this small story. It's not, like, a cool show. It's not flashy. It's kind of a quiet ride and maybe more meditative than like, "Bump, set, spike jokes, jokes, jokes!"

But we just wanted to do this sort of slice of life kind of thing. . . . It used to be if you wanted to find your people and you're kind of like a show person or whatever, you had to move to New York or LA or some city or whatever. But, I don't think that's necessarily the case anymore. And I don't know, just, for so many years, I can relate to Sam so much, just not really knowing where you fit. As you're saying, it's something that we're all kind of working through right now. Or I am anyway.

No, I think we all are. That's actually the next part that I wanted to talk to you about. There are two things. One is that this version of a Midwestern town I haven't seen on television really explored. By that I mean, a farming based Midwestern town. A lot of times when we see shows where it's about a family, they're in the suburbs. They're kind of adjacent to farm country, but it's not on a farm unless you're talking about "Superman and Lois."

Yeah, exactly.

. . . Bringing that aspect of life onto your show, how did that affect the tone of it? And was that something that you intentionally wanted to bring to the audience when you were first putting it together?

We wanted to . . . first of all, Paul who is one of the writers, his dad is a farmer. So that was part of his heart that was in the show as far as like the family and stuff goes. I think that we all wanted to show the Midwest in a way that we felt like we hadn't seen it. Just kind of slice a life, the different aspects of living in Manhattan, where I'm from in Kansas . . . Just to feel the world, like we wanted to feel it and less, like, hit it over the head.

. .  . I never wanted to look down on the Midwest or anything because we're all we're from there. There are reasons I left Kansas, but there are things that I love about it. And the family element is something that like HBO kept coming back to, they wanted to know more about the family and so we kept digging into that. Coincidentally, as we were filming, or as we were in the writer's room, my own family had started a Zoom, a family Zoom. My brother and my mom both live in my hometown, and so it was kind of like rediscovering family, again. Both in doing the scripts, but also in my personal life. And just knowing, finding the things that I loved about it, and also the things that annoy me about it, putting those in the show.

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The music in the show is so important in that it expresses these inner lives. Specifically, Sam's inner life.

The music was obviously super important to me, because that's my love language. I hate to say that love language word, but music is my heart. It's my first love, and I wanted it to . . . we all did. We wanted it to be a reflection of how music lives in her life. It could be the emotional outlet of singing in front of people, which is very vulnerable and scary and thrilling. But it's also just like the sitting in a car with your friend and singing them a little thing off the top of your head or knowing that the greatest gift that you can give somebody is to sing them a song, a very personal thing, but it also makes you laugh.

I don't know for me, music has all different purposes in my life. Like in my [stage] show, I sing songs about body parts and all sorts of ridiculous things. But it's also the way that I can tell somebody I love them. We wanted not to just be like, "Stop, here comes a musical number!" and show choir hands. But just how it might live in her life and how it lives in their lives. So, that was what we tried to do.

I wanted to go back to something that you were saying, just in terms of being in one's 40s and kind of still figuring things out, floating. There are a lot of stories right now on TV, about women in their 40s. In fact, on HBO [Max], there's this very big show about women in their 50s kind of finding their way, but they have glamorous careers, they have lots of money, and they live in Manhattan.

Sam is, I wouldn't necessarily say struggling, but she's figuring things out . . . Which is something we see a lot of with men on TV and in movies. But we don't see that a lot with women. What made you want to put Sam at this stage in her life and have her be the way she is, just kind of figuring out where she fits?

Well, because I can relate to it and it's not something that I feel like I've seen a bunch of on television. Like we've all seen the "Oh, I'm sort of struggling. I'm chasing my dreams. I'm going to move to New York. I'm going to move to LA. I'm going to figure it out. And I'm going to go on 'America's Got Talent' and be a superstar!" or whatever. It's not really about that. I think [Sam's] given up on herself and just figured that this is it. This is how life is going to be, and meeting somebody like Joel – played by Jeff Hiller, who's just so incredible – he has such a disarming, easy charm about him that is undeniable to her. So she kind of has no choice but to snap back into life because he makes it feel safe for her.

And I can just really relate to that feeling of giving up. . . . When Paul and Hannah picked the song, "Don't Give Up," I remember listening to it and crying. And I think it's something a lot of people struggle with and I haven't seen a lot of Midwestern women not knowing what to do next.

Was it difficult to get the rights for that? Or do you know?

Oh I know. They always tell us, "Well that one's going to run about so, and that's our whole budget plus." And I'm like, "Well, it's the right song." It's like same thing with "Piece of My Heart." It had to be that song. It had to be something explosive, it had to be. And then other places we might have made compromises where we use a different song or something. Luckily a lot of the stuff that comes later is like original stuff. So they could get that for a bargain because I wanted it to be on there.

I'm wondering if the experience of "Somebody Somewhere" is going to impact your stage presence or the [live] show at all?

I don't know. I was thinking about that because I was like, there's going to be people that show up that have only seen the television show that don't know the live experience. And I'm like, well, here it comes because I've got to be me. This experience is changing my life and my focus and so I'm sure some of that will bleed out into the live show.

New episodes of "Somebody Somewhere"  air at 10:30 p.m. Sundays on HBO, with previously-debuted episodes available to stream on HBO Max.

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By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's TV critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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