New York theatergoers know Bridget Everett as a cabaret singer with a powerhouse belt and a penchant for motorboating audience members. Comedy fans know her as the closing act of each season of “Inside Amy Schumer,” singing songs with names like “Titties.” Instagram followers know her as Poppy’s mother, whom she calls “Pomeranian top model.”
Soon, everyone will know her as Barb, the sharp-tongued lush and embittered mother in ‘Patti Cake$,’ Geremy Jasper’s Sundance crowdpleaser that sold to Fox Searchlight for a whopping $10.5 million, the second biggest deal of the 2017 festival. She’s also a lead in the Julie Rudd and Alethea Jones comedy “Fun Mom Dinner,” opposite Toni Colette.
In a recent interview with IndieWire before leaving New York for Park City, Everett was excited but a little nervous. “I have this joke about the Hamptons: I used to hate the Hamptons, but that was before I was invited. Now I love it. It’s kinda the same with Sundance.”
She wire a gold ring emblazoned with the word “Titties.” Punk feminist icon Peaches introduced her to Snash Jewelry, the cheeky company that also sent her “Cunt,” “Showbiz,” and “Side Boob.” As flamboyant and crass as she is onstage, Everett is endearingly grateful in person. “The phone didn’t ring for many years,” she said. “It’s easy to stay humble if you’ve had the door kicked in your face enough times.”
Especially if you were waiting tables just three years ago. “Anytime I get to go to Sundance, or anytime I get to do a show at Town Hall, or anytime I’m not waiting tables I’m so fuckin’ grateful. ‘Cause I’m 40 fuckin’ four years old, you know what I’m saying?”
“Patti Cake$” is Everett’s first leading role in a film, and as Barb, a waitress whose music dreams never got off the ground, she didn’t have to reach too far back for inspiration. “The feeling of being trapped in a karaoke bar is very real to me,” she said. “All you’re doing is going to the same place every night, drinking every night, sleeping with the wrong person. I know what that feels like, and how lonely that can be. And it’s not that distant a memory.”
Right around the time she finally quit her “slave job” in 2014, “Patti Cake$” director Geremy Jasper asked Everett to attend the Sundance Directors Lab and workshop the role of Barb. As a film newcomer, she was amazed by the labs’ supportive environment. “Feeling taken care of is the most important thing, because the anxiety just slips away and you feel like they’re on your side,” she said. “They’re not gonna push you out the door if you don’t get it the first two or three times … You don’t feel like commerce, you don’t feel like a product. You feel like a part of something that’s growing, and it feels vital and important.”
Despite the warm welcome, she didn’t get too comfortable. “I kept being like, ‘You guys are gonna replace me with Kathy Bates, right?’ I think I even had a nightmare about it.” Jasper had no such plans. The director first saw Everett on the season finale of “Inside Amy Schumer,” and he was floored. “The split second I saw her face I knew she was Barb,” he said. “She’s a brilliant comedic performer, but also has such a deep reservoir of emotion.”
Despite such raves, Everett was nervous before filming. “It’s not that I don’t think I can act, but I get nervous that those muscles aren’t always strong and agile and ready to go.” Jasper’s openness on set gave her the confidence she needed. “He’s a nurturer and a warm person … He really allowed appropriate time to film the scenes that needed to have emotional impact. So I never felt rushed, I just felt really safe.”
One of her main concerns was how to adjust her theatrical presence for the camera. “My stage thing is big, so it’s been a real challenge for me to calibrate down, and not to go too far down so I’m just flat,” she said. “I’m still learning how to do it. [Jasper] was so patient in helping me navigate that.”
Everett has no plans to leave cabaret behind. The week before heading to Sundance, she did two shows at Joe’s Pub in New York, her beloved downtown venue. “I definitely feel like I’m on a solitary path,” she said, unsure of what the future will bring. “If every experience could be like ‘Patti Cake$’ I’d wanna do movies all the time. But I’m sure it’s not like that.”
Last year, Everett estimates she spent half her time on film and television projects (“Which I can’t believe is true”), and the other half touring with Schumer, her good friend. The two met at Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival, when Schumer’s star was still on the rise. As she does for “Inside Amy Schumer,” Everett performs after Schumer, like an encore or dessert wine. “I can’t follow Bridget,” said Schumer by email. “Even when I’m the headliner she closes the show. I don’t think there is anyone who can follow her. She is so funny and sings like a dream and people are crying with laughter. I can’t follow people having a life changing experience.”
Everett calls Schumer “incredibly generous,” and admits she didn’t know if she could do the same. “She’s changed my life,” she said. “She closed her season with me singing a song every year. I don’t know if I would do that — be like, ‘Hey, I’ve done this show and you know how I’m gonna end my season? I’m gonna show you my friend.'”
Though the comedy world has raised her profile, cabaret will always be her first love. (“It’s my favorite art form.”) She’s also grateful for New York theaters, including Joe’s Pub (“I could have been sued for some of the shit I’ve done at that place”) and Ars Nova, the Off-Broadway venue where Everett, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Billy Eichner got their starts. “Those were three unique voices that needed a place to grow and they gave us an opportunity,” she said.
As for the future, Everett is working on a musical pilot called “Love You More” with a bona fide television dream team: Michael Patrick King, Bobcat Goldthwait, and “Game of Thrones” producer Carolyn Strauss. Beyond that, she’s just enjoying her much-deserved success. “Am I gonna be 60 years old and swingin’ my beaver tails in people’s faces?” Here’s hoping.
“Patti Cake$” premiered in the Premieres section of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Fox Searchlight will release the film later this year.