The last time Bridget Everett was in town, she closed a late Saturday show at the Berklee Performance Center. Part of the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival, the lineup that night featured “Daily Show” regulars Wyatt Cenac, Kristen Schaal, and John Hodgman, as well as Mirman himself. The audience could have been forgiven for wondering why Everett was the one closing the show instead of the bigger-name talent. But from the moment the singer/comedian hit the stage with her rock ’n’ roll cabaret act, it was obvious no one could follow her.
Strutting onto the stage in a dress that barely covered her large frame, a bottle in a brown bag hanging from one hand, Everett tore into a profane song — let’s call it “Mess Things Up” for the sake of this family-friendly story — to a hard-rocking backing track. She sang songs about sex and partying with heavy metal confidence and a clear, operatic voice. Everett stalked the audience, sometimes putting her breasts in someone’s face or popping a leg up on an armrest. She got some in the audience to sing words they would never say in public normally, occasionally flashed them, and coaxed a volunteer to lie onstage, where she briefly sat on his face.
“I recognize that it’s more aggressive than most things,” she says by phone, three months after that performance. “And I like it that way.”
The audacity of her stage persona doesn’t quite jibe with the relaxed, friendly voice on the phone from New York. Everett politely explains that her cellphone doesn’t work in her apartment, so she has found a favorite stoop on the sidewalk for the interview. She’d had two callbacks that day — one for a TV pilot and one for a small role in the Netflix hit series “Orange Is the New Black” — and is optimistic about her chances. “I normally hate those things, but I don’t know,” she says. “I guess I was just in a good mood today. So we’ll see.”
Auditions terrify Everett. But even backstage before a show like the one at Berklee, Everett is nervous. “Afterward, I feel great. But before, I’m like, ‘Why do I do this? Why do I do this to myself?’ ”
Everett throws herself into every show, she says, physically and emotionally, and it leaves her spent afterward. While she’s usually looking for laughs, she’s capable of writing touching, gentle songs like “Endless Road” and “Stay With Me” from last year’s CD, “Pound It!”
The result is a show that’s as mesmerizing as it is bawdy, musically tight as it is comically loose, intense and unique. And it has won her a growing fanship, including fellow comedians and musicians. She has appeared on “Inside Amy Schumer” — she and Schumer recently vacationed together — and Adam Horovitz (a.k.a. Ad-Rock) of the Beastie Boys is a softball buddy.
“Bridget makes me laugh ’til I can’t breathe,” says Mirman in an e-mail. “[She’s] the rare type of performer that blends several genres seamlessly and can genuinely surprise you. She is truly fantastic.”
Everett performs regularly in New York, and sees a lot of familiar faces in her crowds, repeat customers drawn to the spontaneity of her act. “Usually people see it once and then they come back. It’s just a matter of getting them to see it for the first time,” she says.
Since she was a child growing up in Kansas, Everett wanted to sing professionally. She wasn’t sure exactly what kind of singer she would be, even when she was studying voice at Arizona State University. For a while, her only outlet was karaoke nights at pubs and taverns, where she might dance on the bar and rip off someone’s shirt. It wasn’t until she moved to New York and saw eccentric cabaret acts like Kiki & Herb and Murray Hill that she found her calling.
“I didn’t even know that that style of performance existed,” she says. “So I slowly slid into the world of downtown New York performance. The more opportunities I got, the further I went. And that’s still kind of the case.”
The act got a little wilder one night at the Ars Nova when Everett was singing a song called “Can Hole.” She let her pants down a bit to moon the audience. When they fell down all the way, she did the rest of the show in her thong. She will sometimes flash the audience, on purpose or accidentally when a particularly loose dress falls open, but she isn’t mindful of it. What’s important, she says, is that audience members leave feeling they’ve just been to a twisted, wonderful party. “I’d rather be something that somebody’s never seen and a couple of people leave than, ‘Oh, wasn’t that a pleasant evening,’ ” she says.
There haven’t been too many walkouts so far, Everett says. “Usually people come up to me afterward that maybe have a look of bewilderment on their face and they’ll want to hug me and take a picture,” she says. That’s the payoff for all the pre-show jitters and awkwardness. “I’m constantly surprised by people. It really fills me with so much joy, I can’t tell ya.”Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.