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Interview: Alt-cabaret Star Bridget Everett Teases Her Soho Theatre Show

Bridget Everett is an unusual proposition even in New York's alt-cabaret scene, combining classically trained singing with eye-wateringly raunchy comedy - song lyrics include "What I gotta do to get that dick in my mouth?". She eschews wearing a bra, preferring to let her breasts join the act, swigs Chardonnay, and frequently sits on the faces of audience members. That might not seem like a path to mainstream success, but she's duetted with Patti LuPone, appeared on Inside Amy Schumer and had her own Comedy Central special, alongside performing regularly with her band The Tender Moments, whose members include the Beastie Boys's Ad-Rock Horovitz. This week, she makes her UK debut at London's Soho Theatre.

Who was your idol growing up?

I wanted to be like Debbie Harry in Blondie. I thought she was just the coolest and so beautiful. I was growing up in a small town in Kansas, so it was a far cry from where I was. But I always want to be a singer - I love it so much. When I was little, my favourite memory was my family singing round the piano.

How did you get into cabaret?

I'm a 6ft-tall woman with an athletic build, so when I came to New York, I realised I was never going to be on Broadway or be a showgirl. I kept singing in karaoke bars, just wondering what would become of me. Then I saw these great drag artists like Kiki and Herb, Murray Hill and Sweetie, and I suddenly realised a whole other way of doing things I didn't know existed. Really, I developed my style of performing out of necessity. I went a little more punk rock and found out what worked for me - stories and cabaret and comedy, with a lot of full body contact.

Is your onstage persona an exaggeration of you?

Yes, I was always wild - doing karaoke I'd be ripping off my shirt and doing shots on top of the bar. As my stage persona has grown wilder and raunchier, now I'm more like the person hiding in the corner. I get all of that out on stage.

How did you get your break?

My friend Jason Eagan saw me singing in the karaoke bar, and he said "I knew you sang, but I had no idea you did all that!" I started performing in his theatre Ars Nova, Off Broadway, telling stories as well as singing songs, and there's been a slow evolution to where I am now. I do a lot of comedy, but I'd say I'm a singer first - I really identify as a singer.

You've worked with some amazing people - Amy Schumer, Patti LuPone...

Amy I met at the Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal in 2010 and we hit it off right away - we've got a similar sense of humour, we both love Chardonnay. This was back before she took over the world. We still work together whenever we can, because we love each other and we want to spend time together.

Patti came to see a show I was doing, and I said we should do a duet one day, as a joke! When she asked me to sing with her at Carnegie Hall I just about shit my pants. But I'm not an aggressor - I don't chase people down. As things come along, I keep riding the wave. What's cool is that I've got to work with so many different kinds of people - from Broadway, comedy, rock. Each person is thrilling for me.

Is the act drawn from your own experiences?

It's largely true. The best story I can tell is my own.

Is there anything you wouldn't share?

Anything goes - there's no reason to be ashamed of your life experiences. There are things I haven't found a way to talk about yet - I don't like to say something directly, I find a way of dancing around it. I'm actually quite an honest, sensitive performer, but it's also a constant struggle to think of a new way to say something. People who come at things from a new angle, those are my favourite people, whether they're musicians, comics, playwrights. Right now, over in Britain, what can you do? You go to comedians for levity, for a new take on things, and to make you feel better.

Your audience participation is pretty full-on. How do you choose people?

You don't want the person who's all "Pick me! Pick me!", or the one with colour draining from their face. It's an instinct, and it doesn't always go perfectly - I've had walkouts. But the idea of the show is to get people to come out of their shell and really live in the moment, and that happens nightly. I love having that kind of impact.

Do you want to make any big points with your act, whether it's celebrating female sexuality or body image, or is it more about self-expression?

I'm certainly a feminist to the core, but any feminist agenda is more of a happy accident. My feeling is that this is my body, it's no big deal, and I think of myself as a woman comfortable in my skin, but I don't come at things with a mission. I'm just Bridget, larger than life, and I want people to walk out of the theatre like they were at a really great party and met someone fun at last call. As far as sex goes, I've always had kind of a dirty mouth, but really sex to me is just kind of funny sometimes.

How would you describe your Soho show?

Stories, songs, low-cut dresses, boobs, hugs, tenderness and joy.

How do you think British audiences will react? Are we more prudish?

No, I don't think so. I've had a lot of friends who've performed at Soho and they say audiences are fantastic. I really wanted to perform in London and I guess I've willed it to happen. I came once before to see a Scissor Sisters concert, and I'd love to get it know it better, so that's part of the trip. I'm very fortunate to have a job where I get to travel and see the world - I've just been to Australia, I tour the States a lot. There are so many great shows and things to see.

Which other artists inspire you?

I love Dina Martina, Murray Hill, Kiki and Herb, Taylor Mac, Joey Arias.

Is it easier to be a crossover cabaret artist now?

The world of cabaret is interesting. You've got the old guard, who've been around for a while and have a real traditional style, and this whole alt-cabaret universe which is exploding. It's exciting. I probably do more comedy clubs than other cabaret performers, and people are always like "What's happening?" at first, but then they hop on board. Entertainment's entertainment.

We've got Meow Meow playing Titania at the Globe right now

That's so cool. I love her. Meow Meow's wholly herself, funny, warm, fresh - all the things you want to see on a stage.

What's on your wish list for the future?

I'm filming a movie right now. I love all different kinds of performance - if you're a show kid at heart, you'll go wherever they put you. I grew up on musicals, so if the right thing comes along, I'd love to do that, but the schedule's gruelling - eight shows a week. My big thing is working with my mentor on writing a TV show - that's a dream come true. It's got music and comedy, and any time you add a musical element to something, you're doing all right. I won't say too much about that at the moment, but I really hope it goes.

Finally, what would you like to say to people coming to your Soho show?

Come with an open mind, ready to have a good time and make new friends. And you're in safe hands - I'll look after you.

Bridget Everett is at Soho Theatre 16-30 July. Box office: 020 7478 0100,

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From This Author - Marianka Swain