After decades of waiting tables and paying her dues, the actress and cabaret singer is ready to shine. "If I had this opportunity when I was in my 20s, I wouldn't have known what to do with it," she says.
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Bridget Everett
Credit: Mark Lim

Years ago I was at a friend's apartment having some cocktails, and he turned on Oprah's Master Class. It was the episode with LL Cool J, and Oprah was asking him how he does it all — music, TV, cologne — reinventing himself over and over. He said, "Well, Oprah, DDHD: Dreams don't have deadlines."

At first I laughed. Then I stopped. Because even though I've never met LL, somehow he knew exactly what I needed to hear that day. I'd been waiting tables for about 25 years, all while singing and hustling for every opportunity that came my way. Things weren't quite working out, but it was showbiz; you get knocked down sometimes. And something about that mantra really stuck with me.

The next day, I channeled LL. I thought, OK, DDHD. I will sell a bunch of dinner specials at work, and then tonight, I'm going to have a glass of chardonnay, put on sparkles, and sing my heart out at a club. No matter what, I'll just keep going.

Bridget Everett
Credit: Mark Lim

How could I not? My whole life I'd always felt happiest when I was singing. My mom was a music teacher, so growing up in Kansas, there was always singing and drinking around a piano. I'm the youngest of six, so sometimes they'd even slip me a nip. [laughs] I knew from a young age I wanted to perform, but I also knew there weren't a lot of women that looked like me with a foul mouth who had a successful music career.

So I got involved in musicals. I'd never get the lead, but being further down the call sheet just motivated me to keep on cracking. I studied opera at Arizona State University. I sang the national anthem at baseball games. I moved to New York, where I sang in children's theater groups and karaoke bars. Eventually I headed to the downtown clubs, where I watched Murray Hill and some drag queens perform. Finally, I was like, OK, this is what I want to be when I grow up—wild and singing in the bathhouses like Bette Midler and Barry Manilow. Doing my cabaret show at Joe's Pub was as close as I could get to that.

In 2013 I was cast on Inside Amy Schumer, where I did a sketch and sang a song to close the first season. All of a sudden I started to feel people noticing me, and not just because I was a hurricane blowing through a club. I was slowly getting comedy festival gigs and a few bit parts in movies and TV. So I told the manager at my restaurant that things were picking up. They said, "Do you even want to come in at all?" And I was like, "You know what? I don't." [laughs] That night I finally quit my waitressing job, and when I told the crowd I was performing for, they gave me a seven-minute standing ovation.

Bridget Everett
Credit: Mark Lim

Now, amazingly, I'm number one on the call sheet for my very own HBO show. At first I couldn't picture what a comedy starring me would look like, since my live shows are so wild. But when I was pitched the concept of Somebody Somewhere, my heart was in my throat by the time they finished. The idea is, what if somebody like me who loves singing didn't move to New York and find cabaret? How could she make it work in small-town Kansas, especially if she's in her 40s and starting to sag a little bit? My character, Sam, flip-flops around while trying to make her dreams happen. But she doesn't give up on herself. And neither did I.

For me, finding success later in life has been richer, sweeter, more satisfying. If I had this opportunity when I was in my 20s, I wouldn't have known what to do with it. But having my dreams happen now, right before I turn 50? It fits like a glove. And who knows what will happen next. Maybe LL Cool J will give me a call and we can do a buddy flick together.

Everett is the star and executive producer of Somebody Somewhere on HBO.

For more stories like this, pick up the March 2022 issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Feb. 11.