“I’d probably live in Kansas City, or Lawrence,” she said. “I would probably work in a restaurant and have two D.U.I.s and sit on the couch a lot in my underwear.”
This was on a Monday afternoon in mid-December at John Brown BBQ, a purveyor of Kansas City-style barbecue in Queens, which is to say the closest that a person can get to Kansas within the New York City limits. (Not very close, as it turns out, though Everett said that the sides were delicious.) She was joined by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, the creators of “Somebody Somewhere,” a wistful Kansas-set half-hour comedy that arrives Sunday on HBO.
Everett, 49, stars as Sam, a woman whose biography parallels her own, to a point. After years of bartending in a big city, Sam has returned to her hometown. She has a soul-eating job at an educational testing center and various family obligations — a father (Mike Hagerty) with a struggling farm, a mother (Jane Brody) with addiction issues, and a sister (Mary Catherine Garrison) with a wobbly marriage and an Instagrammable approach to evangelical Christianity. Sam sits on the couch a lot in her underwear.
Then she meets Joel (Jeff Hiller), another testing center employee, who remembers her from her high school-choir glory days. He introduces her to a band of outsiders and misfits who meet weekly for what they call “choir practice,” a louche and joyful open mic night in an abandoned mall. And slowly, like some late-season wildflower who rips open her T-shirt after an impassioned version of “Piece of My Heart,” Sam begins to bloom.
For those who have experienced Everett onstage — in plunging, nipple-freeing dresses and with an approach to crowd work that violates most decency clauses — her presence as Sam will come as a surprise. She sings in only some of the episodes. Her wardrobe leans toward flannel. She sits on no one’s face.
“If you’re used to seeing the wildebeest onstage, you’re going to be like, ‘Where is she?’” Everett said of her work on the show. “But I hope that people can settle into the sort of softer side of Bridget.”
“I also think they’re going to be shocked to see me in a bra,” she added. “That’s really going to rattle some people.”
Unhurried in its pacing, gentle in its tone and generally sympathetic to the vagaries of human behavior, “Somebody Somewhere” is not necessarily the show you might expect from pairing Everett with Bos and Thureen, founders of the avant-garde theater collective the Debate Society.
But each has strong roots in the Midwest — Everett in Manhattan, Kan., where the show is set; Bos in Evanston, Ill.; Thureen in East Grand Forks, Minn. Which may explain why the producer Carolyn Strauss, who had first worked with Everett on “Love You More,” a pilot for Amazon, connected them.
“That’s how she found us,” Thureen joked. “She was like, ‘Oh, they’re Midwestern.’”
Strauss, a former top executive at HBO, had helped to arrange Everett’s deal with the network. She wanted a project that traded on more than Everett’s outrageousness, that also acknowledged the shyer, more guarded woman that she is in her offstage life.
“There’s many different sides to her,” said Strauss, an executive producer on the series. “There’s just something about Bridget that really connects to all the parts of people — the good parts, the bad parts, the wounded parts, the healed-over parts.”
With this prompt, Bos and Thureen, writing partners who have worked on “High Maintenance” and “Mozart in the Jungle,” pitched a show that drew on Everett’s real life — Kansas upbringing, unholy pipes, a mother who drinks, a sister who died young — and then imagined how this woman might express herself in a place that didn’t seem to welcome her heart or her gifts.
“They threw in the dead sister, and I was sold,” Everett said.
There are plenty of stories about small-town kids who come to the city with a dollar and a dream, and make good. There are plenty more about big-city transplants finding happiness only when they return home. That first story is more or less Everett’s, though it took decades of restaurant work and a lot of sozzled karaoke nights before she had anything that could be called a career. The second one is arguably Sam’s, though its comedy of chosen family is tinged with heartbreak. The show’s bittersweet message is that it’s never too late to find yourself, whenever and wherever you are.
“We didn’t want to do a snarky show,” Everett said. “We wanted to do a nice show. Like a hug, you know?”
HBO approved a pilot late in 2018. Everett and Jay Duplass, a director and executive producer on the show, took a research trip to Manhattan, Kan., so Duplass could meet her family, walk its not-so-mean streets and soak up what Everett suggested were its passive-aggressive vibes. Bos and Thureen wrote the script, interpolating some of Everett’s real experiences and a few verbatim quotes.
Duplass — a creator of HBO’s “Togetherness” and a star of Amazon’s “Transparent” — shot the pilot in October 2019, mostly in Lockport, Ill., a city just southwest of Chicago. He aimed for a kind of documentary realism, he said. “How we could have done this wrong,” he said, “was to make everybody just jack up their quirkiness and undermine the underlying tragedy that’s also going on with each of these people.”
But isn’t the show supposed to be a comedy? “In our mind, we are making a drama that happens to be funny,” he said.
A seven-episode series was greenlit early in 2020, then paused when the pandemic began. Plans were made to resume shooting in September, but as case numbers rose, the producers pushed production again. The cast and crew arrived in Lockport this spring and shot as quickly as they could, sometimes locking down a scene in only two or three takes.
Most of the cast, Everett included, had never played roles this substantial. Hagerty, who recurred on “Friends,” has perhaps the most credits, but no one is what you would call famous. So the shoot was late-bloomer central. “That made the set really fun,” Bos said. “It was a set for people who really wanted to be there.”
In the past, film and TV shoots had unnerved Everett, often to the point of intestinal discomfort. But here she finally felt at ease. “It’s because I lived with the project for so long,” she said. “And we built it together — I knew I couldn’t get fired. That’s the main thing: Like, what were they going to do? Replace me with Kathy Bates?”
Other actors felt this comfort, too. Hiller has often played small roles on TV, mostly waiters and, as he put it, “mean gay customer service representatives.” No show had ever wanted so much of him.
“It is a show that I hadn’t ever seen before,” he said, speaking by telephone. “You don’t have to be gorgeous and perfect; you can be imperfect and queer and weird and too large. It’s nice.”
During the shoot, he lived with Everett and the cabaret legend Murray Hill in a rented house that Hill, who plays a soil scientist named Fred Rococo, described as “this ridiculous, Russian supper club, drug den of a mansion.” Hiller would sometimes count the number of pride flags in town: one.
“There were times when we would be in the grocery store and get some looks,” Hiller said. “There’s a certain muting one has to do when one goes into slightly less benevolent spaces for the cabaret queers of the world.”
But that was OK, because the cabaret queers had each other. Speaking by telephone, Hill, a drag king superstar, recalled growing up within a conservative New England community and feeling a sense of belonging only once he moved to New York and discovered cabaret. “Chosen family,” he said. “That’s how I’ve survived. That’s how Bridget’s survived. So a lot of those themes are in the show.”
For Everett, success has always felt like an accident, albeit an accident resulting from years of survival jobs, very late nights and hard work. “Somebody Somewhere” suggests that even if this accident hadn’t happened, even if she had never made it in New York, she would have made a life for herself anyway. Which is a kind of consolation. Starring in an HBO show at 49? That’s consolation, too. And she is glad, she said, that it didn’t happen earlier.
“If I had been successful in my 20s, I’d be in prison,” she said. “There’s no question. For some people, it takes a little longer to step into your stride. I feel like it makes it sweeter, in a way. And if it doesn’t work out, then I know I’m going to be OK.”
On ‘S.N.L.,’ Biden Urges Covid-Weary Nation to Stop Seeing ‘Spider-Man’
Spider-Man just finished saving the very fabric of reality, but to hear President Biden tell it — at least on “Saturday Night Live” — the wall-crawler is the one to blame for the continuing pandemic.
To kick off the first new “S.N.L.” of 2022, James Austin Johnson returned in his recurring role as Biden for a news conference in which he told the nation that “there’s one simple thing you can do to make this whole virus go away: Stop seeing ‘Spider-Man.’”
Addressing the White House press corps in the show’s opening sketch, Johnson said: “This virus has disrupted our lives. It’s canceled holidays, weddings, quinceañeras, gender-reveal parties, wildfires that started as gender-reveal parties.”
He went on to say: “Now, think about it. When did ‘Spider-Man’ come out? Dec. 17. When did every single person get Omicron? The week after Dec. 17.”
The last time “S.N.L.” attempted a live episode, on Dec. 18, it was significantly disrupted by the pandemic. Hours before airtime, NBC announced that because of Covid concerns, the show would not use a live audience; the broadcast was missing most of the cast members, had no musical guest and consisted mostly of pretaped segments and sketches from past episodes.
“S.N.L.” was not spared the intrusion of the coronavirus this week. On Wednesday, the rapper Roddy Ricch, who was originally announced as the musical guest, said on his Instagram account that he would be unable to perform because of “recent COVID exposure on my team and to keep everyone safe.” Instead, the pop band Bleachers took his place.
In the Biden sketch, Johnson explained that he was not asking people to avoid the movies altogether. “I said, stop seeing ‘Spider-Man,’” he declared in reference to “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which has shattered Covid-era box-office records.
“See anything else,” he continued. “I saw the first half-hour of ‘House of Gucci.’ That’s more than enough movie for anyone.”
Questioned about the lack of available Covid testing, Johnson’s Biden answered, “You want to know if you have Covid? Look at your hand. Is it holding a ticket that says you recently went to see ‘Spider-Man’? If so, you have Covid.”
As Johnson started to expound on the existence of the multiverse, he was visited by a shirtless, white-haired Pete Davidson, who explained that he was Joe Biden “from the real universe,” and that this incarnation of reality had been created “as a joke, starting in 2016 when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.”
When Johnson asked him if he was the president in this real world, Davidson answered: “Of course not. Did you really think you would lose four times and then finally win when you were 78?”
Musical tribute to musicals of the week
When you’ve got an “S.N.L.” episode hosted by Ariana DeBose, a star of Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake and a newly-minted Golden Globe winner, you know you’re going to have a couple of sketches that pay affectionate tribute to musical theater.
The first of the night was DeBose’s opening monologue, during which she was joined by Kate McKinnon, who professed that “West Side Story” was her favorite musical.
“Did you like the movie?” DeBose asked her. “I didn’t see it,” McKinnon replied. “I don’t leave the house because of Covid and also because I don’t leave the house.” They gamely sang a medley of several “West Side Story” numbers together, including “Tonight” and “I Feel Pretty,” though McKinnon sat out the mambo dance break: “They know I dance,” she said.
Later in the night, the two re-teamed for a “Sound of Music” parody in which McKinnon delivered a deft Julie Andrews impression. DeBose played another wayward woman from Maria’s convent who tries to teach a group of children to sing, with an updated version of “Do-Re-Mi” that’s unexpectedly heavy on references to Queen Latifah. Eat your heart out, Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Biting the hand that feeds you of the week
Earlier this week, when NBC’s Peacock streaming service dropped the trailer for “Bel-Air,” a gritty, dramatic retelling of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” some viewers wondered if it was an “S.N.L.” sketch.
It wasn’t, but that didn’t stop “S.N.L.” from going forward with this satirical preview for an unnecessarily harsh reboot of another 90s-era sitcom, “Family Matters.” In this incarnation, Carl Winslow (Kenan Thompson) is a sadistic Chicago cop and the lovably nerdy Steve Urkel (Chris Redd) now has an abusive, drunken mom and a violent temper. You’ll never hear the catchphrase “Did I do that?” in quite the same way again.
Weekend Update jokes of the week
Over at the Weekend Update desk, the anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che continued to riff on President Biden’s stalled agenda.
Just like everybody else, President Biden’s New Year’s resolutions fell apart in the third week of January. The Supreme Court struck down his vaccine mandate. The voting rights bill got blocked. And his approval rating is so low, it’s gone into power-save mode. But I will point out, there was another president who had a disastrous start to his first term, yet he became an inspiration to generations of Republicans, even to this day. [The screen shows a picture of Ronald Reagan.] I’m talking of course about Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy. [The picture changes to one of Davis.]
“And there are still statues of him in 10 different states,” Jost continued:
Which, come to think of it, probably explains why the voting rights stuff isn’t working out. The bottom line is, I think Biden just needs more time. He might be more of an acquired taste. Unfortunately, most Americans recently lost their sense of taste.
Che picked up on the Biden thread:
President Biden gave a speech in Atlanta where he called on the Senate to pass two voting rights bills, saying, “I am tired of being quiet.” And to prove it, he took a 20-minute standing nap.
What Will Marianne Williamson Do Next?
To her, Washington is still essentially business as usual. “D.C. has a lot of good political car mechanics,” she said. “That’s not the problem. The problem is that the car is on the wrong road. The car is heading towards a cliff.”
The week before, the Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel had tweeted a photo of Ms. Williamson and Andrew Yang, onstage at an event for Mr. Yang’s new book. Mr. Weigel quoted Ms. Williamson saying, “We don’t want to be Jill Steins, but in any other country, any other advanced democracy, they have multiple political parties.” The tweet predictably triggered speculation about what, exactly, Ms. Williamson intends to do next.
She may not want to be Jill Stein — the Green Party candidate whose presidential run is often cited as a reason Mr. Trump won — but she also doesn’t want to dismiss Jill Stein. After all, Ms. Williamson said, “we need a viable other. I support any third-party effort that makes a thoughtful, articulate critique of the fundamental flaws in contemporary capitalism and its effects on people and the planet” When she ran for Congress in California, in 2014, it was as an independent.
Ms. Williamson sees the two-party system of today as blighted and controlled by corporate interests. “Republican policies represent a nosedive for our democracy,” she said. “And Democratic policies represent a managed decline.” And yet she also believes that this is the year it will change. “The status quo is unsustainable,” she said. “There is too much human despair out there.”
She is not willing to say whether she’ll run again, and dodged the question over the course of our many conversations. About two weeks ago, when Politico published an article suggesting that President Biden would face a primary challenge from a progressive candidate, “such as former Sanders campaign co-chair Nina Turner, 2020 presidential candidate Marianne Williamson or millionaire and $18-an-hour minimum wage advocate Joe Sanberg,” Ms. Williamson declined to comment.
James Carville, the longtime Democratic strategist, is skeptical. “She ran before and she didn’t get a lot of votes,” he said. “She’s kind of an interesting person to say the least, but I don’t think politics is her calling. She always struck me as a new age Bernie Bro.”
Is Interning for an Influencer Worth It?
Jon Rettinger, 41, who runs several technology-focused YouTube channels, said he hoped to provide his interns with useful guidance. It’s “a real job that’s not all Lamborghinis and boxing matches,” he said, noting that many creators are subjected to online bullying. “I would have wanted someone to tell me, because I was really unprepared,” he said.
Former interns said that they valued such mentorship. Sara Naqui, who started out taking photos on a volunteer basis for Ms. Chandler at Effie’s Paper, now has a contract with the company and her own YouTube channel. “She supported me in a way that I’d never had an adult support my creative endeavors,” Ms. Naqui, 24, said of Ms. Chandler.
Vela Scarves, a fashion-forward hijab brand, and its co-founder and creative director, Marwa Atik, have made a point of inviting followers to volunteer at photo shoots and apply for internships. “You’re reaching out to a funneled pool of people who support you, believe in you, see themselves in the product,” Ms. Atik, 31, said. “It’s a much stronger connection when we bring on our girls.”
Khadija Sillah, 23, a former Vela Scarves intern, said that “Marwa extended herself as a mentor to me and helped me connect with brands and brainstorm content ideas, even when I lacked motivation.” She was recently hired as a full-time social media associate with the brand.
Ms. Chandler said her interns built the social presence for Effie’s Paper — on Pinterest, Instagram and eventually TikTok — from the ground up. “A decade ago, I was a lawyer transitioning to entrepreneurship,” she said. “I didn’t have time to think about social media.”
Later, Ms. Chandler solicited the help of a former intern, Chloe Helander, who’d started her own social media consultancy. Ms. Helander suggested that Ms. Chandler should be the star of the Effie’s Paper social accounts; after all, many companies today treat their executives as the faces of their brands.
Ms. Chandler was skeptical at first. “I think I’m too brown and too old,” she said.
Now, Ms. Chandler said, “she is the reason my face is all over everything.”