I’m trying to think of how to describe it, the emotional experience of watching Somebody Somewhere.
OK. So, you know how no one knows what the hell “simmer” means when you Google a recipe? Like, you watch a pan that has some stuff in it and it’s bubbling, but then it’s not bubbling—it looks fine. And then—oh no!—it’s not just bubbling anymore, it’s boiling over, and spitting at you. It’s uncontrollable chaos. What had been, I guess, simmering is now erupting everywhere?
That’s what it feels like to watch HBO’s Somebody Somewhere. It’s not a sauce (I don’t even know if I was describing how to make a sauce, god help me). But it is a show about having grace for yourself, grace for where you are in life, and grace for the hot mess you—or your sauce—might soon become.
There’s something about this show, which is, really, just about what it’s like to be a person trying to be good in her life, that hits you. You watch and, whether it’s ribald and raunchy—and, oh my, does it get that way—or heartbreakingly relatable, you’re fizzing on the verge of a breakdown.
It settles you into an emotional tectonic plate, then shifts ever-so-slightly in multiple directions, to seismic effect: A joke about titties, and you’ll wheeze laughing. A comment about working through past trauma, and you’ll start weeping. The show routinely does both: the outrageous and the painful. You’re left wondering which way the extreme emotion is going to go.
Now that season finale of Somebody Somewhere has aired, I talked with star and creator Bridget Everett about the series’ unique appeal.
We talked through some of the finale’s biggest plot points, including the friendship breakup between her character, Sam, and Joel (Jeff Hiller), and what brought them back together. We discussed the vital role music plays both in the show and in Everett’s own life. And we worked through what it means for Everett, at this stage of her life and at this point in her career, to be at the center of a series that is receiving such effusive praise.
That, and we talked about big, juicy cunts and floppy titties. This is Somebody Somewhere, after all.
I’m going to gush, but this is a show that myself and a lot of my friends really feel is doing something special. I’ve noticed that there is a bit of a groundswell of adulation for it this season. Are you receiving that?
I do feel like I’m getting an uptick of that. More than in the first season. I live on the Upper West Side. So I’m certainly getting more likes and stops on the streets. Usually one of my siblings will write to me after the show airs, although no one did last week, so I don’t know what that’s about.
Is your family good at talking through those things?
We don’t talk about anything! Not my business, not my problem.
Were you nervous about the fact that people wouldn’t just be looking at your life because of the show, but making judgements about your family?
When we put out the initial sizzle sentence ,or whatever you call it—logline—that this is based on my life, I think that’s true and it’s not true. I feel like it’s based on the themes in my life, but it’s not based on my life. There are certainly what I like to call little Easter bunnies all through the show, about my family. But I’ve tried to make it clear to them that it’s not a reflection of them. They’re not the people on the screen. The characters are parts of a lot of different people I know, and who the other writers know. But I suppose you see what you want to see. Hopefully they’re seeing only the good.
Music is so important to the show. There was the funeral scene in the finale, plus you performed “Ave Maria” and “Gloria” at the wedding. What has it meant to you to have this show be such a big thing for your career, and for music to be such a major part of it?
It’s everything. I feel like music is the great love of my life. Music is my best friend. Music is my connector. To have an opportunity to put all the different kinds of music that I love in this show is amazing. I pick most of the music, because it’s kind of Sam’s soundtrack. It’s a real treat. For instance, in the funeral scene in the last episode, I thought the voice teacher’s former students should all sing this song, “An die Musik.”
I don’t know if people are going to know what the song means. They might. It’s a very real reaction that Sam has in the episode. They are singing for this woman who has touched everybody’s life through music. It’s really beautiful to me. But then there’s also “Big and Juicy Cunt,” which is also meaningful to me.
I used to live with Mary Catherine Garrison, who plays Tricia. I remember one time we were sitting around—she would probably kill me for saying this to a reporter—but we were sitting in our living room with our friend Julie and Mary Catherine is like, “Everyone is always telling me that I have the tightest pussy.” And Julie was like, “Me too!” Then they were like, “Bridget?” I was like, “Um, nobody’s ever said that to me.” [Laughs] So singing the “Big and Juicy Cunt” song with Mary Catherine in the car was another little Easter bunny.
Those songs are spiritual in different ways.
That’s exactly right. They’re meant to crack people open in different ways. I find that music unzips the body bag, right? It can lift your spirit up. I’ve had luck with both of those things. When I sing songs about tits or whatever on stage, I can see a change in people. Also when somebody sings a Schubert song like “An die Musik,” it also has that effect. They’re just different sides. One’s the heart and one’s the no-no.
I know we just talked about how the show isn’t directly based on your life, but there seemed to be something really personal about the voice lesson scene, where Sam breaks down during a breathing exercise. When the teacher says, “Sam, you have a rich, full instrument,” was that something that you yourself needed to hear?
These are definitely things I’ve thought about. In the writers room, that stuff comes from me, the very personal stuff. The “big and heavy instrument” line, I probably heard that somewhere along the way when I was a kid, and that’s all you can hear. You just hear the negative. Sam, she doesn’t just need Joel. She needs the voice teacher, too. I was thinking about it this morning, about how personal those relationships are.
I watched the episode last night, and there’s something that the voice teacher says to Sam, about how something that means so much can be almost too much to bear. When she says that to Sam, Sam is like, “Oh my God, you understand me.” I think that’s really important for Sam’s growth. Also, just to have somebody look at her. I think Joel, in Season 1, idolized Sam for a long time. But the voice teacher understands exactly that Sam’s love and connective tissue is through music and through singing, and what it means to her. So those scenes, to me, were hard to film and really cathartic.
I really do think that, for a lot of people, there are elements of this show that are healing. And that’s just as viewers. What is it like for you to be acting that out, and getting whatever healing you need from it? Especially in that breathing scene.
Well, first of all, I wanted it to be slow. I wanted to really experience the breathing. Sam doesn’t like to be touched, right? When the teacher puts her hand on her chest, she’s uncomfortable. To breathe with somebody like that is such a, to me, intimate, very personal thing. I thought that it might be too specific. I thought, is a voice lesson going to be too niche? So I am pleasantly surprised that people reacted to it the way that they did.
As far as getting to act it out, I’m not a trained actor. But I’ve been doing cabaret for a long time. So I have found that what works for me is if I am acquainted with the pain of something. If something happens, I’ve got enough trauma in my life I could just pull it up just like that, if I have to.
[Laughs] That’s very relatable, I think.
I did this movie called Patti Cake$, and there’s a scene in it where I was supposed to cry. I just thought about how my dog loves her dog sitter more than she loves me. So you do what you’ve got to do. I think that HBO, they really just wanted more and more of me, so I just kept giving it. That’s what I’m used to doing. In my cabaret, whether it’s writing a song that says, “What I gotta do to get that dick in my mouth?” or if it talks about the pain of losing a loved one, it’s the same.
Very much the same.
I think that’s what most people do: They write about what they know. I’m just fortunate enough to get to play the part, which is absolutely bonkers, because I’m a middle-aged woman with early-onset beavertails. [Gestures at her chest] These things aren’t where they used to be. So it’s kind of wild that I’m number one on the call sheet. But if I am, I’m going to give the best I have to offer, and hope that more people who look like me get the same opportunity.
People who were familiar with your cabaret were really surprised by your performance in this show.
Nobody is more surprised than me, Kevin. I’ll tell you that right now.
Do you think that people making judgements about the range of you talent was unfair? It’s something I did—thinking that this was a revelation, based on what I knew from your cabaret—and I feel bad about that limited thinking.
That’s not really how I think about it. I think about it in terms of how I see myself and what I think I can do. The stage stuff is something I developed over a really long time, in front of a lot of New York City audiences, and got bolder and bolder and better and better. But that was just by practice. This felt really intimidating to me, because there’s something so different about being on a television set. The person who questioned my ability to do it the most was me. But luckily the vibe on the set is so even and cool and supportive and warm. It just didn’t feel like you could make any mistakes.
Can we talk about the Joel and Sam friendship breakup? That was really hard to watch. Why did you want to explore that this season?
Well I think It’s important. My mom used to say this thing, “If they do it once, they’ll do it a thousand times.” But Sam has a thing where the two people closest to her didn’t really do anything to her, but she takes it personally. She expects everybody to behave a certain way.
She had certain expectations for Joel.
We could have just had Sam and Joel going along and holding hands and being cutie-cutie-cutie, but that’s not life—at least not in my experience. There are always cracks, and I feel like it was important to see how that might happen with them, and how to bring them back together. I really love the scene where they make up. I wish that I had Sam’s courage, because I feel like if I was in her position, I’d just be like, “Oh well.” Even as wonderful as Joel is. So I’m always learning and growing from Sam.
I’ve noticed that when I watch any episode of this show, I feel like I’m on the verge of tears the whole time, even if nothing particularly traumatic is happening. Why do you think this series makes people so emotional?
I don’t know. I think there’s a gentleness about it. It’s a slower pace of a show. What appealed to us was doing something that had dialogue that didn’t seem scripted. So you feel like you’re sitting in the room with somebody, watching them. In a way, I feel like that makes it easier for people to care for the characters. With the character of Sam, I feel like her pain is always just right underneath the fingernail. Do you know what I mean?
I certainly do.
It’s right there, and you can kind of feel it, even in the good times. But she’s healing and getting better. It’s nice to root for somebody who takes a chance on themselves.
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