“I’m fameish,” slapstick chanteuse Lady Rizo deadpanned to me, understandably sounding a tiny bit bitter. Funny, Rizo doesn’t look fameish. She looks like a major talent who can wow an audience with her “caburlesque” antics and who would have been great in Funny Girl when they were fishing around for a revival not long ago.
But while Rizo (aka Grammy-winning Amelia Zirin-Brown from Portland, Oregon) has built a following on the Joe’s Pub circuit since 2004, that big break remains as elusive as a comeback for that other Lady. “I’m so ready for world domination,” Rizo told me, angstily. “I think it’s coming this year. I hope so. Doing this costs so much money. I’m tired of making an opportunity to invest in myself again. I enjoy being cult and being discovered by audiences every show, but I’ve been sweating on the boards long enough. I’m ready for ‘the negative side of fame.’ Bring it on!”
It certainly beats the negative side of fameishness, which generally means holding down a day job, tirelessly rehearsing and performing nights and weekends, and pleading with friends, both real and on Facebook, to come support you one more time, all while waiting for some Scott Rudin type to swoop in and make you mega. Alas, even those who deserve that transition don’t necessarily get it, especially when they eschew the reality-show route in favor of the old building-momentum-via-live-performing approach, which is honest but a bit quaint these days.
Bridget Everett, a wonderfully ribald rock singer from Kansas who’s sort of like a fleshier Rizo, has been lighting up NYC stages for years and has had a few great breaks along the way. In 2007, Sex and the City writer Michael Patrick King and musician Kenny Mellman collaborated with her on an Ars Nova show called At Least It’s Pink, which was supposed to transfer to a large theater, but somehow that fell through. Everett then gained the interest of Patti LuPone, who duetted with her at Joe’s Pub in between singing her praises to the audiences. (“Everybody listen to me,” crowed Patti. “Bridget Everett, there’s no one like you!”) More recently, Amy Schumer hired Bridget as an opening act, exposing her to large comedy clubs and other venues way different from the usual local cabaret rooms. But once these gigs pass and superstardom still evades, then what? “It’s back to square one,” Bridget told me, “but not really, because you’ve done something and established relationships. You never know when it’s gonna pay off. It’s such a slow road, but it’s getting better.
“Every year I feel is gonna be the year, but honestly, you have to be so tenacious and you have to really love what you’re doing. I do love it, but I’m ready for some action. I’ve had what feels like a million near-misses. I don’t count on anything till I’m cashing a check.”
That same day, Bridget was scheduled for a conference call with William Morris, so hope sprang big-time again. She’ll update me if it doesn’t work out. If it does, I’ll hear about it.
Meanwhile, a protégée of Bridget’s, Molly Pope, is experiencing a similar mix of frustration and hope. Molly is a powerful 31-year-old actress/singer who may have been born too late; her vocal stylings seem Ethel Mermanesque, though she fascinatingly applies them to contempo stuff; her brassy “Rolling in the Deep,” performed in a cardboard lifeboat, gave Adele a run for her angst. She’s done a lot of shows, but performing is not exactly lucrative at this level (which is why Molly works as a personal assistant/organizer for seven clients by day, never turning down an offer).
“The Duplex is the only room I’ve ever made money in,” she told me, referring to the long-running West Village club. “I can get more people to come there than Joe’s Pub because it’s a cheaper cover charge.” Of course she’d love to go all the way to Broadway, but Molly admits that could be a challenge “because I’m non-union and have no representation. But I look at Bridget and say, ‘She stuck with it.’ Maybe I’m expecting things to happen more quickly than they will.”
As a result of her career frustrations, Molly had a “full-on breakdown” last fall—”not my first. It’s a constant mental and emotional battle for me,” she admitted. But rather than remain hostage to her fears, she’s learning to make adjustments. To bolster her spirit, Molly quit Facebook, where everyone’s amazing news made her feel horrible about herself. “But I need to stop focusing so much on the negative,” she realized, “and know there are good things happening. And know that what I’m doing, however I’m doing it, is getting me somewhere. Also, I need to set goals and work toward them or I could wind up going around in circles.”
For example, Molly recorded a demo for Bernadette Peters for Smash, but now wonders, “How do I turn that into something more? Or find a way to still work a day job and maybe have cabaret not be the life goal? I change my mind every day. There’s no right way to go about having a career, so I vacillate between ‘Be happy with what you’re doing’ and ‘No, I have to burn down [big casting director’s] door.'” Advice to the fameish: A little of both might be advisable.