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Essman: Not Greene on Comedy Scene

May 8, 2013 By:
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When comedian Susie Ess­man meets fans and is nice and gracious to them, they are often visibly disappointed.

What they really want, she says, is Susie Greene, Larry David’s nemesis on the HBO show, Curb Your Enthusiasm.

They ask to be told off, the way she does to David when, for example, he says her hideous, homemade bedazzled sweatshirts aren’t his “cup of tea.” She responds, “All right, you know what, f--- you and f--- your tea.”

On May 18 at Congregation Or Ami in Lafayette Hill, Essman will perform her stand-up routine, giving her the chance to show fans that she is, in fact, not a Hollywood housewife prone to unleashing a Richter scale-registering earthquake of profanity.

That’s not to say her routine is nice and safe. “My stand-up persona is strong enough on its own to rival Susie Greene,” she said in a recent telephone interview from her home in Albany, N.Y.

The show at Or Ami, billed for mature audiences only, will see Essman riff on the trials of raising children and dealing with her Jewish mother, among other topics. “My mother is still driving me crazy after all these years — my aging Jewish mother, it never ends,” she says.

In the interview, Essman sounds stable, relaxed and capable of completing a sentence without using an expletive — all attributes that her TV character does not possess.

“People always expect me to be Susie Greene; it’s a blessing and it’s a curse,” Essman says. “People are always upset when I’m not this crazy, cursing screaming lunatic.”

The differences between the two are easy to point out.

Essman would have to be blind not to have a better fashion sense than Greene, who usually wears clothing that’s one part endangered species — a cheetah, perhaps — and one part gaudy ’80s wallpaper; in fact, the only other person on the show who wears those glittery sweatshirts can’t see how ugly they are, because he is blind.

Essman is also an author who says that writing her book, What Would Susie Say?: Bullsh*t Wisdom About Love, Life, and Comedy, was a tremendous challenge, but luckily she was “smack dab in the middle of menopause."

“I’d wake up every night after about two, three hours of sleep and I’d be up for hours, so that’s basically when I wrote the book, in the middle of the night, after having hot flashes,” she says.

When Curb first aired in 2000, Essman’s character was not as developed and not quite as vo­latile as it is now. A first-season episode featured the Greenes’ home being robbed by an inner-city youth whom her husband, Jeff (played by comedian/actor Jeff Garlin), has sponsored.

Essman said David had the idea that she tear into her husband. Much of the show is improvisation, and Essman said that after each take David encouraged her to get more angry.

“Finally he pulled me aside and said, ‘Make fun of Jeff’s fat.’ I was like, Larry, I really don’t want to do that, I don’t like to make fun of people’s physical characteristics. He said, ‘Just do it, just do it. He knows you’re just acting,’ and so I did and the genie was out of the bottle,” Essman said.

There is no word on whether more seasons of Curb, which last aired in 2011, are to come. She says HBO has an open-door policy with David, enabling him to do a season whenever he wants.

For her part, Essman said she has ideas for another book or a one-woman show, but nothing is imminent. “I’m in one of those gestation periods right now,” she said.

When Essman isn’t touring or acting — she has also appeared in films such as Keeping the Faith and the animated Bolt — she splits her time between living in New York City and upstate New York.

Essman met her husband, Jim Harder, a father of four children, almost a decade ago and helped raise the children during their teenage years, an experience that has made its way into her stand-up routine.

“If I did not use them for material, I’d probably kill them,” she said. “But I’ve found a way to — what’s the word I’m looking for? — sublimate.”

Essman said she received a note recently from David, who was filming a movie for HBO, saying that he missed her. She said she wanted to write back that if he missed her, the best way to spend time with her would be on the set.

“I’m kind of hoping he’s going to miss the show and do another season,” she said. “I would do another season in a heartbeat.”

The show at Or Ami will be held in the sanctuary, a setting that synagogue leaders acknowledged could make some people uncomfortable. Their solution? They’ll cover the bimah and drape the sanctuary to make it look more like a theater.

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