Disclaimer: I am a Susie Essman fan. She makes me laugh and from the moment I first saw her -- actually heard her when I was on the phone in the next room -- shouting at her husband Jeff Greene on Curb Your Enthusiasm I was hooked. That is why I was so pleased to hear she'll be in Las Vegas with Richard Lewis for three shows this week. So if you choose to read on, do so with the caveat that this post -- based on a phone interview I did with her last week -- is written by a fan and, thus, has a definite pro-Susie bias.
Essman hit the national consciousness in October 2000 when Cur premiered on HBO. Of course, she wasn't sitting around until then waiting to be discovered.
Born in the Manhattan suburb of Mt. Vernon, New York to an oncologist father and a college professor mother Essman is a graduate of the State University of New York at Purchase. If Susie Greene's amp is at 11, Susie Essman's is at a very pleasant 5 and, in that pleasant voice, she explains that, despite floundering for many years, comedy is a natural career for her. "I don't think you learn to be funny. Either you are or are not. I always was.
"I started doing standup at 28. Before that I thought I wanted to be an actress, I was waitressing to support myself. I was desperate and you only do this -- stand-up -- if you're desperate because it's so scary to get up on stage."
How long did it take for success to come? "You know," she says, "stand-up time isn't like real time. It takes years to develop yourself. I started making a living after two years. But I didn't come into my own for about seven years."
In the 24 years since she started making a living in comedy -- and her birthday was yesterday -- Essman has had her own half-hour HBO comedy special, hosted the American Comedy Awards appeared on Politically Incorrect, Crank Yankers, Law and Order, The King of Queens and Baby Boom on television. In film she was in Keeping the Faith, The Siege, Volcano and Punchline. Hers is the voice of Mittens the Cat in the animated film Bolt. She appeared in The Vagina Monologues off-Broadway.
She also famously appeared in a Friars Club Roast of Jerry Stiller. It is there, the story goes, that Larry David saw her and cast her as Susie Greene in his HBO show. In fact, she's so at home at the Friars Club that she married real estate broker Jim Harder there on September 13, 2008. The ceremony was held in the George Burns Room; reception in the Milton Berle Room. Officiating was writer-producer Tom Fontana.
Today, Susie Essman is very busy. She travels across the country to do stand-up and TV and film, but most often appears at Caroline's in New York. And that's the way she likes it. New York is home.
"We do the show in LA," she says. "I go there, get a hotel room, drive back and forth to work. It's like being in a big suburb. In LA you don't see anybody not of your ilk.
When not doing it, Essman clearly misses stand-up. Her time in The Vagina Monologues convinced her that, likely, Broadway isn't for her. "Maybe, if it was the right project and a great part, but I can't imagine doing eight shows a week of the same script. I prefer the stand-up audience response. There's no fourth wall and that's great. It's real life.
"Right now," she goes on, "I'm looking out the window of my apartment. On the street I see all kinds of people. New York is exciting. The energy, the street life -- it's all fodder for comedy."
What, besides the city she loves, inspires her? "My life, my four children, my mother, my hot flashes -- my everything."
And who makes her laugh? "Richard Lewis. Larry David, Chris Rock, Joy Behar, a lot of the people I came up with. Gilbert Gottfried makes me crazy but he makes me laugh, too."
What doesn't make her laugh? "Lots of things," she replies. "The war in Iraq makes me scream and get hysterical. Also, people losing their homes, people who are too rich and too poor."
Upcoming, besides the new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm in the fall, Susie Essman will be a published author. Her book, What Would Susie Say? An Incomplete Guide To A No-Bullshit Life will be published by Simon & Schuster on November 10.
Susie Essman and Richard Lewis will share the bill at the Venetian Las Vegas on June 4, 5 and 6.
When I remarked that she and Lewis on the same bill provides quite a contrast, as he comes on stage laden with tons of baggage and she carries nothing, she laughs. "I don't know how he does it. It must get so tiresome. If I were Richard I would tell myself to fuck myself."