Some celebrities get stopped for their autograph, others get asked for a picture. But when Susie Essman gets recognized on the streets of New York, people generally want her to curse at them.
Seven years ago, Essman was a stand-up comic living in relative obscurity when she appeared at a roast for Jerry Stiller and regaled the audience with a series of truly off-color jokes that took aim not just at the guest of honor but at most of the celebrities in attendance.
Essman said to the late comedian Alan King: “Alan, did you ever think you’d live so long that your prostate would be as big as your ego?”
Even Stiller’s wife, Anne Meara, got sideswiped. “She’s a remarkable woman,” Essman said. “She’s had sex with Jerry and given birth to Ben. She’s the only woman I know to have had both Ben and Jerry inside of her.”
Among those who caught Essman’s performance when it aired on Comedy Central was Larry David, the creator of “Seinfeld,” who was in the process of casting “Curb Your Enthusiasm” for HBO. And, he said, he was impressed with just one thing: “Her big mouth.”
As David tells it, one of the parts he’d written into the comedy was the loudmouth wife of his manager, Jeff. A brusque woman with a penchant for leopard print, she has little patience for David or the trouble he constantly gets her husband into. “I’d written the show, so I knew who the character was,” David recalled, “but I didn’t know who to cast. But I saw her, and that was it.”
Now “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is shooting its sixth season, and Essman is famous for her expletive-laced tirades as Susie Greene. Bravo has tapped her to host a new reality show that will hit later this year. And on Friday and Saturday, the stand-up comic will be doing a no-holds-barred routine at Carolines on Broadway.
Essman divides her time between the Upper West Side and the Albany area, where she and her boyfriend, Jimmy Harder, live with his four kids from a previous marriage. Essman has taken a shine to being a stepmother and the kids have provided her with all sorts of fodder for her act.
This story first appeared in the January 25, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“In October, they had a party in the house,” she said, sitting in the cafe at Fairway. “I went
f—ing nuts. That’s one of the few times I ever went Susie Greene on them because they had sworn to me that they would never have a party. Teenagers lie. And they know they’re lying and we know they’re lying, and they know that we know they’re lying. But no one says anything. It’s like dealing with Republicans.”
Fellow comic Gilbert Gottfried described her manner as follows: “I wouldn’t say she’s awfully Jewish, but she makes me look like Pope John Paul II.” Essman met Gottfried, as she did many of her friends, on the stand-up scene, when she worked at clubs like Catch a Rising Star. She started out doing impressions. “I played an 80-year-old woman who lived in co-op city and an Hispanic girl who was the president of the Menudo fan club,” Essman recalled. As she became more secure — nine years of Freudian analysis four times a week helped — her act became more improvisational. Now, she sticks strictly to playing herself. “A live show should be dangerous. I always wing it, and that’s the exhilarating thing about it.”
Ironically, comedy is the one subject about which Essman is utterly serious. “Making people laugh is a privilege,” she said. “I know that sounds a little Pollyanna-ish, but I feel like people come to a comedy club, they might have horrible things happening in their lives, and I unplug their arteries for them. There’s physiological benefits to it!”