By Eleanor Laurence
Susie Essman Talks Curb, with Minimal Profanity
The actor who made foul-mouthed Susie Green a legend among Curb Your Enthusiasm fans opens up about her own comedy history, Susie and Jeff’s unique relationship, and why she uses the “G word” (genius) to describe Larry David.
HBO: When did you first discover comedy?
Susie Essman: When I was nine years old, my brother would come home after school with all of his friends, and they’d say, “Get your little sister to entertain us.” I’d stand on the kitchen table and do fake commercials, song parodies that I wrote. I thought I was funny.
HBO: Despite their antagonistic relationship, do you see similarities between Larry and Susie?
Susie Essman: They’re almost like siblings. She’ll kick him out of the house, be totally angry (it’s usually provoked, by the way), and then the next day, she’ll be like, “Hey Lar, want to come for a dinner party?” By the way — this is Susie Essman talking, not Susie Green — as annoying and tactless as Larry can be, he’s frequently right about the things he’s complaining about. He just goes about it the wrong way.
HBO: As with the filtered water in “The Accidental Text on Purpose” episode from Season 9.
Susie Essman: As with the filtered water. Who doesn’t filter their fucking water? In LA especially. It’s one of those little, meaningless things that Larry creates a whole episode around.
HBO: What’s one of the benefits of playing Susie Green?
Susie Essman: I get to scream and yell and tell everyone to go fuck themselves, and then they give me money, and I go home. It’s kind of amazing. I get in touch with my anger, and nobody’s insulted. All these things that are deemed negative emotions — I don’t think they’re negative emotions, I think they’re necessary emotions — and nobody gets hurt. I get relaxed like it’s primal scream therapy.
HBO: Does putting on Susie’s outfits help you get into character?
Susie Essman: Some actors work from the inside out. I work from the outside in. I put on the outfits and become her. Every now and then, we put an outfit together that’s so insane, I walk on set and Larry looks at me and says, “You look too crazy. Go change!”
I’ve never said to our wardrobe stylist, “Can I keep this?”
HBO: Were there conversations leading up to Season 9 about making the show new and fresh?
Susie Essman: In comedy, you don’t grow and change. You keep making the same mistakes over and over again. We’re not suddenly becoming enlightened. That wouldn’t be funny. If you think of all the classic sitcoms, that’s the reality. Ralph Kramden [of The Honeymooners] had a crazy scheme every week and never learned that his crazy schemes were never going to work. That’s what’s funny about it.
HBO: Throughout Curb, Jeff’s had a fair number of affairs, but Susie always ends up on top. How do you see their relationship working?
Susie Essman: Jeff can’t put anything over on Susie. She doesn’t really care, as long as she gets what she wants. It’s an arrangement. She doesn’t want to have sex with Jeff. He wants to screw around with a real estate agent? She gets a new house out of it. She’s fine with that. She knows what he’s doing at all times, and she knows how to make it work to her advantage.
HBO: Susie doesn’t want to have sex with Jeff…until he puts on cowboy hat in Season 9. What was it like playing off of that hat and getting to have an affair of your own?
Susie Essman: All these years Jeff’s been fucking around, and Susie finally gets to have her fling. For seasons and seasons I’ve been saying to Larry, “Isn’t it time for Susie to have an affair? Some cute pool boy or something?” He finally listened to me. I always thought Susie should be having an affair with Leon.
For me, it was fun, because I’d never experienced Susie Green as a sexual being. She’s always been the housewife, with her clothes, and her jewels and her rules. She’s finally seen as a desirable woman, which she is! A lot of men like a mouth like that.
HBO: Have you always been a subscriber to the Curb brand of humor?
Susie Essman: What do you consider the Curb brand of humor? I’m so in it, I don’t even know what it is.
HBO: I think to call it “cringe comedy” is oversimplifying it.
Susie Essman: So do I. I hate that actually. Let’s put it this way. Larry will say what nobody else will say, but everybody’s thinking, which I think most comedians do. It’s inspiring recognition from audience members. You know, comedians, we see what everyone else sees, but we see it through a twisted prism. Larry sees it in a genius way, that I could never even think of. It’s transcendent. I use the “G word” very judiciously, but I do believe he’s a genius.
HBO: What’s something that stands out to you about Larry David’s comedy?
Susie Essman: You know, Larry is a die-hard Lefty, and I’ve heard this from a lot of right wing types: they love Curb, because it’s politically incorrect. It’s an interesting, across-party-lines kind of thing. It’s expected he’s going to fuck up somehow. He’s going to have good intentions, but somehow it’s going to be all messed up.