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Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Susie Essman on Larry David’s Renewal Angst and ‘Pathetic’ Hecklers

As Susie Greene on Curb Your Enthusiasm, New York native Susie Essman has been known to drop an F-bomb on occasion — if that occasion is "always." Now that Larry David's HBO comedy is headed to New York for part of its eighth season (which premieres July 10 at 10 p.m.), Greene's “Four-eyed fuck!”s and “Fuck you, you car-wash cunt!”s are going to feel right at home. We spoke with Essman, a stand-up veteran of more than twenty years, about filming in the city, why she’s heckler-free, and what she really thinks of insecure men.

Starting with episode five, the show is set in New York. What was it like to shoot from home?
Incredible. For seven seasons, I was the only one who lived in New York. They all lived in L.A., so I was the only one who had to schlep. Finally, they came to me. Plus — I mean, this is so cliché-sounding — but when you’re shooting in New York, it becomes a character in a way that Los Angeles doesn’t. In one episode this season, you’re looking out our apartment window and you see Central Park; in our house in Pacific Palisades, you look out the window, you see a bush.

I read somewhere that your character, whenever she is wearing a dress, she thinks she is wearing the best one.
When I made up Susie Greene, I just wanted her to be this kind of woman who has this incredible confidence and believes that she just has the greatest taste in the whole world, even though her taste is bizarre. She believes that she is the only one who has the vision to dress like this and the vision to be as flamboyant as she is.

Do you think she has a psychological disorder?
No, I don’t think she has a psychological disorder. I wish I could be like Susie Greene; I wish I could be that sure of every action I did. One of the things that works about the show is that we all love our characters and we’re all so different from them. I mean, I analyze everything from every which way; I never have the surety that she has. I’ll put on 50 different outfits before I figure out which one I like.

Did you think there was going to be an eighth year? Many of us thought the show was over.
Well, after every season, Larry says, “That’s it, I’m not doing another season.” After every season. And then he’ll finish editing, and the show will air, and then I’ll get a call, and he’ll say, “I’m not promising anything, but I am letting you know I’m working on a couple of outlines. But until I get at least eight outlines, I’m not promising. I’m just letting you know I’m working on it.” And then another couple of months later I’ll get another phone call: “I’m still not promising anything.” And then finally he’ll call me and say, “All right, we’re doing it.” So, you know, every season he says that, and we’re the longest-running series on HBO.

When you do stand-up now, do you get the sense that people come to your shows just to heckle, considering the character you play?
No, nobody messes with me when I’m onstage. They wouldn’t dare. I have the mike, I’m in control — don’t even try it.

What’s the best thing you’ve said to take a heckler down?
I don’t even remember, but I really don’t get heckled very often. You know, I have a theory about why: I think that most hecklers are men. Women don’t generally heckle, unless they’re really drunk and ridiculous, and that’s a whole other level of something. And I think that most men do not want to heckle a woman because I don’t think they want to be humiliated by a woman. They heckle a man, and there’s a mano a mano thing going on, but if they heckle a woman — and I will destroy them — I think most men do not want to be humiliated by a female. And when I’m onstage, I’m in control, very clearly, otherwise I couldn’t do what I do. You will never win as a heckler. If a good comic is up there, you will never win. It’s stupid; it’s the stupidest thing. It’s just an attention-getting device; it’s kind of pathetic.

I went back online and watched the Jerry Stiller roast that you did, which I know was a very big thing for you, because isn’t that how Larry found out about you?
Well, no, I had known Larry for years. I knew Larry from stand-up at Catch a Rising Star in the mid-eighties. But I hadn’t seen him in years [at that point], because he moved to L.A. and I was still in New York. So that was his reminder of me.

Right. You had actually been working for a long time before that moment, and yet the way that Jason Alexander introduces you, he says something like, “You’ve never heard of her. Who is this person?”
It was not my favorite intro, I’ll tell you that. Now that you bring it up, I recall that. The Friars Club fought for me to be on that roast. Comedy Central didn’t want me. Women weren’t even allowed to sit on the daises at those roasts until 1996 or something like that. A real boys’ club. But, you know, I think I got my revenge.

Why didn’t Comedy Central want you?
I don’t know. I wasn’t their demographic — too female, too old, too I don’t know what. But the Friars Club fought for me to be on that roast. And then I was on that roast, and had a great set, and Larry saw it, and my whole life changed after that.

Do you still think women feel like they have something to prove in stand-up comedy?
Well, I know when I was coming up, none of the male comics thought women were funny. Well, I’m not going to say none, because the really good ones like Larry and Jerry did; it was really the mediocre ones who did not. It’s interesting: It was so clear that the really good comedians were always supportive. I don’t know what that is. I think a funny woman is threatening to a man.

How so?
Well, to get down to the down-and-dirty, men are basically insecure in a lot of ways, and I think a funny woman is going to make them feel sexually inadequate, like they have a little, small penis or something. I think that’s the bottom line of it. You know, because funny is cutting and funny is ridicule, and funny is going to make you feel not good about yourself. It’s not going to be this sweet little girl who’s just, like, kissing your ass and laughing at your jokes. If you’re a funny woman, you need a man who is secure.

For sure. Getting back to the show: Besides going into the eighth season, it got syndicated onto the TV Guide Network last year. You must have had to go in and re-dub a ton of swears.
Oh God, we did seven seasons in a row, and it took me ten days to do looping. And I remember asking the postproduction person how many days everybody else had to do — besides Larry, because Larry had to do a lot, too, because he always has overlaps and things. And she said half a day. I just found that funny.

Are there a lot of people here who stop you and ask you to swear at them?
Yes. It’s getting a little tedious at this point. [Laughs.] At first it was kind of novel, like, Wow, people want me to tell them to go fuck themselves, how great is that? But at this point it’s like, Can I go about my day, please, without having to yell and scream at somebody? I’m not always in the mood, you know?

Essman will be performing at Carolines on Broadway in Manhattan on July 14.

Photo: HBO