The sound of Susie Greene's voice from HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" cuts through men's minds like nails on a chalkboard. She has the ability to emasculate any male with a mere sentence darted with vicious tone and bite. The master behind this memorable TV character is none other than comedian-actress Susie Essman.
Playing the role of Susie over the past 12 years has made Essman, 57, a household name. She is known for her trademark rants where she effortlessly shreds the dignity of series creator-writer-star Larry David. Essman's outrageousness mixed with delicious delivery makes her breakout character someone fans can't get enough of.
A late bloomer as a stand-up comedian, Essman hit the stage for the first time at 28. She used to host at Catch a Rising Star, where David would perform in the mid-'80s. She'd often stay close by after introducing him in case he stormed offstage in disgust.
This native New Yorker spends her time between a house upstate and a Manhattan apartment with her husband, Jimmy Harder, and their Pomeranian and shih tzu. She spoke to Newsday reporter David J. Criblez before her upcoming gig at Governor's in Levittown Oct. 12 and 13.
What goes through your mind before going on stage?
I don't do my act in any kind of order. I just go all over the place depending on where the audience takes me and what's going on in the room. I try to choose what I'm going to open with, otherwise I feel tremendous anxiety. Once I figure that out, I can take off from there.
Do you have any particular preshow rituals?
I'm a pacer. I'm incredibly nervous. I go through tremendous stage fright and anxiety before I go on. But the minute I step on the stage I'm completely relaxed.
How would you compare Susie Greene to Susie Essman?
She's a bit angrier than me. Susie is very reactive and doesn't think things through. She's incredibly secure and sure of her responses at all times. I'm the opposite of that. I look at everything from every angle and analytical point of view.
How much did Larry David let you shape the character?
We had a dialogue of the unconscious. The character was never discussed. He just got what I was doing and he'd write a situation for Susie to be explosive. I understood what he wanted and gave him more. He'd tell me, "Go further, go further." It was organic the way it happened.
The cast has a unique chemistry. Do you play off each other like a band?
One of the keys to that is that we are all close friends, which is why we can treat each other so despicably on screen because we know we are just playing. It gives us tremendous freedom because there's so much trust.
Do people come up to you thinking you're Susie Greene?
All the time. They beg me to curse at them. It happens daily and it's just bizarre that this is what my life has become. It wasn't my plan, but I'm not complaining.
What was your material like when you first started out?
I was doing characters. I never spoke in my own voice, I was too scared. But then I felt I had to find out who I was on stage. It took years to figure it out. I'm still discovering it.
How has your act changed?
I'm much more vulnerable on stage now and willing to expose myself. I like to dig deep and be truthful and honest. I was more defensive earlier, which is natural because you don't have the technique. Now I can go to the edge and I know how to pull myself back. I take more risks.
Will there be a ninth season of "Curb"?
There's nothing planned, but HBO has an open-door policy with Larry. He can do whatever he wants. But, I think he just might want to do another season.
Does being Susie Greene make it difficult to take on other roles?
Yes, I'm usually offered a lot of Susie Greene-type roles, which I turn down because I don't want to repeat myself. I like to take on things that are different. I have an independent film which is coming out this month call "Putzel." I took the role because she's a gentle sweet character, so people can see that side of me.
WHO Susie Essman
WHEN | WHERE Oct. 12 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 13 at 7 and 9:30 p.m., Governor's, 90 Division Ave., Levittown
INFO $34 (show), $64 (dinner and show); 516-731-3358, govs.com