“Larry David, you bald ASSHOLE!”
As shrieked by Susie Essman’s Curb Your Enthusiasm stand-in Susie Green, this phrase is like music — piercing, furious music. The lovable harpy has elevated the act of getting pissed off at Larry and his faithful sidekick, her husband Jeff (portrayed by Jeff Garlin), to an art form over eight seasons. After a six-year hiatus, during which she fleetingly brought the “apoplectic mama bear” schtick to Broad City, Essman returns now to Curb in order to reclaim her throne of TV’s Jewish Mother Supreme. But even though they share a first name, Susies Green and Essman couldn’t be farther removed from one another. She chatted with us about the therapeutic qualities of playing a character who doesn’t give a flying fig, the secret underbelly of New York City, and the silver lining she’s clinging to during the Trump administration.
The Susie Greene character has become the ultimate manifestation of the Jewish mother type. I’m curious as to how you’d define the character for someone unfamiliar with the real-world basis for her.
You know, what’s always been interesting to me is that when you’re of a certain tribe with your own little idiosyncrasies — you mention the Jewish mother type, but it’s a universal thing. I was on the radio yesterday, and the host was a black woman, and she said, “You must have a lot of black friends, because the way you act is how black women treat their husbands!” And I thought that was so curious. That happens so often, I’ll get stopped on the street by all sorts of people. My usual bank teller is a crazy huge Curb fan and he’s West African, and he’s telling me in his thick accent about how much I remind him of his mother. All across the board I get this, in the Midwest, wherever.
That’s a beautiful thing, overbearing moms unite us all!
Susie is an iconic Jewish mother in her own right, but all moms are protective and feel injured when their kids don’t behave. There are universal aspects about motherhood, and hey, about personhood. People in New York think that the only people who get the show are older Jews from the Upper West Side, and that’s just not true. I travel all over the world — I just got back from Australia and New Zealand, and they love us there!
Susie’s whole thing is her unbridled anger. Acting, have you ever reached a point where that had to be reined in at all?
I try to mix it up, try not to be angry in every scene. She’s not a ranting and raving lunatic. And there’s always a reason why she’s doing what she’s doing. It doesn’t come out of nowhere, and she’s not mentally ill. She’s almost always provoked by Larry and/or Jeff. He gets her kid drunk, steals her kid’s stuff, gets them kicked out of the country club, gives her the shit assistant. There’s a reason she punches him in the face! He foisted the assistant on her, and she’s trying to run a business!
What’s your favorite thing about playing Susie?
So many things! I love putting on her outfits, things I’d never ever wear. I love her surety, the certainty in everything she ever does. She has no doubt and no insecurity, she’s screaming and yelling and cursing and she has no doubt that she has every right to do it. There’s no second-guessing, no analysis, no neuroses. By design, too, because I created the character.
Is that reflective of your life?
No, I was always thinking, “God, wouldn’t it be great to be that sure of yourself?” When you’re a comedian, it’s in your nature to consider everything in every possible way: Should I have said this, should I have said that? But it’s so freeing to just be in your skin. Susie’s not like me, in that way, and that’s why I love playing her. I don’t wanna play myself. I’m myself all the time!
Especially with Curb, people wonder how much of it comes from real life and how much is invented.
You’ve got Larry David playing Larry David as a character, and there’s Ted Danson playing Ted Danson as himself. Cheryl’s Cheryl, but a different Cheryl. It’s all confusing, I get it. But we’re all acting. Nobody’s really playing their true self, not even the people portraying themselves. It’s kind of weird. I think this has something to do with reality TV shows. Are the Kardashians really the Kardashians, or are they playing the character on the show? This is several times removed from that, but with those kinds of shows, people get very caught up.
Are you a big reality TV person yourself?
I hate it, I haaaate it. Well… I don’t wanna say I hate it. There’s nothing about it that interests me in the least. If I wanna watch reality, I watch sports, which I love, I watch the news, which is a bad enough reality, or I love documentaries. But watching people fake-be themselves doesn’t interest me. It’s not really them!