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Q&A

Onstage, Susie Essman curbs the tantrums

Comedian Susie Essman

Comedian Susie Essman

Susie Essman would like those who are planning to see her at the Wilbur Theatre on Friday to know that she is not Susie Greene, the character she inhabited in the hugely popular HBO comedy “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Yes, they are both edgy, and they might share a love for off-color language. But they come from much different places. All comedians are agitated and, in some way, turn their complaints into material. But Greene is not a comedian; Essman is. “Susie Greene’s anger is a whole other thing,” says Essman, 58. “She’s just volatile.” We spoke with Essman by phone from the set of her new pilot, “Irreversible,” with David Schwimmer and sometime “Curb” guest Iris Bahr. She spoke about the possibility of seeing Greene again in a ninth season of “Curb,” letting her now adult children (and her parents) see her show, and, of course, anger.

Q. Is there any update on a ninth season? I know there’s been some talk.

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A. No. I spoke to Larry [David] recently. He’s not up to doing it right now. That doesn’t mean he won’t do it ever but he’s not doing it right now.

Q. How far would be too long to go before it would be awkward to come back?

A. I don’t think it really matters. It’s already been three years. It’s not like we’re going to age out of the characters. It’s like when you see these characters on “Dallas” coming back and all of a sudden they’re old. We started out old. Let’s say five years from now he decides to do it. I don’t think it would be too weird.

Q. Do your kids hear what you might say about them onstage?

A. Yeah. We’ve gotten past that. For years I didn’t let them come and see my stand-up. But after I knew that they were all having sex, then I let them come see my stand-up. Honestly? I don’t like when they’re there. I hate it actually. But I can’t say no. Last time I was at the Wilbur — my son went to BU, he graduated a couple years ago — but he came with all his friends to see me.

Q. How did that go afterward?

A. It was fine. I just don’t love having them there. Just like I never loved having my parents there. You know when I first started doing stand-up, my parents decided to surprise me and come see a show, and they sat right up front, in the front row. It was like, “Get away!”

Q. How did they react?

A. They didn’t react well. I had a lot of material about my mother. So then I banned them, they weren’t allowed to come. I just didn’t want them in the audience. They could watch whatever I do on TV. I can’t control it. My mother used to watch me on “Curb,” and she would call me, and she would always have the same response: “Is it absolutely necessary for you to use that language?” And I would say, “You know what, Ma? Yeah, it is.”

Q. You hear that a lot. Someone will compliment a comedian who doesn’t use profanity. What do you think when you hear that?

A. I think it’s [expletive]. And by the way, I could do Susie Greene just as funny without the language, but it takes away from her character. Because what I think is funny about Susie Greene is not all in her language, I think it’s her anger is the truly funny thing about her. And I could do it just angry without the language, but the language is just . . . it makes her so three-dimensional in a way. It’s just too much fun.

Q. If you were to go onstage tonight, what would you be talking about?

A. Oh, gosh. I’m sitting here right now in a gray wig. I’m in the middle of shooting a pilot where I’m playing David Schwimmer’s mother. And they have to age me. I just have to throw all my vanity out the window right now, because I’m going to be on camera looking 10 years older than I am. [Laughs] I would probably just start off there and riff onto something about aging and menopause. Whatever. [Laughs]

Q. Is it at all helpful to have Susie Greene in your back pocket?

A. Yes, it is. A lot of times people come up to me and they, whatever, “We love you on the show,” et cetera. And I’m very gracious and kind, and I can see that they’re visibly disappointed sometimes that I’m not some crazy screaming maniac. Which is what they want. Sometimes when people actually push me — some people can be very pushy and invade your privacy. Susie Greene allows me to be nasty to them and they love it.

Q. How would you explain the difference to someone?

A. My stand-up’s about my life, Susie Essman’s life. Do I have a certain energy around me that people might find is like Susie Greene? Yes. But if you think about Susie Greene, the character of Susie Greene, she would never be a stand-up comic. She’s a Beverly Hills housewife. So it’s a different persona. It’s still funny. People should still come to the show. They won’t be disappointed.

Q. Do you see a lot of comedians who get just the anger part without the comedy?

A. It’s a big mistake young comedians make in the beginning. But you have to be accessible. You have to be likable. You have to tap into the audience’s anger. What you’re really doing is you’re being angry for them, for the audience. So it can’t just be rage that’s going to turn them off. It has to be, you know, they’re pissed off about this, too. And you’re giving them permission to feel it.

Interview was edited and con-densed. Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at nick@nickzaino.com.
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