scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Sue Costello at home with local humor

Sean Turi

The first thing you notice about Sue Costello is her voice. It’s a loud, smoky thing, full of strength and vulnerability, simultaneously world-weary and ready for anything. In those ways, it mirrors Boston itself, and especially Savin Hill, the Dorchester neighborhood where the stand-up comic and actress grew up.

Costello returns to Dorchester Saturday night for a stand-up show at Florian Hall, a performance that she calls a homecoming. “When I did [the comedy podcast] ‘WTF’ at the Wilbur, everybody e-mailed me: ‘When are you gonna do stand-up in Boston?’ ” she says. Costello staged her one-woman show, “Minus 32 Million Words,” at the Boston Center for the Arts in 2010, so she hasn’t been gone too long. But she’s primarily based in New York and hasn’t performed as a comic here in four years, a lifetime in the world of stand-up.


When she started to make calls about performing at the big clubs in town, the process proved frustrating. “I kept asking and kept asking, and it was taking a long, long time,” she says. “I thought, why don’t I take it upon myself?”

So Costello arranged the Florian show, handling everything from booking the venue to making posters. She knows the DIY route well: After her short-lived 1998 Fox sitcom “Costello” was canceled, she started writing the show that would become “Minus 32 Million Words.” (Another stage show, “I Wasn’t Trying to Be Funny . . ., ” is in the works; after that, she’s planning a stand-up special and a book.) In the meantime, she landed roles in films, including 2010’s “The Fighter” starring Mark Wahlberg, in which Costello portrayed a feisty woman from boxer Micky Ward’s Lowell neighborhood.

Costello’s stand-up is equal parts confrontation and self-awareness, matching what she calls the typical Bostonian’s “innate confidence, a feeling that we belong in the world. And we are hilarious. The funny Boston hasn’t completely gotten its due.”


Costello has certainly put that confidence and humor to good use, from studying theater at UMass-Boston to nervously trying stand-up, from appearing with Laurence Fishburne in the 2000 crime film “Once in the Life” to crying on command for David O. Russell, director of “The Fighter.”

She adds that her hardscrabble upbringing readied her for critics, hecklers, and general show business adversity. “I have [that confidence] as a woman, which is funny, because it’s not always a woman trait in the rest of the world. I think I got TV deals because I would just walk into the room and I would treat Les Moonves, the head of CBS, the same as I would treat the guy at the door who was taking my ID.”

Costello’s father, James Costello, says she had strength from the start. “When she was born, she was a full-term baby, but she only weighed 3 pounds, 15 ounces. It was about six weeks of touch-and-go, and she survived. I think that’s where her career began.”

He then chuckles, recalling the time when 14-year-old Sue determinedly retrieved her brother’s stolen bike from a neighborhood bully. “She has that ability, if you’re in her face, to come back at you in a way that makes you love her,” he says. “When Suze is around, everybody’s happy.”

While some Bostonian traits have helped her in her career, others have stood in the way.


“The tenacity and the big-heartedness — I think there’s a lot of generosity in growing up in Boston. That was definitely a plus,” she says. “The suit of armor to deflect any love or gentleness or vulnerability, that was a detriment.”

Onstage, Costello explores that armor, which she is finally starting to shed. “People have been so unbelievably kind and nice to me throughout my life. For a while, I don’t think I could take it in. I don’t know if I could see it,” she says. “It’s still a challenge, but I go a lot slower now and I’m aware of it. I’m able to feel the love more.”

Costello will talk about that challenge at the Florian Hall show, along with the rest of her story: the working-class neighborhood that provided her with a backbone, the frustrations and blessings of being a woman in show business, and “tons of Hollywood stories that are hilariously, excruciatingly embarrassing.”

Despite those embarrassing stories, Costello has had some prominent cheerleaders along the way, even when it seemed like her stand-up career had faltered.

“Laurence Fishburne looked me right in the eye and said, ‘They just don’t get you yet. Don’t ever quit.’ It was the best compliment and most devastating thing I’d ever heard.” She takes a beat, then adds with a true New England cackle, “What am I supposed to do with that?”

David Brusie can be reached at