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Cannonball Read #27: What Would Susie Say?

02/23/2010

Susie Essman is well known as the sharp-tongued Susie Green on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. That’s how I came to know her. Her book What Would Susie Say?: Bullshit Wisdom About Love, Life and Comedy is a funny take on her perspective on life and her background in comedy. I have never seen Susie’s standup performance, but based on Curb and this book, I bet she’s a riot.

Essman starts out telling us of her marriage to Jimmy and how she deals with being the instant mother to four stepchildren – four teenagers. At first she’s afraid of the teens, and she’s unsure how to act around them. Then she resorts to bribery, spoiling them like Auntie Mame.

“My mother tried to give me advice. She’d say, ‘You know, you can’t buy their love.’ Bullshit. You can, and it’s exponential. They’re like Russian mail-order brides –the more you spend, the more they love you. They’re teenagers! It’s all about things!”

But Essman is not as shallow as that may seem:

“Luckily, I fell in love with them before I ran out of money. One of the things you can’t buy is time, and one day, I don’t know exactly when, I started to feel more comfortable and started taking to this stepmom thing like a fish to water.”

This book isn’t only about being a new stepmom, Essman tells us how she got into standup, and what life was like for comics in New York in the the mid-80’s. She becomes good friends with Joy Behar, one of the few other women comics in the scene at the time; and there are other comics like Chris Rock, Gilbert Gottfried and more that are her peers.

Essman has paid her dues, and the stories of trying to make it at the time are really great. I love this story of Rodney Dangerfield:

Rodney Dangerfield lived around the corner from Catch [a Rising Star] and would show up frequently and get on stage when he had to work on a spot for the Tonight Show. He’d meander in, someitmes in what looked like his pajamas. Rodney was always a great supporter of young comics. He’d sit with us at the bar for hours and talk comedy. One day I was home in my fourth-floor walk-up hovel and the phone rang. It was Rodney. “Essie” –that’s what he called me–“it’s Rodney. I just came up with a brilliant idea for your act.”

Why Rodney Dangerfield was sitting around on a Tuesday afternoon thinking about my career was beyond me. But that’s the way he was. He was a b ig, generous, loving teddy beary.

“You should be the female Andrew Dice Clay.”

He then proceeded to rattle off the types of female Dice jokes I should do.  He had that kind of mind. He was a master joke writer, maybe the best ever in terms of construction. “

Needless to say, Essman doesn’t take Dangerfield up on it, (I belive Lisa Lampanelli has filled the female Dice role quite well, but that’s another story.)

I never pursued the idea, but I was flattered that he thought of me.

Essman writes well, and her personality comes through clearly. She’s not all the “go fuck yourself” Susie Green character, but she can cut through the BS and tell you like it is. The anecdotes about the business, and her take on life, make this a charming, funny book that I highly recommend.

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