TV fans know Susie Essman as the foul-mouthed character Susie Greene on HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
She plays the wife of Larry David's manager, Jeff, and brings cheer into viewers' lives with her venomous rants and profanity-filled insults, most of which are directed at Larry and Jeff.
She visited with our fourth hour team to talk about her first foray into reality TV with "Better Half," which debuts tonight on Bravo. WATCH VIDEO
Essman is also an accomplished stand-up comedienne (she's appearing at Caroline's in New York City October 12, 13 and 14) and co-stars with John Travolta in the upcoming animated feature film, Bolt.
I sat down with Essman before her appearance on the show this morning to talk to her about profanity, profanity and, well, profanity. Here's our conversation:
Q: Before we get to "Curb," let's talk about this new reality show. Do you watch reality TV?
Susie Essman: No.
Q: Then how did this show come about?
SE: Well, they called me and showed me the pilot. And it's not a "reality reality" show. It's more of a contest than a typical reality show. So I liked the concept of the show and said that if the they explored the relationships of the couples, then I would do it.
I had a lot of fun doing it, though the contest days were very long days. Very long days. It's a fun show, and it's interesting to learn about relationships and professionalism. All of these people were really into what they did, whether they were hairdressers, fitness instructors, whatever. They all love what they do.
Almost everyone I know has a career and a relationship. And in that situation, the people are both into their careers. So you get home, you don't want to talk about the other person's day, you want to talk about your day. But on this show, the other half gets to understand in a real way what the other person is doing. They get a new respect and understanding that they never would have gotten without being contestants on the show.
And invariably there are fights and arguments, which is always fun to watch.
Q: Talking about people who love their jobs and you just don't understand it...I always leave the dentist's office marveling at dental hygienists, how they can love cleaning people's teeth all day.
SE: My dentist is so into teeth! It's amazing. That's a job that we couldn't do for legal matters, looking into the world of drilling, filling and billing.
The riskiest profession that we did was hairdresser. These two guys -- two real "guys guys" -- had to cut and highlight real people's hair. It's one thing if you have to learn to be a chef and you cook a bad meal, no big deal. But to have to cut and especially highlight someone's hair?
But it worked out. They ended up looking like they looked like if they had gotten their hair done for real. But never in a million years would I have let them touch my hair, especially the highlighting part.
Q: Yeah, they could really mess with someone's appearance for months.
SE: Though it might be okay for an Orthodox woman. She could just change her wig.
Q: Let's talk about "Curb." When you were first offered the role of Susie Greene, did you have any idea the kind of persona that you would develop? Everyone must assume that you're like her.
SE: Yeah, it's called acting. I'm always so shocked that people are shocked when I'm nice and gracious when they come up to me on the street. I don't act like Susie Greene, I don't dress like her...but if you push me, I can go Susie Greene on you. That's what we call it in my house: "Going Susie Greene." But it's not my general mode of behavior.
Q: My friend Aaron saw you on the subway the other day...
SE: I remember him! He came up and said hello. He was very funny. He said, "I know you don't want to talk to me, but I love you" or "I love the show" and then he quickly got off the train. He waited to say something until right before his stop.
Q: So are you used to getting recognized? Do you enjoy it?
SE: Yes, but I always have this bizarre experience. People want me to yell and scream and curse at them. I'll be walking down Broadway, and someone will come up to me, hand me their cell phone and say, "It's my husband...tell him he's a fat f***." One time, a guy with glasses came up to me and goes, "Go ahead, say it." I said, "Say what?" He said, "You know. Say it." He wanted me to call him a four-eyed f***.
I'm the only person in the country who has this experience. And I'm not always in the mood to curse at people. Sometimes I'm just buying produce.
Everyone wants to have their work recognized, and I'm appreciative of people talking to me about it. It's how it's presented that makes the difference. I see mouths drop in disappointment when I'm respectful and nice. They want me to be Susie Greene. Ninety-nine percent of the people get that I'm not the character, but one percent can get obnoxious and don't know where to draw the line. I'm probably being nice by saying only one percent is obnoxious though.
Q: Do you have a favorite episode, favorite moment or favorite line from the show?
SE: My favorite Susie Greene episode is probably "The Doll." My favorite phrase from that episode was, "Get me the f****** head."
My other favorite line is when I get to say to Larry, "Get the f*** out of my house!" I love throwing him out of the house.
My favorite episode is "The Ski Lift." Larry made me laugh the most in that one. Him pretending to be an Orthodox Jew, and me pretending to be his wife. That's probably my favorite, but I have a favorite for each season.
Q: This season has been great so far, and I especially loved this past Sunday's episode. The show is at its best when we can relate to the small moments in life that you think about but don't really talk about. On the floor where my office is, there are people who sit outside the bathroom, just like what Larry dealt with on the show. You don't know if they're keeping tabs on how long you're in there or what, so I always try to quietly slip by them on my way into the bathroom. Or the whole lefty-righty phone thing.
SE: Yes, the show is all about things we can all relate to, like masturbating onto a teddy bear .
Q: Can you talk on the phone on either ear?
SE: I'm purely righty. I do everything righty. If I'm not doing something righty, I don't know who I am. But on the point of the small things we can relate to, that's one of Larry's great talents. That's part of what made "Seinfeld" so great. It's the little annoyances in life that everyone has.
Larry's character has no patience for social mores. He does what we want to do. Can you say something to the woman at the ice cream store who samples every flavor? No, but he can. People always ask me if he's really like that, and I say what he says -- that he aspires to be that character.
Q: You come from stand-up comedy and you still do shows. Is that where you feel the most natural, the most at home?
SE: I don't know how to answer that. I love to act. And I love to act when I have a character that I love to play, like Susie Greene. I won't ever stop doing stand-up. It's my first love. It's also the hardest thing to do, so it's kind of a love-hate thing. It's where I have the most control.
But I get something similar doing "Curb," because we improvise all of the dialogue. And on the show, I also get to collaborate with other actors, which is so much fun.
I'm also recording an animated Disney movie with John Travolta and loving doing that. Even though I'm just by myself with headphones, which is a little bizarre, it's challenging and I really like doing it.
Still, there's something about getting a laugh from a live performance that you can't get from anything else. That's another fun thing about doing the show, because we really get to perform for each other. Larry can't get through a scene with me without cracking up.
Q: That must be pretty gratifying, when Larry David loses it during a scene from something you've said.
SE: It is, especially because his laugh is so joyous. It's one of the perks of the job.