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Susie Essman talks 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' season 10, roasting Donald Trump and #MeToo backlash

The actress and comedian is coming to Boston this weekend.
Susie Essman
Susie Essman on "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Photo by John P. Johnson / HBO

Larry David isn't the only person Susie Essman has cursed out over the years.

Before Donald Trump's rise to the Oval Office, the "Curb Your Enthusiasm" star got a chance to roast the future president at a Friars Club event in 2004. While the actress and comedian didn't hold anything back at the time, she probably wouldn't have shown up at all if Trump had acted like he does now.

"That was a long time ago, before he started the birther crap," Essman tells Metro. "If he had been doing that, I never would have roasted him."

Ahead of her trip to Boston on Saturday for this year's sold-out Chai in the Hub event by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, we caught up with Essman to talk about her roast of Trump, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" season 10 and more.

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After such a long hiatus between seasons 8 and 9, are you surprised by the quick turnaround for "Curb Your Enthusiasm" season 10?

No, because I know Larry. I think he has the most fun doing "Curb" out of anything. I think he needed a break. We had done eight seasons of "Curb," which is 80 "Curb's," and he had done I don't know how many "Seinfeld's," hundreds of "Seinfeld's" before that. I think he just needed some time to get the juices flowing again and experience some other things. But I always knew he would come back. I know for all of us, none of us have ever had so much fun as when we're shooting "Curb." I wasn't surprised by the quick turnaround. He's in his head now. He's back in shape and I think he just wants to get right back at it. 

How do you feel like the show has evolved over the years?

It hasn't changed one iota because that's comedy. In comedy, we're not growing and learning from our mistakes, we just keep on doing the same thing over and over again. When you think about classic comedies, "The Honeymooners" for example, every single week Ralph had a crazy scheme. He didn't learn anything. He never learned that it's for naught. So that's comedy, you don't grow and learn.

The seasons have changed in that our budget's gotten bigger and they've gotten more ambitious. The storylines have gotten denser over the seasons. But it's essentially the same show. I was in L.A. for the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and on the plane they had season 5, so I watched a couple. I watched "The Ski Lift," which is Larry's favorite episode of all time, and it's the same. It's all the same. If it's not broken, don't fix it.

In recent interviews, you've said that thinking about the president on set gets you angry enough to play Susie Greene. You also once participated in Friars Club roast of Trump. Is it strange to look back on that event?

You only roast the people you love or are indifferent to. That's when I was indifferent to him. They asked me to do it at the last minute because they needed people because they couldn't find comedians. They had Katie Couric, but they needed some heavy hitters in there to make the roast work. I did the Friars Club a favor and did that. I had no thought about him whatsoever, except he seemed like a ridiculous human being. The fact that he's now commander-in-chief sends shivers up my spine. 

The irony, I think, is that my personal belief about why he wanted to run in the first place is because Obama gave him such a great roasting at the Washington correspondents' dinner a number of years ago when Obama was president. I think that he humilated him and, in his mind, it was payback. He just wanted to get back at him and that's why he's trying to reverse everything he possibly ever did. The situation we're in right now, all evolved from a stand-up routine.

How do you feel like the #MeToo and Time's Up movements have affected comedy? Is it a better enviroment now for female comics?

Backlash worries me. I feel like there are lines that should not be crossed, but some of those lines are very fuzzy right now. This has bothered me for a long time, before #MeToo and all that. Political correctness, I feel like that word has been co-opted by people who don't even know what that means. To comedians, what that means is that you could say whatever really is on your mind. It used to be that clubs were these private places, these down, dirty, dark—smokey even in the old days—places that were private. Like we're all here and what's happening here in this moment, you could experiment, spread your wings and try things. Maybe sometimes you went too far, but you pulled it back. I feel like that's no longer the case.

Everything, from being on Twitter to cell phones recording things, it's just gotten that it doesn't feel safe anymore in the way that it used to, to be able to push the envelope. Maybe do something that's politically incorrect, but then bring it back and figure out how to make it funny. It doesn't feel like there's the same freedom to do that right now, and that's a loss. 

It seems like a lot of comedians feel like it's harder these days to experiment on stage.

I think that's true. Yes, it's definitely a better environment for female comedians than when I was coming up. Oh boy is it. It was just a boys' club like you can't imagine. But again, I worry about a backlash, I really do. I think that there are egregious sexual harassers like Roy Moore and Harvey Weinstein, and then to me, Al Franken was being Groucho Marx. He was being a comedian, just being silly and funny. I think that we have to step back and really examine what our values are. I came up in comedy clubs in the '80s, believe me, I know all about sexual harassment. It was just de rigueur  in those days. But there are lines. People have to know the lines.

 
 
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