Review: Susie Essman, Soho Theatre

susie essman

A very rare occurrence last night. I actually paid for a ticket to see a comedy show. Due to a cock-up on the cinema screening front I found myself at a loose end with a friend in swinging Soho and decided to see Susie Essman. I'd initially been told I could have a press ticket for Wednesday's performance but then discovered this week that critics were not invited after all. So what the heck, I thought. Gatecrash the first night anyway.

I'm not sure why some acts decide they do not want reviews. Maybe the seasoned stand-up, best known as foulmouthed Susie "you fat fuck" Greene in Curb Your Enthusiasm was worried she would be jet-lagged. But for the whole six-night run? Maybe she was worried that she might be playing to sparsely attended rooms? No chance. In fact Essman has already added a couple of dates because sales are so brisk. As far as I can remember critics were welcome when she made her UK debut in 2007 (supported, with a bit of meta-textual irony, by UK comic Jeff Green). Anyway, we shall leave that no-press showbiz mystery for now and concentrate on the show.

Essman is 58 - though she certainly doesn't look it – and much of her material reflects what is going on in her life. Her stepkids have left home, making her an empty nester – "yippee" she cried – but that doesn't mean she is happy. She is also having to deal with the menopause and towards the end of the show she pinpointed a fellow sufferer in the audience and they compared notes about hot sweats and dry vaginas.

A lot of the humour had a distinctly Jewish feel to it. A few weeks ago I'd been watching Woody Allen's Radio Days again, and Essman's description of her perma-bickering parents echoed the scene in the movie where the mother and father have a heated debate over which ocean is the best. There was much here that had the bitter ring of truth to it, from the Jewish preference from shopping over camping to her fear of inevitably turning into her mother.

You don't have to be Jewish to get the gags, though it might help if you have teenagers. She brilliantly captured the way we become our parents in an achingly well-observed vignette about muddling the names of a contemporary bands in the car, just as her mother had done with the Beatles and the Stones forty years earlier. And her description of youngsters not becoming adults neurologically-speaking until their mid-twenties is, I'm assured, scientifically accurate, though I'm doubt if a neurologist would describe a 20-year-old as someone "mentally ill with car keys".

The occasional dips came when things didn't quite translate. I'm not sure if a bridal shower is the equivalent of a hen night, as was suggested by an audience member, and there were a couple of young blank faces when she mentioned Danny Kaye. But these awkward moments were dealt with briskly and effectively with swift, sarcastic, growly put-downs. When she was gynaecologically crude she sounded a little like a young Joan Rivers, but that is meant as a compliment so I hope it is taken that way. One major complaint though – there was nowhere near as much swearing as I expected. But laugh? I didn't even consider asking for a refund.

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