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November 12, 2021 2:39 pm

‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Star Susie Essman on Jewish Comics: ‘It’s the Shtetl Jews’

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Susie Essman. Photo: David Shankbone / Flickr

Jewish comedian Susie Essman, who stars in the HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” spoke in a recent interview about why she thinks many comedians have Eastern European backgrounds.

“It’s the shtetl Jews, from the Pale. The great Borscht Belt comedians — the Jack Bennys and the George Burnses and later on the Alan Kings — were all the traditional outsider immigrant[s] looking in,” she told the Substack weekly newsletter OLD GOATS.

The New York native added, “And also, in Judaism, there’s something about questioning. To be a learned person, you’re studying the Talmud and the Torah. And you’re always questioning it. My husband’s Catholic, where you do what the priests tell you to do. You don’t ask any questions. But in Judaism, you’re supposed to constantly analyze and question. That tremendously lends itself to comedy, don’t you think?”

When interviewer Jonathan Alter claimed that “uptight German Jews didn’t really become comedians as much,” the actress agreed, saying that German Jews “were much more assimilated.”

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Essman — whose foul-mouthed character on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Susie Greene, has been called a “rage icon” — also discussed how her parents’ bitter marriage and their constant arguing inspired her on-screen persona.

“There was a lot of tension growing up and there was a lot of screaming and yelling and fighting and doors slamming,” she said. “I remember every door in our house was off the hinges because my father would punch the doors so he wouldn’t hit any of us, but sometimes he did. He was an angry guy, my father, a Lower East Side tough Jew.”

Essman said Judaism did not play a large role in her upbringing and that her parents “didn’t indoctrinate us with religion at all.” In addition, her Jewish grandmother was “deeply ashamed and embarrassed by her immigrant experience,” the actress explained.

“[My grandmother] grew up on the Lower East Side in brutal poverty — no indoor plumbing — and left school in the third grade to go to work in a factory,” she said. “And I remember asking her questions, and she did not want to talk about it. She used to say to me that she was so ashamed of being an immigrant, of not being an American.”

The 11th season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is now airing Sunday nights on HBO.

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