The patient is deceivingly chipper. Deceiving because there is clearly a lot of depth to this woman. She speaks of dark pasts, of misogyny, and even of professional failures with the same perky cadence one would use to talk about a newborn puppy. She’s not happy for no reason, however: the subject has been praised for her budding comedy career, dubbed by TimeOut New York one of the “Top ten funniest women in NYC.” Her talent is evident. The subject answers my questions with a mix of earnest seriousness about her profession and a hint of dry irony about such seriousness. As a “registered” psychologist, I appreciated her openness about her family and her past, and as a fan of women in comedy, I love her podcast, “Tits & Giggles”, where the patient chats with other female comics about their lives, their influences, their worries, and their successes. She may be somewhat new on the scene and small in stature, but Sue Smith packs an emotional and hilarious punch in our conversation.
You currently live in New York. Were you raised in the city or did you move here?
No, I’m from Pennsylvania originally, like a small town, and I came here for college.
Was it a hard move coming to New York from a small town?
Um… yeah. I was young and naive, so I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. But I think I had always wanted to come to the city; I was obsessed with TV shows set in the city my whole life, so I didn’t even apply to colleges in my state—if it was in Pennsylvania, I wouldn’t apply. So I think it wasn’t that hard.
Do you think New York has the best comedy scene, or is there another city that you would like to try your luck in?
No, New York is definitely the best, because you can perform here so many times. As a stand up, I can perform three times a night if I want to, if I really hustle. And I don’t think it’s like that in any other city. In LA you have to drive a lot, and there’s traffic. I think Chicago’s good for improv, which would be cool, but I like stand up. And I find that New York comedians, since it’s so competitive here and there’s so many of us, when you put us somewhere else, you realize how strong we really are, and you really get your chops here.
Has anyone in your family heard your stand up?
No. They’ve seen me do improv and they saw my solo sketch show that I had at the UCB, but they’ve never heard my stand up. My mom is coming to visit at the end of November, and I’m a little worried.
Are there any things you’ve done in comedy so far that your family hasn’t liked?
Oh yeah, for sure. Sometimes really personal things that I will put on stage but don’t feel comfortable talking to my mom about, or people close to me about, my mom will hunt them down on the internet. I had a piece published on xoJane, and I didn’t tell her about it, and she found it. I’m recording an album next week, and I have one piece about my mom—I didn’t want her to see all my stuff, so I have her blocked on my Facebook, so I have a piece about that in my stand up set that I was going to put on my album. But I was doing it last night and I was like, “I better not, because she’s probably going to listen to this.”
So would you say you come from a more conservative background?
Yeah, they’re pretty conservative. My dad was a libertarian but they’re kind of conservative in that we went to church, and the town where I’m from is very conservative, and everyone’s Republican and white.
Do you think that had any impact on your comedy?
I always felt this pressure to speak up and challenge the system, and challenge the standards from when I was super young, and I think I still feel that. If people aren’t talking about things, then that’s the thing I want to talk about.
If people aren’t talking about things, then that’s the thing I want to talk about.
Have you ever bombed doing stand up?
Oh my god, yeah. Every comedian does.
How did that make you feel?
It feels awful! It feels really bad, but I think eventually, after a couple of years, you get to a point where you feel like you have more of an armor, and you feel more confident, like, “I know this is funny, so whatever, you guys can go fuck yourselves.” But it feels really bad.
I know this is funny, so whatever, you guys can go fuck yourselves.
Is there any particular bombing story that is especially memorable?
The other night, I was working all day, I had a really long day, and then I had three shows, and I tried to have coffee to keep me going. And when I have a lot of caffeine, I get ahead of myself and I don’t take my time and I get super manic. Usually I try to improvise up top, and the other night I was doing that, and people just weren’t laughing. And also, I was trying to make stuff I don’t necessarily do all the time stronger for this upcoming recording, so it just felt real bad.
Growing up, did you ever think you were going to be a comedian? Were you ever the class clown?
No. I wanted to be an actor from the time I was really little, and then when I was in high school I started doing improv, which I liked. Being an actor, all of the venues for acting in my hometown were musical theater, which I thought was stupid, and there was one person who taught an improv class, which I really liked, and it really resonated with me. And then, when I was a senior, they had the “All County Clash of Laughs,” and my friend and I wrote a sketch, like a Celebrity Jeopardy parody sketch, and I loved it. I dyed my hair pink, it was great.
Wow, dedication! Do you draw on your upbringing for your comedy?
For me, the big thing is women in comedy and women in society. I grew up in a really misogynistic town, where people just fawned all over the football players; it was very traditional, and for me, I’m very conscious when I present on stage as a woman, and that is very important to me.
So you have a podcast, “Tits and Giggles”, where you interview female comedians. What have you learned from interviewing almost exclusively female comedians?
I think we all, professionally, as women, have these shitty experiences, where people treat us like shit and undermine our ideas. But I love talking to women in comedy, because they’re so interesting, and their stories are so diverse. A lot of times when I’m at a show watching women on stage, the jokes are better, because they have to try harder and work harder. I feel like they all have really diverse backgrounds that I love hearing about.
Do you think women and men have different senses of humor?
I don’t know. I mean, I think everyone has different senses of humor; I don’t know if it’s like a men / women thing. I think that different comedy resonates with people differently.
Has interviewing other female comedians changed your style of comedy at all?
I definitely learn from everybody that I talk to, but not really, because I think if we just talk about comedy it’s boring; I’d rather learn more about their lives. So I don’t think it affects my performance, but I think it helps me feel more connected to them and create this bond and this community of female comedians that is important.
How has comedy affected your mental health?
I think it’s made me more confident overall. When I started, I wasn’t as confident. But then, being on stage by myself, I’ve had to, in order to be good, learn how to be confident and put on that show and “fake it ’til I make it”; to not care, not judge, not be critical. So I think it’s made me such a stronger person overall, but it’s taken a long time to get there.