Comedian Sue Costello On Her Dorchester Roots And Latest Project

Dorchester native and comedian Sue Costello. (Courtesy Laugh Boston)
Dorchester native and comedian Sue Costello. (Courtesy Laugh Boston)

Dorchester-born comedian, actor, performer and writer Sue Costello jokes a great deal about her TV show being cancelled (“Costello” ran for five episodes in 1998), her roles being shrunk (such as the one in 2010’s “The Fighter”) and her movies going nowhere (does anyone remember the Laurence Fishburne-written-and-directed “Once in the Life”?).

However, the fact that she has made a life and a living as a performer for more than two decades proves that she is more of a success than her long list of abortive endeavors might indicate.

As Costello herself puts it, “I had no money, I lived on couches. I did a lot of stuff to get to where I am now and I wouldn’t change a second of it.”

Her latest work is the 90-minute one-woman autobiographical play, “I Wasn’t Trying To Be Funny,” which she will be performing at Dreamland on Nantucket July 25.

Before that, however, she is booked for four sets of stand-up comedy on June 12 and June 13 at Laugh Boston. Costello spoke to The ARTery by phone from Brooklyn in advance of the hometown appearances.

Blake Maddux: How much built-in material comes with having been born and raised in Dorchester?

Sue Costello: I have to say, I attribute most of my funny to growing up in Dorchester. It was the way we all communicated. The longer I get into my career, the more reverence I have for it. Because that’s what happens in life, too. You start appreciating things a lot more.

What did you learn about being a performer from being part of the Boston scene?

I was very lucky to come up in Boston. The reason why you have a lot of really funny Boston comedians is because we were taught the craft. Billy Martin, who writes and produces Bill Maher’s show now, taught me the craft of stand-up: You open with a joke that tells everybody who you are right away, then you do your other jokes in between, and always have a closing joke that kills. Billy Martin would say to me, “Sue, no matter what, just stay on stage for five minutes.” And I performed at the Silver Fox in Somerville. I don’t even think it was a stand-up club. I don’t think it was a strip club, but it was close to a strip club. I remember being on stage and the guys just screaming at me, “You suck. Get off the stage!” And I was like, “I know I suck, I just have to stay on the stage for five minutes.”

Who were some of the comics who were performing around town when you started?

I started off with like Nick DiPaolo and Marc Maron, and, let me think of who else … The reason I Ieft Boston right away was that I thought that the women didn’t get the respect that they deserved. There were a couple of really funny women. Julie Barr was hilarious. I came up with Kathy Byron. I don’t know where she is now. I don’t know where any of them are, but they were hilarious. It’s not easy being a woman in stand-up.

What advice do you have specifically for female comics?

I have been doing Artie Lange’s podcast, Artie Lange from “The Howard Stern Show.” So it’s me with a bunch of guys, and a lot of the fans are Stern fans. The reverence that I’ve gotten from that is blowing my mind, and what I’ve learned is that female comics a lot of the time are outnumbered by the guys. And the tendency is, while you’re in the moment, to be just as loud or louder so that people will hear you. What I would say is that that actually makes it worse. If you hold your own, they will hear you.

Talk about your latest project, “I Wasn’t Trying To Be Funny.”

It’s a play, it’s a one-person play, and it’s all about growing up in Dorchester [Savin Hill, where she was born in 1968, almost a year after Mayor Marty Walsh was born there], how I went to Hollywood, and how I take the two and put them together. Street smarts mixed with sophistication. I never break the fourth wall, I’m the only person on stage, and it’s very, very personal. It’s much deeper than the stand-up. When my TV show got cancelled, then I thought, “They’re not going to tell me that I don’t have something to say.” I could do stand-up, [I was the] co-creator of my own sitcom, I was getting cast in a lot of dramatic roles and I could write. So I thought, let me create my own vehicle that showcases everything that I do.

Sue Costello will be performing two sets (8 and 10:15 p.m.) at Laugh Boston on Friday, June 12 and Saturday, June 13. Advance tickets are available here. For information on her performance at Dreamland in Nantucket on July 25, click here.

Blake Maddux Writer, The ARTery
Blake Maddux writes about nonfiction, popular music and stand-up comedy for several publications in the Boston area and on the North Shore.



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