If you own a TV or have ever frequented the New York alt-comedy scene, chances are you’ve seen G.L.O.C. SUE GALLOWAY doing what she does best—rendering an audience helpless with laughter. Comedy might be her bread and butter now, but it wasn’t always what she wanted to do. This Malvern, PA native once had dreams of becoming a dramatic actress. Sue talks about her early years, her impressive record with booking commercials, and her work on the number one comedy on TV—30 Rock. Take it away, Galloway!
Sue arrives at my apartment bearing gifts of chamomile tea and blueberry muffins from Le Pain Quotidien, which is always appreciated by yours truly. (Take note, future interviewees.) After some serious play time with Gilda Raddog, which was the only way I could tempt her to come to Brooklyn for our interview, Sue and I get down to business.
Glennis: Sue, you’re hilarious. Would you say your early life was hilarious, too?
Sue: Ummmm. Ahhh. Yes. It was hilarious. I am the youngest of five kids and my siblings are all really funny.
G: So did you have aspirations of becoming a comedian when you were younger?
S: No, I wanted to be an inventor. I thought that I came up with the idea of tan-through clothing.
G: Who inspired you to go the comedy route?
S: Well, in high school I did some acting classes and anything I did people would laugh at. And I don’t mean that in a braggy way, I really was trying to do something serious.
G: Do you remember what roles specifically?
S: I feel like I was playing a mother in a Tennessee Williams play. I came in trying to do something serious like throwing flowers around and my teacher was like, “Why are you ridiculing this?” I was really trying to take it seriously.
G: When did you move to New York?
S: I moved here in 1997 for acting grad school. Again, with the intention of being…
S: But it wasn’t as big an issue at this point because I think people had a sense that I really was trying to be serious so they wouldn’t laugh. Then every once in a while, they would laugh and I was still bemused by it.
G: Did you want to be on stage or screen?
S: Screen, I think. I use to tape a lot of things off of TV and then watch them over and over again. I really liked Rebel Without a Cause.
G: Did you want to move people with your performances or did you want to connect with other actors? What do you think it was that drew you to dramatic acting?
S: I don’t know. I always felt a deep connection to the movies. I loved how a movie could transfer your outlook on things; sometimes temporarily and sometimes for longer periods than that. I also liked the fact that acting, this very strange thing that is reminiscent of pretending or behaving like a child, is an art form. Acting is a very rare and strange art form. You explore the relationship between you and others, you explore the way your character does that and you explore that within the bounds of the story. Everything about acting is just fascinating to me.
G: So you came to New York, you went to grad school, where was your first comedy class?
S: I went to the Actor Studio’s drama school, no comedy was there.
G: ..Like explicitly no comedy anywhere.
S: [laughs] It was forbidden. Again, there I had some issues of getting laughed at.
G: Did anyone ever pull you aside and say maybe you should do comedy,4 and did you listen?
S: Yes, they did and I was like, “I don’t really want to do that.” [People at the Actor’s Studio] said I should write myself a comedic monologue, just to be exercising that part, and I was like, “It doesn’t interest me.”
G: Were you writing at all at that point?
S: No. I think I wrote a screenplay at that time.
G: Oh… just a screenplay? [laughs]
S: Yeah. I’m certain it was terrible and I really wish I could find it. It was a 100 page screenplay… It was mostly dramatic. But I feel like it was terrible. I’m almost certain it was terrible. Strike that. I am certain it was terrible.
G: Because it was your first.
S: Yeah…I just sat down and wrote it, over a week or something. When I was in college I took a year abroad to Bratislava, Slovakia where I did see a lot of awesome comedy. I saw this weird eastern European comedy that I will never forget. I can’t remember the name of the group, so I will forget that—I believe it was a Czech group.
G: What do you remember about it?
S: What I remember the most was that there was this guy who had complete mastery over every muscle of his face. He was doing this weird blinking eyes—so someone would offer him a glass of water and he would be like [demonstrates with huge eyes] to the audience. Maybe that guy is still performing that somewhere. It was so awesome.
G: So what was your first NY comedy class?
S: So I was living in NY for a few years and a few people had told me about [The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre] and I just didn’t make it over there. For maybe two years [my drama school friends] were saying, “You should really go.”
G: Like how else can we say this… You’re funny.
S: Maybe not so much “You’re funny,” but more “You cannot do drama.” [laughs] So eventually I started to see some shows at UCB. I believe my first was Mother, and Respecto [Montalban], too, and I was like “Oh! This is great!” People were playing so confidently and I was like, “Wow – that seems like it would be really fun.” So I took a class at UCB in 2002. My Level One class show was on the last night at the old space [on West 22nd Street]. I remember I’d never been more nervous about a show.
G: Were you more nervous for comedy than you were for your previous dramatic performances?
S: It’s different. I had a technique that I used for the dramatic performances—though I would be nervous I channeled it into something else. With comedy you can’t really… I mean you can jump up and down and you can drink half a beer or something [laughs]. But… I guess you do channel it. I’m wrong. When you are on your own team you channel it into your relationship with [your teammates] and you focus on everybody else and how you make everybody else look good. I think that is the thing that destroys the nerves.
[In that first show], I think possibly either had the blackout line or the blackout line assist and that’s always good.
G: So did you feel pretty solid after that show?
S: I felt awesome. It was fantastic. I remember that very well. It was like, “Oh, I think I could do this… This is a good rush.”
G: And then you remembered all the people giving you advice to go into comedy…
S: No. No.
G: No? You just forget the little people?
S: Yeah, I forgot all about them.
G: What was your first solid improv group?
S: The Real Real World came out of a class [taught by Paul Scheer] and ran for two years. I was also on After School Special Power Hour which ran for about 8 months, I think, and also came out of a class taught by Owen Burke.
G: Speaking of The Real Real World, Liz Black had a question: where did your German accent come from?
S: That’s a good question. When I was 17, we had a German girl come live with us for a while. I don’t know if I necessarily do her [accent]—my brother is also married to a German woman and then I had a neighbor, a woman from Switzerland, at my old apartment on the Upper West Side and we are good friends. We hang out and have tea when she comes to town. I think I just sort of mash all those people. I actually don’t think I do a very good one. I kind of make it up.
G: So that goes back to what you said before about seeing everyone on stage with such confidence; you sell it very well.
S: Well, being able to do that really helped me on 30 Rock when I had to do an accent, which has evolved over time. But we’ll get into that in hour three.
G: [laughs] But first, what was your most cohesive Harold team?
S: That’s a really hard question. I guess I would say 1985. It just was a really great group. It was just the first group that I was on that we started to push the structure a little bit. Before that time I feel like we were just trying to catch up to the structure or avoid having our third beats crash down upon us or something.
G: And what was your first sketch show?
S: Oh! I was in a Latino sketch group that had a show on Public Access.
G: No! I did not know this.
S: It was called The Ground Floor.
I didn’t do a ton in it. It was me, Jose Cenara, Jaylene Marcos. We actually pitched it as a show to Comedy Central.
S: Um. Not interested. But we did have interest from a place called Si TV.
G: Did you write on the show?
S: I did. So that was my first sketch group. I also did my solo show which ran for 7 months [at UCB] and co-wrote Free to be Friends [with Julie Klausner] and that ran for 8 months [at UCB] and was in the Fringe festival.
G: Can you talk a little bit about your solo show?
S: I did a solo show and came up with the idea that it all takes place in my apartment. In-between sketches there would be videos of my cats walking around my apartment, like, “Play with my cats while I get ready for the next character,” as if everyone came over to my apartment and this is just what I do when I hang out every day. And I did like 12 characters because I am a fan of stuff that moves faster.
It was a really a fantastic learning experience you sort of have to generate your own confidence. It’s all on you. It’s a weird thing for somebody who considers—though no one else considers it—someone who considers themselves to be a dramatic actress. Even when NO ONE in the world would possibly consider that to be a possibility. [laughs]
G: [laughing] Have you thought about doing a show about that?
S: I guess I should. I am working on a new show. I don’t know when it will be done, but I am brewing up some more things and maybe that should be a part of it. I have a title—A Most Pretentious Comedy Show—it’s just a bunch of arrogant characters. Maybe, not necessarily arrogant, but… Like me. [laughs] No. But they have some kind of perception of themselves that’s a little skewed, but they’re insistent on sending it out into the world. Their idea of themselves as opposed to what they really seem to be.
I can’t really—I wish I could do story telling shows but I don’t want people to know everything about me. Is that weird?
G: No, that’s really interesting.
S: I think it’s good to have secrets. Not that I feel like I’m putting something over on people, I just don’t want to tell everybody everything. And I also don’t think that what I have to say is all that interesting. [laughs] In that respect I like to keep them for myself because if you subscribe to a certain technique of acting those are your little personal gems to use when you’re performing.
G: Let’s talk about 30 Rock. You started as a background writer in the writing room and grew into a full-fledged, speaking character. How did that start?
S: [The casting directors for] 30 Rock called up the UCB offices asking for people to play background writers and they were given the name of Anthony Atamanuik. We were on Trillion together—my first [Harold] team—and we were always friends so he gave them my name. So, [laughs] keep in touch with all the people from your old teams and stuff because that got me onto that show.
And then I’d been dating John Lutz [“Lutz” on 30 Rock, whom she is now married to] for two or three months and he was doing the same thing and I called him up and was like “I think I’m going to the same thing as you tomorrow!” That’s part of the story of how we met though and that is not the question I’m answering.
G: But it’s adorable. Your character is French-Dutch because of the microwave joke, how did it morph into German?
S: Yes. The Bête Neuker joke with Jack [Donaughy played by Alec Baldwin].
It was the briefest of scenes but that first line I got I was responding to Alec who I… [laughs] used to have a giant crush on. So I went around asking everyone and they’re like, “Yeah, do it in the French way, that sounds good.” In the French way—which is another joke on 30 Rock. The next line I had made reference to my boyfriend still being in Holland so I did that with more of a Dutch accent and I’ve since basically just been doing that German accent I did when I was in The Real Real World.
I am not kidding on Google Translate, and I know this is not completely accurate, but there is a person who sounds like they are a native Dutch speaker who will say the word. A recent word I had to say was Struikgewas. I didn’t know how to say it so I just typed it in and somebody with this Dutch-sounding accent said it.
G: Putting the Drama Bookstore out of business.
S: [laughs] Yeah. The internet is awesome. I think I do a little more than I need to. I don’t think anybody expects it. But only because I’m a nerd, not because I like to work. [laughs]
G: Was working with your crush, Alec, nerve-wracking?
S: It wasn’t really that bad because you do read through the week before and that gets the nerves out. I wouldn’t have believed you had you told me that was gonna happen. YOU specifically.
S: Cuz I don’t believe things you say.
G: Nor should you. I’m not recording any of this. Do you want to leave? No. Stay. I have more questions. About Tina Fey! I know this interview is about you, but what can you say about working with her on set?
S: She works so hard and has many different hats… As well as jobs… At that show so I only work with her in one tiny aspect of what she does there and what I take away from that is that I need to work a little bit harder. [laughs] But also—I think John and I talked about this a little while ago—that many people come on to the show and [they] say, “This is the best show I’ve ever worked on. I can’t believe how much people like each other here and how fun and relaxed it is.” And John and I were saying that really comes down from the top and Tina absolutely helps that. I mean you’re there to work, it’s not goof around time, but it’s definitely a fun place to be, which is a good way to do comedy. I feel like I’ve definitely learned a lot from that. She’s so smart and has always got a lot of really fun things to say. A mind that works that way had to go into this field, but she probably could have done anything she wanted to.
G: Let’s talk about commercials—you book a lot of them!
S: Honestly, I love doing commercials. I even love doing commercial auditions. I think I might be the only person who does.
G: What do you love about it?
S: Every single day it’s a chance to go and perform. I get to do the only job I ever really wanted—besides inventor—well, and I did major in anthropology so I did want to be an anthropologist, but I think I wanted to be like Indiana Jones. Anyway, I think commercials are really fun. You get to learn different styles of directors, see how the director interacts with the client—which is sometimes contentious, sometimes friendly—and then you try to figure out how to give them the thing that they want while still doing what you want to do.
G: Which one has been your favorite?
S: That is a really hard question, because I really like doing all of them. I love the [MasterCard spot] I did with Peyton Manning because I thought he was fantastic. He was really funny and a really interesting guy.
It was shot in Indianapolis. It looks like it was in a tropical place but they did a green screen on a balcony at an Indianapolis museum. I’m such a jerk but I came into it like, “Ugh. This guy. He’s not going to be able to hit his mark, he’s not going to know what he’s doing,” and he was way better than I was. They’d be like “Move your coffee cup a little bit,” and then, “Perfect!” [laughs]
G: It could have just been because he was Peyton Manning.
S: Maybe! Probably not. The Sprint one I did recently was great.
David Shane was the director and he is fantastic.
G: So someone gives you unlimited funds and network support: What would your sitcom be about?
S: Oh! [laughs]
S/G: It would be a drama.
S: It would probably have time-traveling in it, a lot of dramatic aspects to it, and it might go to other planets as well.
G: And you would star, naturally.
S: Naturally. Naked all the time. [laughs] Subtly sci-fi, maybe with a hint of a steampunk element to it, and it would be accidentally funny.
G: Who, dead or alive, is your dream collaborator?
S: In an interview, it’s you. God, I’m so stumped… Dream collaborator. I really am stumped! It might be a blueberry muffin.
G: Do you want a blueberry muffin?
[Glennis gets the blueberry muffins and they chow.]
S: You know what? Somebody’s going to hate me for answering this way—and we’ve discussed it too—but I really would love to write something with John.
G: That’s really sweet. I hope it happens! Last question, who do you find to be a strong female comedic voice right now?
S: I really like all the women I work with. I think doing comedy is a little bit hard as a woman so anybody who does it is successful in a way because it’s a hard place to take your lumps and keep your head up and say, “I’m still doing this!” I think there are so many great improvisers and stand ups and I don’t think any of them consider themselves to be a feminist or anything either, they’re just doing what they want to do. Andrea Rosen is always awesome, Ilana Glazer is great, Megan Neuringer is fantastic, Fran Gillespie is awesome – we’ve been on Law Firm together for a while and she’s so funny. And young, too. Ellie [Kemper] is awesome. Lennon [Parham] of course. We all need to keep doing it and not get discouraged by the sometimes lack of praise or lack of understanding or seeing people who are male and it seems like, oh it’s a little bit easier for them, isn’t it?
G: Anything else you’d like to add?
S: That I think it’s important for girls—I call them girls—to support each other. And that I like this muffin.
You can catch Sue on stage with her Harold Team, The Law Firm, Friday nights at 10:30 at New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and in Supercream Supreme! at 8pm on Thursday, March 17th—St. Patty’s Day—at Royal Oak in Williamsburg.
We’ve also got the inside scoop on what’s coming up for Sue’s character on 30 Rock—you’ll find out what job Sue LaRoche-Van Der Hoot had before her job as a comedy writer!