Susie Youssef is a comedian, actor, writer and improviser. Having written, performed and produced comedy for stage, radio and television in Australia and internationally, she has dabbled in almost every medium you can think of. She is a seasoned guest on Triple J and ABC 702 and has appeared on The Chaser’s Media Circus and The Checkout plus she played the lead role in the Hayloft Project’s award-winning play The Boat People. Susie Youseff is one funny lady.
I imagine writing a comedy show is very different to other forms of script writing, what is your process for writing comedy? Does it vary a lot between mediums, live shows, television, radio etc.?
My process involves writing in multiple notebooks and using the Notes app on my phone for months and months. Then spending months trying to remember what on earth I meant by ideas like “Harmonica face man falls in love with tiny bird woman”.
Some of my sketches and stand up scripts look more like a set list than a well-formatted piece. The other mediums (stage shows, TV and radio) have been much more collaborative. With comedy, there is a lot of writing in my bed, in my PJs alone at 2am, thinking about harmonicas and blackbirds.
When did you realise that you wanted a career in comedy?
I actually wanted a career in poetry and superannuation but I’m settling for comedy because the money is so good.
In 2014 you played the lead role in the critically acclaimed play The Boat People. Can you tell me about that?
The excellent Benedict Hardie from the Hayloft Project spoke to me about his idea and I was instantly terrified and very excited. It was such an emotional rollercoaster. The story is about an entrepreneurial refugee who has political aspirations in Australia. And it’s a comedy. A black comedy. Wow – even reading that I can’t believe Benedict pulled it off. It was one of the hardest and most rewarding productions I have ever worked on.
So what shows do you have planned for the Sydney Comedy Festival this year?
I have a new solo show called Check Youssef Before You Wreck Youssef… It seemed like a good idea at the time. Some classic (old) characters make an appearance but I also tell some stories that I never thought I would say on stage. But I am. Come along and see me shed yet another filter.
Which performer are you most excited about seeing at the upcoming Comedy Festival?
I saw Felicity Ward’s show in Edinburgh and I can not wait to see it again. I laughed and cried a lot – maybe too much. Anne Edmonds, Becky Lucas and, Steen Raskopoulos and Rhys Nicholson are brilliant and should not be missed.
You write stand-up comedy, but also do a lot of improv. Which of these are more fun to perform? Is one more nerve-wracking for you?
Stand up is much more nerve wracking for me – improv comedy is based on the idea that you have permission to fail which suits me just fine. Great stand ups craft amazing jokes and I am a rambling idiot. I have a long way to go with stand up. Solo sketch has been a blast but my own stories keep creeping in to my writing more and more. I love doing all of it.
Do you have a routine to get yourself pumped up before you go on stage?
I have a strict routine of shaking furiously and using breathing techniques to stop me vomiting. Every time. (I also listen to September by Earth Wind & Fire on repeat)
Working in an industry which is so dominated by men, do you feel that you have to work harder to gain the recognition or credibility that your male counterparts are given?
I think we’re all working hard (for at least an hour a day…) to figure out how to create and continue to make good work. Health, relationships, geography, sexuality – there are so many factors. Gender is just part of the picture.
Who are some female comics that you draw inspiration from?
Maria Bamford, Maya Rudolph, Mindy Kaling, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Katherine Ryan, Beth Stelling, Felicity Ward, Anne Edmonds, Zoe Norton Lodge plus about a million more.