It must be tres fab to be Sue Murphy these days. The Menlo Park native’s career as a stand-up comic has hit a new high; she just taped her very own Comedy Central special. Her live shows (including a series this week in Sunnyvale) keep her in heavy circulation, and she’s had guest shots on numerous sitcoms, including a recurring role on “Jeff Foxworthy.”
Murphy’s Bay Area posse is the glam restaurant crowd (owners, writers, chefs), and although she’s been forced to defect to Los Angeles, she’s assuaged the pangs of moving by purchasing a groovy new pad in the Los Feliz area of L.A.
So life is good. But does she have any unrequited wishes? She ponders the question, sitting at the counter of the Universal Cafe.
“If I could change anything, it would be to have pretty feet. I’ve always wanted them and they’re just not pretty.”
Then she lets loose the patented Sue Murphy guffaw, a sort of happy-horse-noise that causes anyone within a city block to chuckle along with her.
“Oh my God! I can just hear what you’re going to write: “Standing in the shadow of Sue Murphy’s intellect was a tough assignment. . . . ‘ “
Murphy is perhaps an anomaly in the world of stand-up comedy: She’s not a tortured soul working out on stage what didn’t get fixed in therapy. She strikes you as genuinely happy and life-embracing at age 40, talking 80 miles per hour and living even faster than that.
But sometimes, happiness in the world of comedy can be a set-back. Murphy has been working on a one-woman play, and struggling to find subject matter.
“It’s true that a lot of comedians have terrible histories, a lot to work out. But I don’t have anything to complain about! My big secret would be, “Gosh, I stepped on the front hem of my prom dress in high school. . . . ‘ I know the audience would say “Wow, how did she ever survive the pain?’ “
Still, she keeps working on it, recognizing the dearth of artistic material out there – on TV, in the movies or on stage – for her demographic.
“I just rarely see anything that speaks to who I am. Single but not unhappy, successful to a degree, 40-ish. Women in that demographic are always portrayed to be either cold and unemotional, or sad and desperate. I mean, I really like my life!”
Murphy has had a remarkably long career in an art form that can be so discouraging many would-be comics throw in the towel after just a short time. In recent years, she’s spent most of her time on the road, and made her way onto top network shows like Jay Leno’s. ( “They weren’t too keen when I told my jokes while lying down on the stage,” she chuckles.)
Always the class clown growing up, Murphy (whom I’ve known peripherally for more than 20 years, I must disclose) says she got her non-professional start in show biz lying on my family’s living room rug, “making up stupid stuff” with my younger sister Lisa.
She got hooked on making people laugh while at Woodside High in drama class taught by revered teacher George Ward. “He was amazing. He let us take it way out there. My friends and I did a scene from “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs,’ and we were so bored we laced it with obscenities, made it absolutely profane. And he didn’t freak out, he let us get halfway through it before calmly suggesting we try it the way it was actually written.”
Murphy sighs. “But I tell you, it really made an impression on me. There is nothing better than making people laugh.”
But it took her a while to realize her calling was stand-up. Murphy gravitated toward theater first, and while at the Magic met Dan St. Paul, a fellow actor and funny guy with a thing for famous comedy couples like Nichols and May, Stiller and Meara. He suggested they try making an act together, and Murphy-St. Paul was born – a staple for nearly a decade on the Bay Area comedy scene.
Although their first experience almost killed them off.
“At the Holy City Zoo, you would sign up for an open mike slot and then wait around until 1:30 in the morning when the audience is made up of five guys lying around in their own vomit. But we come on, we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves. And the audience hated it from the second we went on stage.”
She winces with the memory.
“But we came from theater, so you don’t quit in the middle of it! If you’re doing “A Doll’s House,’ and the audience isn’t liking it, you don’t suddenly stop and do Noel Coward!”
When Murphy went solo after eight years, she realized there was a whole new art form to conquer.
“I realized that I didn’t need to stick with a script, that I could take a routine this way or that way – depending on the audience response. It was a revelation!”
Rather than rely on the traditional setup / punchline routine, Murphy’s forte is storytelling. She can ramble on for 10 minutes about one topic, accelerating the absurdity as she goes, until the audience is on the floor.
“I’m a great believer in the inside joke,” she beams.
One perennial crowd-pleaser: A routine about her and her Star Trek-lovin’ friends adapting a silly line from one episode, and using it to drive each other crazy.
Murphy’s penchant for the long story had to be reined in for her Comedy Central special, which will air several times during the holidays on the Winter Stand-up series. “I had to do what amounted to four six-minute sets, so it was my worst nightmare! But I think it turned out great.”
FUNNY FOLKS RAISE FUNDS AND SPIRITS
Published on Saturday, November 18, 2000 © 2000 Madison Newspapers, Inc.
Byline: By Rob Thomas The Capital Times
At the sold-out “Comics Come Home” show at the Orpheum Theatre Friday night, Jim Breuer, the former “Saturday Night Live” cast member regaled the crowd with “hand impressions” of a three-armed umpire, a dog and a first-time trampolinist. It was the third time that Breuer had hosted the event, which raises money for the Chris Farley Foundation.
San Francisco comedian Sue Murphy delivered another brilliantly funny performance. Her true story involving herself and Breuer at O’Hare International Airport after last year’s concert was terrific, and had Breuer in stitches offstage.
“SNL” alumna Victoria Jackson was winsome as always, although she tried to pack too much material into her short set. She did deliver the only line of the night about the perpetual presidential election. “I live