February 18, 2010

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The goddess of ha!
Alana Susko spreads the wealth of comedy
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

Alana Susko always wanted to be a stand-up comic. Her friends encouraged her, but she couldn’t work up the nerve.

“I’d rather have a colonoscopy or a small car accident,” she said. “It was my greatest fear.”

Then one day, Susko found a way to beat her stage fright — sex toys.

She began hosting living room parties for women, selling “novelty items” for consenting adults. “It’s like Tupperware, only with romance enhancements,” Susko said. “I thought if I could get comfortable with the terminology, I could say anything.” 

Soon, phrases like “pure instinct pheromone cologne,” “bendable buddy” and “hot licks edible lotion” were rolling off Susko’s tongue, and it was so long, public speaking phobia.

She attended a standup comedy class taught by Boston comic Dave Rattigan, and appeared at her first open comedy audition. “I was awful but it felt really good afterwards to know that I did it, and that I survived,” she said. Her fourth time on stage was at the Comedy Connection in Fanueil Hall.

Says Susko with self-deprecation, “I’m a woman and there’s not too much estrogen in the industry, so it’s an advantage.”

That was four years ago. Susko turned professional in 2009 and began organizing monthly comedy nights at a Nashua restaurant that’s owned by her cousin.

“I have an enormous family, there’s hundreds of us. We’re probably related,” she says to her interviewer with a laugh. “My parents have been married so many times, I have like 28 siblings.”

The Fody’s Comedy Showcase, which happens on the second Thursday of every month, is different from typical open-mike nights. “It’s more structured,” Susko said. Early in her comedy career, Susko went to open-mike nights and found them wanting. Aspiring comics had to pay to participate and were required to bring their own crowd — and make them buy drinks. “The audience ends up being comics who don’t laugh at each other, and friends of comics. It wasn’t an ever-changing audience, and it wasn’t really empowering, because you show up and no one laughs … I decided to recreate it the way I’d like it.”

Susko’s own act includes a section where she riffs on working as a sales associate — her official title is Goddess — with Athena’s Home Novelties. “But I’m PG-13 all the way,” she said.

“You should know two things,” she tells her audience. “None of my sample products have been used, and I keep my clothes on. To some, that’s a disappointment, to others it’s a relief.”

During her “Crazy Woman” section, Susko says, “I’m bipolar — the fun one at parties.” In one bit she explains how she’s only recently begun to understand her condition. “I never thought I had a mood disorder — I just assumed I got over things quickly.”

The comic says, “I kind of make fun of women — we overthink things.”

Susko also hosts a professional comedy night on the final Saturday of each month. The next one happens Feb. 27 and features comedy veteran Bob Seibel as headliner, a feature set from lesbian comic Amy Tee, and comedian Jeff Koen. Susko usually serves as host, or “bullet taker,” for the pro evenings, joking that it’s her favorite time to try out new material, “because who’s gonna be listening?”

Appearing regularly at Fody’s is a challenge, Susko said: “I always try to present new material because I do have a regular audience … recently I wrote some new material called Dad.”

Each show is a charitable event, with Susko taking enough money to pay the comics and donating the rest to a good cause. “At our last event, we were able to raise $545 for a local woman who is dying of cancer, and this Thursday night we’ll do the same,” she said.

Susko helps out with other fundraisers, most recently a Jeannie Barkley Memorial Fund show earlier this month in Massachusetts. “It’s the first time that they wanted to use comics,” she said. “A friend of a friend referred me, and I helped set them up.”

She won’t offer names or numbers, but Susko claims that she can usually persuade her comedian brethren to appear for as low as half price. “They usually give me a better deal because I work at their heartstrings,” she said. “It’s true!”

“It’s my passion to raise money for other people,” Susko said. “It’s my way of paying rent on the planet.”

Beyond that, comedy provides a way for Susko to do her small part to help the world forget its troubles, if only for one night.

“You don’t know where people are coming from when you stand up on stage — if someone just died, got fired or got in an argument,” she said. “You’ve got to stop the conversation, and bring them into your world. Making them laugh reduces their cholesterol, their blood pressure and improves their mood. Who knows what kind of a trickle-down effect that has when they go home?”

“I say the same about orgasms, you know.”


Laughs
What: Comedy with a Purpose, featuring Bob Seibel, Amy Tee, Jeff Koen and host Alana Susko
When: Saturday, Feb. 27, at 8 p.m.
Where: Fody’s Tavern, 9 Clinton St., Railroad Square in Nashua
Tickets: $15
Info: 577-9015, www.fodystavern.com