You've gotta love Sue Costello

Published: Monday, Sept. 7 1998 12:00 a.m. MDT

Spending time with Sue Costello is a little like spending time with a tornado.

You're going to be blown away.She's the latest stand-up comedian to get her own sitcom - the eponymous "Costello," which premieres Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. on Fox/Ch. 13. And she talks loud. She talks fast. And she speaks with the distinctive accent that identifies her as a native of south Boston.

"Some people say I'm crude," Costello said recently. "It's not crude. It's like I talk to the janitor and the head of the network the same way. I just talk to people like they're people and everybody's like, `Oh, she's so funny. She's a character.' I feel like a monkey sometimes.

"I'm, well, I'm just talking. I go right from the gut and I thrive on it. Most people don't want to let their guts hang out. I thrive on it. I want to show everybody the vulnerability of the human character. And that's what I want to do on the show is show that people have foibles."

"Costello" is based on its star's actual life. The character of Sue Murphy is a 27-year-old bartender in south Boston with a big mouth, more than a little attitude and a boisterous relationship with her family. But she's trying to make more out of her life - she's in therapy and she's attending college.

In the premiere, Sue decides not to marry her longtime boyfriend and is forced to move back in with her parents (who are nicely played by Dan Lauria and Jenny O'Hara).

"Sue Murphy in the show is just like I am in real life," Costello said. "I mean, I would just get slammed, slammed, slammed."

While the show isn't all that great - it is indeed a bit too crude and inconsistent - Costello herself is undeniably engaging. Even charming, in an outrageous sort of way.

If the show doesn't work, Fox ought to consider just giving her a camera and a microphone and letter her talk to viewers for half an hour a week. That would be a hit.

Costello in person is a little hard to describe. She's strangely tough and vulnerable at the same time.

"The purpose of the show is to show the struggle of somebody who has to get out," Costello said. "Like Matt Damon in `Good Will Hunting.' They did capture it. He said in the movie, `I didn't ask for this.' And that made me cry when I saw that movie because of the pain - the excruciating pain - of being somebody who is creative in this neighborhood. It's not so much that they're all wrong and they're bad the way they live, (they just didn't understand) the spirit I had.

"I used to talk to myself and people used to say, `Sue, what are you doin'? You're a loser. Stop talkin' to yourself.' And I used to just think, `Alright, I'm just a loser.' Because I didn't know where to go with my energy. So now I'm here and people pay attention to my goofiness and talking."

But there's a remnant of pain from growing up different in Southie that lingers - even while she's deriving humor from it.

She said that in school she looked (and dressed) like a boy, wore thick, bifocal glasses and was nicknamed Buford.

"Not only did I have all that stuff, but the bifocals made me not able to judge the distance from my head to the desk. So I used to bang my head on the desk and have a big, black bump on my head on top of everything else," Costello said.

"My childhood was so awful. . . . I went around high school and I begged everybody, `Please be my friend. Please.' And they were like, `Loser! Get away from her. Susan's a loser. Get away from her.' And by the end, they were like, `Alright.' I had bothered them so much and they were like, `Alright, we'll let you hang around with us, but you're not going out like that.' "

So her new friends took off her glasses, changed her clothes, fixed her hair and took her to a party. And as she was leaving the party, a boy grabbed her buttocks.

"Most girls would be offended by that," Costello said. "But I was so happy he knew I was girl, I was like, `Alright! I'm happenin'!' "

Even when she tried to better herself, it wasn't easy.

"I went to college and I went to night school because I didn't feel I was smart enough to go to day school," Costello said. "And I wrote a paper - I was an English major - and I gave the paper to the English guy and he asked me if I ever thought about being a chef."

So she transferred to the University of Massachusetts, where her mother works in the maintenance department - thus, a free education for Sue.

"I took one speech and movement class and the teacher freaked out," Costello said. "She was like, `Where have you been? You belong in the theater.' "

She still found it hard to break out and try comedy and acting, even though she felt that was where her talents were.

"I was devastated by fear. I could not move, I could not do anything," Costello said.

But now she's taken the plunge - and is interested in not only making people laugh but making them think.

"I wanted to show the struggle of becoming a better person. The contrast of calling somebody a (tramp) and then going to therapy," she said. "I mean, my therapist - my real therapist - falls off her couch sometimes. And she's like, `I'm sorry. I didn't mean to laugh. That's not appropriate.' "

She insists that fame won't change her. Nor does she worry about losing her edge. Costello said she's "sacrificing becoming, like, the big Hollywood person" to stay "real."

"Like one of the guys came out of the bar (in South Boston) and he's like, `Sue, you always told us you were going to be famous but we didn't think you really meant it.' "

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