The writers room on TGS—the fictional show-within-a-show at the heart of NBC’s 30 Rock—is populated by a collection of lost souls who while away the hours with games of Marry, Boff, Kill, and other distractions. One of these antisocial deviants is named Sue.
Since the show went on the air in 2006, comedian Sue Galloway has had a persistent presence on 30 Rock. What’s notable about her character, though, is that it didn’t start off as a character at all. The role she was hired for was that of an ongoing extra—essentially, female furniture to balance the feng shui of the writers room. It wasn’t until her third year that she got her first line. Eventually, she also got a name ("Sue"), an occasional plot-line, and an increasingly twisted back story. Hers has been a transition that thousands of other performers would kill for, and it came about through a combination of serendipity and chops.
Galloway began taking classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade theatre in New York in 2002 (where she met her future husband, 30 Rock’s John Lutz). Although she’d attended grad school to become an actress, it was at UCB where she found and honed her voice. Pretty soon she was performing in shows and teaching sketch classes for the theatre. It was the right place to be at the right time.
"The producers of the show asked someone at UCB for names of people who could be on 30 Rock, just as writers room extras who would sit there and be normal, but who were also comedians," she says. One of the first names they were given was Anthony Atamanuik, a gifted UCB improviser. The casting agent asked Atamanuik about women, and he recommended his friend and fellow performer, Sue Galloway.
In the beginning, she was known as "Girl Writer" and her screen time was mostly restricted to reaction shots. In the third season, Sue was called upon to give her first line-read. The premise of the scene was that a tiny microwave that Alec Baldwin’s executive had developed for GE had been branded the Bite Nuker—a name that would be offensive to both French and Dutch people. Galloway was asked to respond indignantly to the name, using a French-Dutch accent.
"I remember walking up to [writer-producer] Tami Sagher, and asking 'How do you want me to say this?' She was very clear that I was not French or Dutch or even Belgian, but specifically French-Dutch," Galloway says. Her deftly accented turn at the read-through got a laugh and ended up making it into the episode.
It wasn’t long after that before she got her next lines. When Sue as a writer-extra was seated for many hours per day, the actual writers would occasionally throw her some physical bits to do—like running into an office to take down porn as an unexpected visitor arrives. These were little moments, to be sure, but Sue acquitted herself well in them and collectively they began to flesh out a real character.
"I actually think that they needed a woman to do something a few times and since I didn’t screw up, it encouraged them to give me bigger things," Galloway says. The first bigger thing she was given was an episode in which her character was recruited into the entourage of Tracy Jordan, a psychotic superstar played semiautobiographically by Tracy Morgan. Although she had been established as "Miss LaRoche-Van Der Hout" in the microwave episode, here Galloway’s writer also landed a first name, along with a big chunk of screen time.
"There are characters that are already established who don’t always get lines," Galloway says. "So it takes time for things to happen for everybody since there are so many main storylines."
In the fifth season, the character Sue became even more well-defined. We now know that in her native Holland she was a celebrated police psychic, and that she prefers the company of women romantically. Whether or not the character is developed even further on the show, though, Sue is keeping busy with other projects, including an increasing list of commercials and one-woman show "POSE Magazine," which she’s performing at the Women in Comedy festival in Boston, in late March.
Although she’s had less to do in the current sixth season, Galloway remains thrilled for the amount she’s gotten to do so far, coming as it did mostly from being in proximity with the writers for long hours, being friendly and funny, and not trying too hard.
"I never asked anybody for anything," she says, "but I also didn’t try to sneak my way in."