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100 Years Ago There Was A Woman That Was Famous Because Nobody Was Able To Make Her Laugh
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History, Weird4 years ago

100 Years Ago There Was A Woman That Was Famous Because Nobody Was Able To Make Her Laugh

Vaudeville was the most popular form of American entertainment from the 1880s to the 1930s and could probably be named the predecessor of modern American pop culture. Vaudeville would typically consist of a highly diverse series of short acts (6 to 15 minutes long). The acts (or “turns”) ranged from magic tricks to animal acts. Every relatively big city had its own theater for variety shows – For New York, it was Hammerstein’s.

Image credits: Wikipedia Commons

The Victoria Theater was a prominent American vaudeville house in New York opened by theater mogul Oscar Hammerstein I at the end of the 19th century. Later, Paradise Roof Garden was built above it, and the two venues became known collectively as Hammerstein’s. From 1904 to 1914 the house was run by Willie Hammerstein, Oscar’s son, who would put on highly popular vaudeville acts. One of which was the infamous Sober Sue act.

Image credits: Hoaxes

In the summer of 1907, a performer under the nickname of Sober Sue began appearing onstage at Paradise Roof Garden, and was often referred to as “the girl who never laughed.” The producers of the theater offered a $1000 prize to anyone who could make Sober Sue crack a smile with their funny show. At first, people from the audience would come on stage and make funny faces or tell their best jokes, but they all failed – Sober Sue’s face remained solemn. Next, famous comedians began to take on the challenge and performed their best material. But Sober Sue never giggled or even cracked a smile. Consequently, her routine became extremely popular, and the audience was entertained by the best professional comedians of that time.

Image credits: Wikipedia Commons

Various theories and interesting stories circulated regarding Sober Sue’s emotionless face. Some theorized that she was partially blind or deaf, but the truth was finally revealed in the winter of 1907 – it was impossible for Sue to smile or laugh because her facial muscles were paralyzed. Later it turned out that the vaudeville scam was pulled by Willie Hammerstein who managed Paradise Roof Garden. Willie Hammerstein paid Sober Sue $20 a week, which was not that bad at the time. For the venue owner, shows produced a great deal of profit as he managed to lure top-rank comedians into performing for free. But after the truth has been revealed, Willie was condemned, and the comedians never forgave him.

Image credits: Richard

A lot of details about Sober Sue are still unknown, and there are no photographs of her left. It is believed that Sue’s actual name was Susan Kelly and that she suffered from Mobius Syndrome. The syndrome is a rare condition characterized by weakness or paralysis of multiple cranial nerves. However, these are nothing more than mere speculations. Nevertheless, Sober Sue did leave us a legacy – her name would continue to be used in show business as a metaphor for particularly tough audiences. For example, some reviews of comedies would call the show so funny, that “it could make even Sober Sue laugh.”

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Stina Kolling
Community Member
4 years ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

I had Bell's Palsy a couple years back, which only paralyzed half my face. It was horrible to be trapped inside a head that didn't want to work properly. This poor woman. I know she's dead by now, but I feel awful for her.

Enuya
Community Member
4 years ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Poor woman. Now I wonder how her dysfunction worked. She could not laugh or change her expression. Did she know how to speak? If not, how could none of the viewers or comedians notice it? But if she was able to speak, she could at least make some kind of sounds. So why not only did she not laugh, but she also did not make any equivalent of laughter? Had she only paralyzed facial nerves, or also some mental disorder? So many questions, so few answers. Something tells me that I will spend the evening looking for more information.

DearOptimists
Community Member
4 years ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

If she really had a facial nerve paralysis her skin would be drooping. She might've also experience problems with closing her eyelids. Both things ought to have made people wonder. Unless she was very old. To answer your question: yes. She'd have had trouble speaking (and eating). She'd probably snort or something when laughing.

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David Viesta
Community Member
4 years ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Can't believe my reaction while watching an Adam Sandler's movie now has a name. Thanks Sober Sue.

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Stina Kolling
Community Member
4 years ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

I had Bell's Palsy a couple years back, which only paralyzed half my face. It was horrible to be trapped inside a head that didn't want to work properly. This poor woman. I know she's dead by now, but I feel awful for her.

Enuya
Community Member
4 years ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Poor woman. Now I wonder how her dysfunction worked. She could not laugh or change her expression. Did she know how to speak? If not, how could none of the viewers or comedians notice it? But if she was able to speak, she could at least make some kind of sounds. So why not only did she not laugh, but she also did not make any equivalent of laughter? Had she only paralyzed facial nerves, or also some mental disorder? So many questions, so few answers. Something tells me that I will spend the evening looking for more information.

DearOptimists
Community Member
4 years ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

If she really had a facial nerve paralysis her skin would be drooping. She might've also experience problems with closing her eyelids. Both things ought to have made people wonder. Unless she was very old. To answer your question: yes. She'd have had trouble speaking (and eating). She'd probably snort or something when laughing.

Load More Replies...
David Viesta
Community Member
4 years ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Can't believe my reaction while watching an Adam Sandler's movie now has a name. Thanks Sober Sue.

Load More Comments
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