Sober Sue: The Truth About The Girl Who Never Laughed

In 1907, the Hammerstein's Roof Garden in New York City announced they had a new performer, of sorts. Only the main draw of their new star, Sober Sue, wasn't what she would do, but what she would not do. Sober Sue, the theater claimed, was the woman who never laughed. In fact, they claimed making her grin was such an impossible feat that they offered $100 to anyone who could make the stoned-faced woman smile, and a whopping $1,000 — the equivalent of $30,542 in today's dollars — to anyone who made her laugh out loud, per History Daily.

At first, it was just amateur performers and your average funny Joes that tried to win the prize. But when they failed to make her laugh, word of Sober Sue's expressionless countenance spread, attracting the attention of professional performers and world-class stars. Comedians and performers would travel from all across the country to see if they could be the one to finally break Sober Sue. They put on their best shows, despite the fact that they were not being paid for their performances. Perhaps they thought that if they could claim to be the one who finally got Sober Sue to giggle, the publicity alone would make it all worthwhile. But nobody ever succeeded. Sober Sue never even cracked a smile. (Full disclosure: The photo above is not of Sober Sue — according to Bored Panda, no photo of her exists.)

Sober Sue was physically unable to laugh or smile

And as it turns out, nobody ever would succeed. Sober Sue's real name was Susan Kelly, and she suffered from facial paralysis that made her physically incapable of smiling or laughing. Per the Museum of Hoaxes, Willie Hammerstein, the Roof Garden's manager, knew making Kelly laugh was an impossible task, so he paid her $20 per week to sit and stare blankly while world-class comedians performed their act to sold-out audiences for free.

In July of 1907, however, Hammerstein's racket came to an end. An announcement in The New York Times reported that Kelly had been ordered to stop performing. "The motion for an injunction restraining Susan Kelly, who is known as 'Sober Sue,' from appearing under the management of the Hammersteins at the Paradise Roof Garden was adjourned yesterday until July 8," the story read (via Museum of Hoaxes). While little else is known about what happened to the real Sober Sue, her days as the Roof Garden's main attraction were over.