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The Jester Interview: Susannah Perlman

After their Purim appearance in New York (reviewed 3/14/09), the Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad show, led by stand-up comedian and musical theater singer Susannah Perlman, embarked on an extensive tour of the Western U.S. well into April. But before they set out, Jester spoke with Perlman about how she invented the idea for the show several years ago, what inspired her to do it, and how itís grown over the years. Weíll keep you posted when they return.

Jester: How did you get into comedy?
Susannah Perlman: A million years ago, when the New York Comedy Club was in the 40s, I took a comedy class there, which was probably the most dismal place to take a class. It would rain in the middle of the class. The roof was always leaking. Thatís how I got into it. I had always been interested in it. My brother used to collect comedy albums when I was growing up. It was just taking the leap. I took a class and started doing comedy, bombing more than Iíd really like to admit. Then Ö I had come to New York to pursue musical theatre and was quickly becoming disillusioned with the whole process, mostly because I didnít like a lot of the music and where Broadway was heading, and I liked comedy because I was able to write for myself.

I put together a little sketch group, and after the sketch group I started working on more of a musical comedy act, and just started coming up with music and recorded an album, and did a music video. It got a little bit of a bump -- one of the songs went on the radio and my music video won a couple of awards. It was really fun, but not very profitable as I found out. I think shortly after that, around 2000, I came up with the idea for Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad and it took off.

J: How did you come up with the idea for the Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad show?
SP: With my own act, I was doing a lot of comedy shows and burlesque shows as well as spoken-word hip-hop shows. In each of these environments I kept running into women who happened to be Jewish who had these acts that spoke profoundly to me. I thought what if they were all together in one show and had a little bit more variety. Since I had a musical theatre and dance background, I thought about having a lot of dance and campy stuff. Thatís how it came together and was successful right out of the starting gate. Then we began to tour and were as successful when we hit the road. That was six years ago, and here we are.

J: Who are some of the regulars who are more musical oriented or burlesque oriented, who are on the show?
SP: Itís hard to say because I rotate 30 girls in and out of the show. I have people on both coasts who do the show. Thereís those you saw, Ophira Eisenberg -- and thereís Vanessa Hidary, Rena Zager, Rachel Feinstein, Michelle Collins, Julie Goldman, Mindy Raf, Mira Stroika, Shawn Pelofsky, who works with me in L.A., Dana Eagle, Mystical Golden, Jessica Kirson, Hilary Schwartz. I try to find really fun, smart Jewish women who say something kind of poignant in their act -- they have something thatís a little bit beyond making people laugh, thereís a little bit more of a story there.

J: How long has the Jewish burlesque scene been going on in New York or how has that developed?
SP: I donít know, can I say that I started it? I donít know, but Nice Jewish Girls definitely inspired the whole [trend]. Iím starting to see other shows that are more into [the burlesque], and I think people who run those shows would admit to that. When we started the show, I didnít know any Jewish girls who did burlesque. Weíve had the Shiksa Dancers, and then all these girls started coming out of the woodwork, like [says in drawl] ĎIím Jewish, Iíll take off mah clothes!Ē And it went from there. It was really a selling point that there were Jewish girls doing burlesque. We had people like Little Brooklyn and the Shlep Sisters, and then girls on the other coast.

What was really important to me was I wanted a really fun dance element to it. We just decided we would have a duo that would be especially for the show and do these rather elaborate dance numbers, much more than what we had. When we had burlesque it was just girls doing stripteases. Simple dance routines but nothing elaborate.

J: How often are you on the road with the show? How is it different than doing it back home in New York?
SP: This year weíre going to be traveling a lot. We just started doing the things where weíre out for two or three weeks now. Weíre about to go on one. The thing is, appreciation wise, people are very appreciative because things like this donít come to their town on a regular basis. So we really get a hodgepodge of audiences. It depends what city weíre in, what newspaper decided to cover us, what our demographics will be. Weíve had anything from 18 to 80 show up in our audience and love it just the same. Young people like it because itís very relevant and fun, and thereís a hipness to it, and old people like it because thereís a lot of retro style to it like they remember from the Catskills. We meet a lot of transplants on the road -- people who used to live in New York or have relatives and come here on a regular basis. So itís something thatís nice, itís like a little piece of the East Village coming to them.

J: Who are some of the most unusual performers who have been in the show?
SP: We used to work with this girl in Pittsburgh named Phat Mandee and she would put her fist in her mouth and sing LíChaim. Weíve had a girl named Calky, from Australia, who is an amazing hula-hooper. Itís amazing, when we started I was just going for broke looking for wacky Jewish women who did things that were a little unusual whether it was comedy or movement or song, just a little different.

J: Are there other groups you perform with, shows you do or regular stand-up?
SP: I have my other regular stand-up and my other little things that pop up. I still have my comedy music act that has nothing to do with Judaism, more like Ďlove gone wrong.í I did a show called ĎThe Heartbreak Show,í a couple months ago at The Slipper Room. It was more like a game show. People came on and told their love gone wrong stories and then I would sing songs, and we had judges. I was involved with the ĎMusic of the Jokeí contest at Stand Up NY recently. I work at Stand Up NY and Gotham Comedy Club pretty regularly now.

J: Do you have further plans with ĎNice Jewish Girls Gone Bad,í to expand that show?
SP: Thereís an idea that we were approached by a film company about doing a feature about the background -- our lives, which are pretty crazy. It may evolve into a reality show but thatís still in the beginning stages.

Perlman also has extensive notes on the tour experiences on her Facebook page that can be found at: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/profile.php?id=670931872&v=app_2347471856&viewas=698110677 

   

     

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