For the better part of six years, Susannah Perlman has been "schticking it to the man," as she likes to put it, with her music and comedy show, Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad. Perlman serves as ringleader of sorts for the traveling sideshow, which started as an off-Broadway production and has turned into a touring machine. Perlman spoke recently about what makes a nice Jewish girl go bad.
At what point did you go from being a nice Jewish girl to being a bad one?
Um, I don't know. Maybe sometime in high school. I guess when I noticed I wasn't like all the other little girls at camp. I think the idea is that I never fit into that stereotype of a nice Jewish girl, and I found other people who didn't either and wanted to see how it would all operate in a show.
Did it all start at Hebrew School?
It might have. I didn't fit in there very well. I grew up in Pittsburgh, which is a lot like Cleveland, except that we have the Steelers. So yeah, it was probably very similar to growing up in Cleveland. I sang and liked to make people laugh and got into stand-up and developed this musical act along with my comedy.
When did Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad officially launch?
The show launched in early 2003. A lot of it was seeing other women acts that did comedy, burlesque and all sorts of different things. That spoke profoundly to me, and I wanted to see what would happen if I put it all together into a show.
And what did your mother think of it?
She likes it more and more as time goes on, I guess. When we first started, she was like, "Nahh, I don't know." I think her last comment was "It's kinda cute now." She enjoys it, but I think she'd rather her daughter did something else.
Was your show at the Zipper Theater in New York the first real run?
Our first venue was Joe's Pub, and then we jostled around before we had an off-Broadway run at the Zipper and fleshed it out a bit. We added a band and dancers, and it became a much bigger production.
As the ringleader of the group, what does your role entail?
I just hold it all together. I have to do the hiring and firing and the organizing. And I drive the van. It's a very glamorous job. It's a little bit of everything. I am my own corporation.
Do you have creative control?
Of the things that tie the show together, yes. Everyone brings their own act to the table too. If I didn't think they were funny, I wouldn't book them. I try to give everybody a fair shake. If someone is after me to get on the show, maybe I'll give them a guest spot or a low-maintenance kind of gig and put them in a spot where they can't fail. It's more advantageous to me to have more people to be able to book and tour with. I want people to be funny. I like surprising people.
Do you get to do any go-go dancing?
I do a little bit of dancing. Our go-go dancers will be local. We operate in all sorts of different ways. We try to collaborate with local people, and I give them their names.
The "Gefilte Fish Song" is pretty funny. Is that something you came up with?
That's my own creation. Parody of a Big Mama Thornton song. The point is to solve one of the biggest mysteries. People really don't know what's in gefilte fish.
After hearing the song, I still have no idea.
Well, I don't know if I solve it. But I make you think and look at the ingredients.
Who's badder — the Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad or the Suicide Girls?
They're two different things. I host a lot of burlesque shows and put them together. Burlesque is people who tell a story while they're stripping. The Suicide Girls try to do that, but it's debatable how effective they are. That's more of a fringe porn thing than full-on burlesque. One of the things that holds our show together is it has to have some kind of thematic Jewish thing.