When Susannah Perlman's mother first saw her daughter's comedy show, "Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad," she had a few words of wisdom.
"She told me it was too loud, too bad she had left her earplugs at home, and she just had to tell me that the outfits we were wearing, they really weren't all that flattering to our figures," says Perlman with a laugh.
Perlman was speaking from Chicago, where her band of nice Jewish girls had just presented their wickedly funny combination of comedy, music, spoken word and burlesque, "Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad." Their next stop is Lancaster, where they will play Gusto on North Queen Street.
The truth is that Perlman and her pals want the show to be loud, brassy, bold and bad. They are, after all, one-time good girls on the path to destruction, so to speak. And they are wearing flashy, skimpy, oh so trashy costumes to show just how bad they have become.
"When a good girl goes bad, it's not pretty," jokes Perlman.
Perlman grew up in the high-class Shadyside suburb of Pittsburgh, where she was expected to lead the life of a typical "Jewish-American princess." When she set off for college at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, she found other girls who didn't quite fit that mold. After she graduated, Perlman followed the bright lights to the Big Apple to make her way in the city where being Jewish is "tradition."
In New York City, she quickly discovered that she wasn't the only very funny, anti-"Jewish-American princess" who smoked at Hebrew school and got drunk at her Bat Mitzvah. And so "Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad" was born.
"If there is one thing we were raised on, it's guilt," says Perlman.
Sources of that guilt might range from not marrying nice young doctors to not calling their mothers enough.
In "Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad," all those constraints are broken as the "bad girls" deconstruct years of tradition, expectations and guilt in a fast-paced modern-day vaudeville show with punch lines, skimpy costumes, too much make-up and cursing.
They sing "L'chaim" (To Life) from "Fiddler in the Roof" with a risque twist, do a go-go dance to the cherished folk song "Hava Nagila," do a Hasidic striptease and smoke cigars. Double oy vey!
Since "Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad" got started in 2002, they have made their way to Comedy Central, HBO and MTV. The show wowed sold-out crowds in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, Chicago, Madison, Detroit, Montreal, Burlington, Provincetown, the Berkshires, the Hamptons and the Catskills.
The cast, explains Perlman, consists of about 30 women who rotate in and out of the touring company. In any given night, the cast might include between five to eight female comediennes who sing, dance, tell jokes and generally set tradition on its ear.
They include Perlman, of course, who describes herself as "comedienne, chanteuse and producer," along with Canadian stand-up funny lady Ophira Eisenberg, poet and playwright Vanessa Hidary from Manhattan and Rena Zager, who has appeared on NBC's "Late Friday" and never wears enough make-up (if you ask her mother).
Other "Bad Girls" have included New York actress Mindy Raf, Poppi Kramer from NBC's "The Biggest Loser," Bostonian preppy Julie Goldman, Cynthia Levin of Chicago; Shawn Pelofsky, who describes herself as one of the 10 Jews from Oklahoma; New Jersey native Dana Eagle; Rachel Feinstein of Washington, D.C. and daughter of a civil rights lawyer and a blues musician; Jessica Golden, who was recently featured in the Montreal Comedy Festival; L.A. native Jessica Wood; co-lead singer for the Manson Family Singers Hilary Schwartz; Miami Beach stand-up comic Michelle Collins; New York dancer Jessi Erian and Amber Bloom of Binghamton, N.Y.
In truth, Perlman's mother has now seen the show several times.
"At first I could tell it wasn't her cup of tea," says Perlman. "But then she came back stage after a show and told me how much she liked it, and that she actually found it to be very touching in one part."
"Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad"
Sun. 7 p.m.
$12 advance, $15 at door
Gusto, 335 N. Queen St.