Native Pittsburgher Susannah Perlman is not shy about taking credit when credit is due.
Last year, her group, the Obama Girls of Comedy, played five swing states, including a local stop in Castle Shannon, in support of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.
Did it make a difference?
“He’s president, isn’t he?” Perlman quipped. “Every state we went to went blue. Yes we can.”
Perlman, whose mother still lives in Shadyside, is happy to be returning to her hometown this Sunday with another comedy troop, Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad, and its “fast-paced vaudeville extravaganza.”
The group, which includes comedian Cynthia Levin (Comedy Central), Shayna Ferm (VH-1), and, according to its press release, “booty shakin’ by Sister Schmaltz,” is hosted by Perlman (Last Comic Standing), who created “all the musical bits.”
“I’m the ringleader,” Perlman confirmed.
This is Nice Jewish Girls’ third visit to Pittsburgh, and Perlman is looking forward to showing off a brand new show.
“We’ve become very thematic,” Perlman said. “We do a go-go version of ‘Hava Negilah,’ and a roadhouse hip-hop version of ‘Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen.’”
The troop also does Perlman’s own unique translation of “Tumbalaika.”
“I bring Paula Abdul into the translation,” Perlman said. “Because she’s a judge. She is an important Levite of our time. Well, she no longer is, but she was.”
Perlman was working as a stand-up comic seven years ago, experiencing varying degrees of success, when she decided to form Nice Jewish Girls. She had been hosting various burlesque shows, and “running into all these amazing performers, who happened to be Jewish.”
She decided to put together a show for Heeb Magazine, got a lot of positive press, took the show on the road and enjoyed a run off-Broadway.
Nice Jewish Girls may be irreverent, but it nonetheless draws audiences as diverse as Mormons in Utah and Chasidic men from the Garment District of New York.
While performing in Utah, the Jewish performers on stage “outnumbered the Jews in the audience,” Perlman said. “But the Mormons like us. We’re OK.”
Besides Utah, Nice Jewish Girls has played some other unusual locales on its current tour, including shows this month at a vineyard, a casino and this Saturday’s upcoming performance at a bowling alley.
“It’s a little random,” Perlman admitted. “We played a really cool old school saloon in Washington state. I felt like Nancy from ‘Oliver.’”
“We also played a former J.C. Penney store in Oregon. It was filled with the most chazarei you ever saw in your life. There were schmatas on the wall, and skulls, and a boxing ring. And there were a lot of people in the audience with no teeth. It was a cowboy culture. And a very Christian culture that we didn’t expect.”
And how did the Nice Jewish Girls play in Oregon?
“We did all right for where we were,” Perlman said.
Perlman said that when working in New York, the Nice Jewish Girls collaborate with the band The Four Skins. They don’t travel with The Four Skins, though, because “there’s not enough room in the car.”
The group is generally well received, though there have been venues where the audience is offended.
“If we offend people, we either offend people who are so left wing, they are right wing to me, or ultra-Orthodox Chasidic men.”
Perlman does not find it unusual that many Chasidic men came to see the Nice Jewish Girls when they were playing off- Broadway in the Garment District.
“They saw our posters when they were walking by,” she said. “Most of them loved it. They came up after the show and told me.”
Still, not all bits are played in all venues. For example, the group will not be doing its “Chasidic strip” this Sunday in Pittsburgh.
“That’s where two women start dressed as Chasidic men, then strip down to their Jewish star pasties and tighty whities,” Perlman explained.
With all the irreverence and parody, Perlman says the show is ultimately about bringing people together.
“That’s how our show has changed in the last two years,” she said. “We talk about bringing people together and community. Here’s a group of people, Jewish or not, celebrating Judaism.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)