Periel Aschenbrand | Photo by Ken Gabrielsen
Comedian, author, and producer Periel Aschenbrand trades rats for bunnies and is serious about being funny in Scarsdale.
Full disclosure: Periel, whom we called Peri, was my high school idol. She had no fear and basically ruled Kew Forest, our little school in Kew Gardens, Queens. She walked the halls with a swagger and said whatever was on her mind, to everyone, including our principal and every parent. My mother still isn’t over it.
Periel Aschenbrand moved to Scarsdale from Downtown New York City with practically a hook around her neck, dragged by her husband after the pandemic hit in March 2020. She relished her late nights, performing standup and running comedy shows in the city. But when the pandemic took over Manhattan, she panicked and drove north, to a house she borrowed from a friend while it was on the market. When she stepped foot into the 8,000-square-foot home with her husband and then-6-year-old son, she noticed she couldn’t taste or smell. Her doctor diagnosed her with COVID, and suddenly she was thrilled to be living in the suburbs.
Aschenbrand was pushing boundaries from early on. She practically mortified her own sweet Israeli mother by making her listen to Howard Stern on their morning drives to high school. “Howard Stern and Andrew Dice Clay were my first two major influences in comedy,” recalls Aschenbrand. “They just blew my mind. I was like, ‘Oh my God… this is a thing you can do in your life?’”
After graduating from the University of Arizona with a BA in communication, literature and philosophy, and an MFA in creative writing, Aschenbrand moved to LA in 2001 to write comedy for television. She wrote a couple of scripts that year with her writing partner, but none that ever made it past a producer’s desk.
She then wrote her first book, titled The Only Bush I Trust is My Own, which was published by Penguin. The Oxygen Network shot a pilot for the book, but, Aschenbrand says, “I was given way too much creative control and had no idea what I was doing.” The show didn’t get picked up. Her second book, On My Knees, was published by Harper Collins in 2013.
That same year, when Aschenbrand was pregnant, her friend convinced her to take a standup class in New York City, and it reignited her passion for being funny. She’d been sidetracked with creative director jobs and branding jobs, but it was really four years ago that she decided to fully concentrate on her first love, comedy.
Back in Westchester, she discovered that the Scarsdale home she was renting had been owned by a mob boss who’d moved from Queens in the 1960s. “The house had secret escape routes and tunnels under the house, along with a fake Scooby Doo wall that hid an entirely separate room,” she says. “It was probably where they hid money — or bodies. It was insane. I would walk down this long driveway in my black bathrobe, feeling like Tony Soprano, while my husband, who was thrilled in this new, giant kitchen, was running the house like Carmela, because I was incapacitated.” Aschenbrand was starting to find her comedy material in Westchester.
Two years before the pandemic, Aschenbrand started producing the Sirius Radio show and podcast Live From the Table in the back of the Comedy Cellar on Manhattan’s MacDougal Street. When COVID hit, her team pivoted immediately to Zoom before she even understood what the platform was exactly.
The owner of the Cellar, Noam Dworman, lived in Westchester with his family and became such good friends with Aschenbrand and her husband that they quarantined together for a year and a half, seeing only each other’s families in their efforts to dodge the pandemic. It was Dworman, in fact, who gave Aschenbrand her first big break, producing a radio show from the Comedy Cellar.
Dworman also convinced Aschenbrand to stay in Westchester, a place she says she had never been to before COVID, even as a native New Yorker. Aschenbrand’s husband, Guy, is also from Israel, and he lived for every moment while quarantining in Scarsdale. “He was so sick of the city — the rats, filth, and garbage,” she says. “Now, he’s in Scarsdale, and instead of rats, there are bunnies, and he’s mowing the lawn and suddenly becomes this all-American suburban dad. He was in heaven.”
In November, in the middle of COVID, she started to host and produce a breakthrough online show that was reviewed by The New York Times, called We’re Not Okay, with comics Jessica Kirson and Rachel Feinstein. Every Sunday night, Kirson and Feinstein would invite their comic friends to talk about how they weren’t okay during the pandemic nor in general. They would place prank calls, and the audience would ask questions. “It was an honest, raw show when everyone was stuck in the house,” she says.
“[My husband] was so sick of the city — the rats, filth, and garbage. Now, he’s in Scarsdale, and instead of rats, there are bunnies, and he’s mowing the lawn.”
Aschenbrand has found a way to live in an apartment in the city during the week and come back to Scarsdale on weekends, in a new, non-mob-like home. Currently, she hosts and produces her own show at Stand Up New York called “C U Next Tuesday” almost every Tuesday night. She also started producing and cohosting a new podcast, with the comedian Modi.
While part of her would love to be living the hard life of a comedian in the city, she knows that’s not possible. “Traditionally speaking, to do standup, you’re out every single night, doing spots, and that’s not a reality for me because I have a little kid. I suppose I could abandon him,” she quips sarcastically, “but I don’t want to do that. I feel lucky to be able to cobble together this life to do what I do.”