Outspoken, outlandish and all together downright hilarious.
Although Jewish comedian/actor/performer Brad Zimmerman didn’t get his career in full ignition until a bit further down the entertainment road when he was in his ’40s while working alongside the likes of late, great comedic legends George Carlin and Joan Rivers, he’s certainly doing his thing now judging by the massive success of his little/big traveling one-man play, My Son the Waiter:A Jewish Tragedy.
And lucky for everyone in and around the tri-state area, the critically acclaimed show is currently in week two of its six week run at the Penn’s Landing Playhouse right here in Philly.
Labeled as the “story of one man’s struggle to fulfill his dream and ‘make it’ as a comedic actor in New York,” the play can be best described as one part Brad’s on-point standup comedy and the other part his well-crafted theatrical skills, which are mixed together to give all of us one hell of a fun evening of entertainment.
But since there’s never a bad time to spill some entertainment tea, Mr. Zimmerman took a little time away from the stage to chat with Philly Mixtape where he broke mugs over his influences (or lack there of), what it was like to work with Ms. Joan and why everyone should go see this show that he himself calls “poignant” and “inspiring.”
And no, you don’t have to be Jewish to go see it. Read on to find out more and get to know the many, many talents of Mr. Brad Zimmerman below.
For your chance to see My Son the Waiter:A Jewish Tragedy while it’s in town at the Penn’s Landing Playhouse until Nov 19th, go here now.
First up, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with Philly Mixtape, I truly appreciate it. So…..how are you? Things are good! I just finished Chicago and I’m on the longest break that I’ve ever had (we chatted a few days before he hit Philly), which is six weeks ’cause I’ve been doing the tour for four years! So, [I’m] getting used to not performing and getting that energy, which is really good cause I needed it ’cause I did seventeen weeks in a row this year at one time–and it’s six shows a week..it’s grueling. But I’ve been using the six weeks [to work] on the sequel. I’m busting my chops and I would like to eventually sell it…but that takes as long as it takes. Just to write [this one] it took me seven years to get sold. You never know…but the process is fabulous.
Speaking of your lengthy run, how do you keep the material fresh after doing it for so long? What I do is first of all–I’m a pro–so I stay in great shape. I get plenty of rest. It’s very difficult saying the same line for the ten thousandth time, in which the audience has to know that it’s the first time–you want to give them their money’s worth. It’s very difficult when you’re doing that, sometimes you’re just exhausted. You have no choice but to just get out there, suck it up and do it. That’s probably the biggest challenge and that’s one of the reasons why I’m working on new material is to get a freshness. I can still go out with old material, but look, people on Broadway have been doing the same show for eight years. You have to take that you’re not alone in this and that you’re a professional and this is what you do. All of the negative stuff pales in comparison to the positive. So, I’m making a living doing something that I wrote. I have to be honest, there’s very few people who can stick with something until it’s ready for marketability. I know friends who’ve been trying to do this for years and they have the talent but they don’t have the intangibles that go with it.
Do you still get nervous before each show? You’re always going to have a certain amount of nerves. The nerves are lessened by a couple of things. One is being really prepared. [Another is] having the confidence, that’s you know, using a mantra that it’s work…it works. But of course, you never know, depending on where you are what the demographic might be. There’s certain demographics I’ve done where the laughter is remarkable. And there’s also certain demographics where they’re much more reserved and yet they’re still really enjoying it. Another is that sometimes there may be fifty people in your audience–which is depressing–but other times there may be 200 people in your audience. Sometimes you have may audience and get nothing…it’s like pulling teeth because they might be afraid to laugh. Now, I wouldn’t trade that because it strengthens you. If every show is just an A plus you don’t learn anything. But when you’re in the middle of doing a show and some line the night before in some other city kills and you get noting that night, well…
How are the Philly audiences? Philly is phenomenal. First of all, I know the demographic, I live in New York. I opened for George Carlin once in Philly years ago at the Tower Theatre. [There’s the] Jews in Cherry Hill–and I don’t even need Jews–it’s not a question. But I know there’s a lot of Jews in the area and it certainly doesn’t hurt. Remember, Philly’s a cultured area..it’s only an hour and forty-five minutes from New York. It’s an area that has tremendous history. I consider it like a suburb of New York, [so it’s] definitely got the same type of demographic.
Okay, back to the play. It took you seven long years to write. Tell me a little about the process of…it all. Let me explain how it went. In 2005 I was still waiting tables and I had a guy who’d known I’d done a couple of one-person shows that I never made money off of–I just wrote them and did them. But he knew of my history and said to me, ‘Look, if you ever decide to do another one-person show, I’ll produce it.’ At some point, I said..’Why not?’ So, what I did was something quite unique–I decided to do, like, a hybrid. [This was] where I used the comedy material that I was doing [at the time], and I took the material that was funny and I put it together with the more serious stuff about my Father dying and so forth. So, from 2005 to all the way to 2013 when I sold it, I started doing [the material] on the road and soon, word of mouth became huge and two producers ended up flying down, saw it and offered to buy the touring rights for seven years the following day. It was less writing it in that period, but more performing it and getting it up to snuff.
Who are some of your comedic and acting influences? Remember, I started comedy when I was forty-two, I’m sixty-three now. I was a consummate late bloomer. The only thing where I was an early bloomer was in sports, actually, and I was really great. But when people ask me who my influences are, I always say..’nobody.’ Doesn’t mean I don’t think there are certain comics who are great, I was more influenced by when I saw John Malkovich in an Off Broadway play called True West–he was extraordinary and remarkable. I knew from the moment he did that show, that I was set for life. I would also say early Pacino, early DeNiro, Meryl Streep, and you know that whole group of people who were doing their masterful work back then.
I also understand you worked side-by-side with the late, great Ms. Joan Rivers. What was experience like? You know it’s interesting, that weekend she went into the hospital, I was coming to New York for a new [show run]. My producers and my PR guy reached out to her and she was going to do a radio spot as soon after she [got] out of the hospital. And of course, sadly we didn’t, but I would say working with her from the past was a joy because I made her laugh spontaneously off stage. She was a character, a real pro. She loved working, she loved the money. But she always said an empty calendar was her biggest fear…..she didn’t want to stop and, you know, if it wasn’t for this stupid procedure, we’d still be performing. We lost a legend.
One last moment of truth….why should everyone and their Jewish mother come see you at the Penn’s Landing Playhouse over the next month? I would say, first of all, [the show’s] real. There have people that have said to me-‘I feel like I’m not in the theater, I feel like I’m in your living room when you’re just telling us stories. That’s the highest praise you can get. I think that what people can get from my show is that I’m sharing me in a way that’s raw, unguarded and genuine. Also, everybody will always find something to relate to. There’s something for everyone–you don’t have to be Jewish you just have to be willing to have not just a good time, but an experience.
For much more with Brad Zimmerman, check this out.
Brad Zimmerman cover photo courtesy of Heron Agency