Interview by MK Scott - SGN Contributing Writer
Review by Brian Matt - SGN Contributing Writer
MY SON, THE WAITER,
A JEWISH TRAGEDY
KIRKLAND PERFORMANCE CENTER
Through September 29
I was watching TV on a weekday morning when suddenly I was intrigued with a commercial promoting a one-man show in the area doing a limited run at the Kirkland Performance Center. The man who wrote and performs the show is Brad Zimmerman. The show is, My Son, the Waiter, a Jewish Tragedy, and with my fiancé, Brian in mind, I made arrangements to attend the Saturday, September 7 performance.
Zimmerman, 65, had opened for George Carlin and Joan Rivers. (It was ironic that I had seen the TV commercial on the 5th anniversary of her death. I had met Rivers numerous times over the years.)
The show was hysterical and got many laughs. Most impressively, the thunder and lightning storm was evident as we heard the thunder and rain pounding on the roof of the theater. Earlier, I met Brad Zimmerman in the lobby, to discuss the show, his career and his mother.
MK Scott: Okay. All right, we're here talking with Brad Zimmerman about his one-man show called My Son, the Waiter, a Jewish Tragedy. Tell us a little bit about the show.
Zimmerman: Well, it's a very autobiographical. It's my My Son, the Waiter, a Jewish Tragedy. It's based on the fact that I struggled for a long, long time, and, of course, he's a Jew with a Jewish mother, you know, that whole thing. It's not easy. But there's a lot of material there. A lot to be mined. So, it's basically a journey, the chronology of a journey, performed in sort of a hybrid fashion in which I lay out, you know, this lengthy, very lengthy struggle to sort of get out of my own way, if you will, because that's really what it was, it was more my own demons; fear of failure and all that stuff. And so I waited tables. That was my life for a long - about 29 years. And I was lucky enough to find the right therapist, and somebody who I was working with at a restaurant had taken a comedy class. And I had studied acting, but I never really went out to the world with it. So I had this acting background and I took a comedy class, and there was something about it that felt right. I didn't think this at the time, I didn't even take it seriously. I'm taking the class, end of discussion, you know, then I'll go back to waiting tables. But I slowly, that was my sort of nudge out into the world, and started doing little tiny gigs for nothing, you know, what they call bringer shows, you bring ten people, they film your set and they hire, you know, with a videographer, etc., etc., etc. And after about six years of doing that I got a tape that started getting me paying work. Then from there it was, you know, working, you know, gigs that were way outside my comfort zone, you know, Orthodox synagogues and all sorts of places, cruise ships where it was just brutal. I'm much funnier on land. So (laugh), and slowly, you know, you go from your mother, I mean, there's a great joke where the first Jewish president is going to be inaugurated and he calls his mother and he says; mom, you're coming, right? And she says; nah, I think I'll stay home. He says; ma, the first Jewish president, you got to be kidding me. She says; all right, I'll come, for you, I'll come. So she goes and they're having the ceremony and the rabbi, I mean, the president is being inaugurated, he's got his hand on the Bible and the mother is in the audience, she leans into this person sitting next to her she's never met. She says; see that guy with his hand on the bible? His brother's a lawyer.
That's the basic joke, you know, it's a lawyer or doctor, lawyer or doctor. And, but now, you know, after all these years, of course, my mother called me this morning: 'I just want to know how it went? How did last night go?' And she's like my biggest fan.
MK: I read that you were in 'The Sopranos'?
Zimmerman: Yes, but that was, you know, I was still waiting tables. That was in about 2006, '07, '05, or whenever it was. And, you know, I had done a comedy festival and some agency saw me. That was the only thing they sent me out for. That was it. And, you know, if you think about it, somebody lands something, and this was a very low power - they had no power, this agency. In this business, today, you need a great agent, you need to have Twitter followers, you know, it's all social media. It's all looks, it's all youth, it's all, you know, blah, blah, blah. And, you know, I'm a purist in the sense that I've done it. I've never had an agent, I've never had a manager. It's just been my work. Now, that would be a change I would make if I believed in myself, I would aggressively, because you need an agent to do some of the things that some of these terrific actors do. You have to have an agent. So 'The Sopranos' was wonderful. And as wonderful as it was it pales in comparison to this. I mean this is me. I wrote it. I directed it. I'm doing it. 'The Sopranos' is like anything else in that medium, which I have enormous respect for, but it's a director's meeting, it's an editor's meeting, it's a musical, the sound, the music - you know, the writing and everything. This is just me.
MK: It has been 5 years, since we lost Joan Rivers.
Zimmerman: The first time I opened for Joan was somewhere between 2002 and 2005. And then there was a long period where, you know, because she had lots of openers, I wasn't the only opener. And then once a number of years went by I went back to opening for her and became more steady. But it was, it was a lot of fun, because Joan's whole shtick was that I would do my 25 minutes and then it wouldn't be like there would be a break and this and that, and I'd tell my last joke and I'd go off the stage and Joan would be offstage going; take another bow, you were great. And then I'd go out there. Take another one! And I would do like three or four, you know, depending on how she felt. And I would walk off and she would cross in front of me or behind me. And so it was all that kind of gimmickry, but it was kind of cool as opposed to typical, you know, she had her own way of doing things. She was a real character. And loved working. I mean, you saw, I don't know if you saw the documentary, I didn't, because I knew her. I had no desire to see it. But her whole thing was holding up an empty calendar and saying that is death to her. And I understand it.
MK: Yeah, and also you've worked with George Carlin.
Zimmerman: You know, he died at 71, she died at 81. And it was amazing that he died. I didn't realize that he was that young. I thought he was older, he looked fine, he just probably abused himself. It was a hard thing that happened. He was in the hospital for a procedure, I think, and he & he was, he was & Jerry Seinfeld talks about the Mount Rushmore of comedy: Don Rickles, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor and Carlin. So the interesting thing about it is I have friends who started when they were young and wanted to be comics. I didn't want to be a comic. So these guys idolized Carlin, these 18 and 19 year old kids, my friends, my peers now. So for me to be the one, you know, to get this gig, you know, and believe me when I tell you I have friends who would've been phenomenal. You know, with that tape, and Carlin was working with a similar agent that Joan was. And Brad Garrett. So the three of them. But Carlin was - the first time I opened for him he came out on the stage because he was working on what turned out to be his final HBO special. And, in fact, this is how the business works. His manager sent, and this is my second show, his manager signed me to a deal. HBO filmed me the night before his live HBO taping. And he had three months to market the tape. And I did phenomenal. But he showed it to one person, and a very high power agent, who wasn't interested, and which I understand, I mean, his clients make $100,000, I make $1500 to do a Bay Ridge Jewish Center, you know what I'm saying? So the reality is, but what happened is that one door closes and another one opens. Somebody where I was working as a waiter said 'if you ever decide to do another one-person show,' and that was this, which started in 2005 and it took me - I sold it in 2013, the touring rights. And here I am.
MK: Would you take this to Off-Broadway?
Zimmerman: Well, you know, first of all, we may go back to New York, but my feeling is that if I was going to do something in New York it would be either combining the two pieces or where somebody said we're really interested in this. Because I think this one is a little dated, only dated in the fact that it's - I wrote some of this material 20 some odd years ago. It still reads because of my ability is fresh. But to do something in New York, and I'm talking about it in this piece, it's $500,000 to do an Off-Broadway run, then you have to - it's a fortune. So, I mean Seinfeld produced his friend's, Colin Quinn's show, on Broadway. And they were doing eight, nine shows a week. And he put in $2 million to do it and lost money. And they were almost sold out most of the times. So that's, of course, and $2 million to Seinfeld is like a penny. So he did it for his friend.
For the comedy show, I wanted to get the opinion from my fiancé, Brian Matt, who is Jewish and can relate to Zimmerman's intent:
Brad Zimmerman used a lot of Catskills sort of humor - lots of jokes that a Jewish audience would pick up on quickly. He used a lot of the 'nagging wife' and 'overbearing mother' tropes that are common to other cultures, and are well known as comedy staples - especially in Yiddish humor. I know that the overbearing mother is common to Korean culture as well. I'm not sure what other cultures have the nagging wife though. I think that a male audience would immediately get the references, although I was surprised that some members in the audience didn't get the references in some cases. It was very relatable though, and if you can overlook the current overly sensitive culture to 'triggers' it was very enjoyable as well.
However, there were a couple of shortcomings. First, there was a dearth of comedy that pointed out the Jewish man's shortcomings. Mama's boys would have been the trope for that - but we only heard about the perspective from the son, not the mother. The same can be said for the wife, although I don't know much about the humor from the perspective of the wife watching the husband. It was all at the expense of the mother or the wife, and almost never at the expense of the husband or son. I think there were one or two jokes referencing the father though. It may be that he lacks experience as the husband. Also, when he pointed out the boy in the audience, they were clearly autistic. I doubt the audience took note of that, but it could be perceived as culturally insensitive.
My Son, the Waiter, a Jewish Tragedy, continues through September 29 at the Kirkland Performance Center, 350 Kirkland Ave, Kirkland, WA. (425) 893-9900, kpcenter.org.
MK Scott is a Seattle-based arts blogger and publisher of uniteseattlemag.com.
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