Brad Zimmerman “temporarily” waited tables in Manhattan — for 29 years — while trying to find his niche as a comedian and actor.
He found his calling, albeit a little late in life, by chronicling his own journey in a show that “has lots of comedic bits, but unlike standup, you have to wait longer for the punchlines,” according to the 62-year-old native of Oradell in Bergen County.
That show, My Son the Waiter: A Jewish Tragedy, will play at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, Sept. 8-Oct. 2.
In a phone interview with NJJN, Zimmerman said the theater’s “stadium-type seating is ideal for what I do,” which is “part theater, part standup. I’m an actor who does comedy.”
The well-reviewed play started its run in 2014 and has already played in 15 venues nationally, including Off Broadway.
After closing in New Brunswick, it will head to Minneapolis and Rochester, NY, where there is a relatively small Jewish population.
Zimmerman acknowledged that the show, which taps strongly into the angst and disappointment of his own Jewish mother and other ethno-cultural subjects, has “universal” themes but “does well, but not as well,” in non-Jewish demographic areas.
“It’s not just a Jewish piece,” he said, “but it helps to have a lot of Jewish people around.”
The material includes musings about his childhood and family, his misbegotten love life, and his career, which includes working with such entertainers as Brad Garrett, Dennis Miller, Susie Essman, and Julio Iglesias and being among Joan Rivers’s “favorite” opening acts for seven years.
Zimmerman was bitten by the acting bug after taking a course at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., and received a graduate scholarship for acting at Penn State University. But he left before completing his degree, which would have been useful only if he had decided to become a college teacher. “I’d rather act than teach,” he decided.
Instead, Zimmerman came to New York and became a waiter, setting his sights on the stage from the start. But, he said, “my pursuit of any acting career was extremely lackadaisical. It got to the point where I wasn’t pursuing it at all. I was just waiting tables. That went on for years.”
Not surprisingly, his mother was not pleased. “There are some scenes in the play between my mother and me where she relates her concerns. My mother used the word ‘realistic,’” as in advising him to set goals that she thought he could actually reach.
He said those recollections often touch a nerve with mothers in the audience, who tell Zimmerman after performances, “My son or daughter is doing what you did, waiting tables” and bemoan their offsprings’ choices.
His advice: “This field is so brutal; it’s only for the 1 percent. It’s so hard and there’s no security.”
He acknowledged that, for him, “it was different. It has been a life devoted to self-improvement. Just studying acting and trying to get better and being aware has built my self-confidence.”
And for Zimmerman there has also been a bit of luck: “How many people can say not only that have they written a play, but they are making a living out of their own play?”
That luck began after a failed first show. In 2005, he wrote what would become My Son the Waiter. It was booked in Florida for a few weeks, “which became four months,” when a producer saw it and purchased the touring rights.
Zimmerman is now writing a sequel, picking up where My Son the Waiter leaves off.
“It’s a sequel in the sense that this first play ends on a poignant note,” said Zimmerman. “The second one chronicles my whole life but takes it further, through the whole process of taking the show all over the country. There’s a lot relating to Jewish mothers, relatives, finances, my future, social life, food.”
Success hasn’t made the comedian forget his Jersey roots. Zimmerman often goes back to his hometown and goes to one of its ballfields, which he finds soothing and quiet, to rehearse.
“I think if I ever write a movie it would start on that field,” he said, adding, “Even though I waited tables so long I’m a very lucky man to find a niche and purpose and passion that gives my life enormous meaning.”