Brad Zimmerman peaked, it seems, as a preteen little leaguer. When he hit the ball out of the park, his dad shouted from the sidelines, “Atta boy, Zimmie! Atta boy!” And that cheer has echoed and haunted the would-be actor-turned- comedian who in middle age still pays his bills waiting tables.
Zimmerman shares his failures and successes in his one-man show “My Son the Waiter: A Jewish Tragedy,” which is on stage at Theater J’s Goldman Theater at the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center through Aug. 21. Billed as a national tour, the production is not connected to the center’s in-house company, Theater J.
Long and lanky, with a bald pate, the actor-comic is carefully casual in T-shirt and tennis shoes. In his nasally New Jersey accent with the flat a’s he shares — really overshares — the story of his less-than-successful quest to make it as an actor. On a bare stage set with just a café table and chair, Zimmerman saunters out, spies the small audience — not more than 30 people the night I was there — and starts in on a series of old-school Borsht Belt-style jokes. Two old Jewish men on a bench … or a 90-year-old woman cajoles her husband … or … a daughter wants to marry a Torah scholar …. With punchlines that could be carbon-dated nearly back to B.C.E. — that’s Before the Common Era — it’s clear from the start that this is an evening of old Jewish jokes for a gray-haired crowd.
Fortunately, if a Jewish comic is lucky, there’s someone in the audience who takes delight in jokes that date back to the Dead Sea Scrolls. That night he hit the jackpot — a Jewish woman of a certain age found it all hysterical and helped the rest of the crowd get through the show.
After a handful of groaners, Zimmerman admitted, “I don’t have an opening act.” Then he launched into the meandering and depressive story of his life, after he hit that ball out of the park: “Compared to my childhood, my adult life was not nearly as glamorous,” he overshared. With no idea what to study in college, he stumbled into a theater class, and ended up cast in two productions. “That moment,” he noted, “was the first of many in my life that inspired me to call my mother.”
After a move to New York in 1978 to “make it” in the theater, Zimmerman notes that he spent the next 29 years working as a waiter, where in one shift he served more people than were in the audience. He weaves in jokes about restaurant customers, airline food, how runway models walk, and his annual earnings — “I made more money at my bar mitzvah than I did last year.”
He reminisces about “good old days” back in the 1970s when there were only three television channels and only men got tattoos and only on their arms.
Zimmerman adds that he hasn’t dated since Watergate and if women would catcall him, they’d yell, “Hey, where ya’ goin’? Therapy?” Ba dum bum.
Fortunately, he didn’t lean in too hard on the Jewish mother jokes. And, in fact, this unseen mom seems extremely patient, with Zimmerman saying his mom said, “I hate to see you struggle … but as long as you’re happy …”
The 80-minute stand-up-cum-personal-narrative may appeal for its journey to self-knowledge and the ongoing struggle to overcome adversity. But Zimmerman channels some of the old-school Jewish comics with caustic demeanors — the Don Rickles and Jackie Masons of a bygone era giving “My Son the Waiter” the feeling of the Internet video project “Old Jews Telling Jokes.” Sure, Zimmerman isn’t that old, yet (60 is, after all, the new 40), but his jokes? They’re ancient.
“My Son the Waiter: A Jewish Tragedy,” through Aug. 21 at the Goldman Theater, Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th St. NW, Washington. Tickets: $60. Visit https://theaterj.org/myson/. Proof of vaccination or negative COVID PCR test within 72 hours of attending is required to enter the building. Masks required in the theater.