My Son the Waiter: A Jewish Tragedy, a one-man show performed and written by talented actor and comedian Brad Zimmerman, is described in its program as, “part stand-up, part theatre.” However, while the evening certainly featured more highs than lows, this viewer found herself wishing it had included a little more of the latter – and a little more originality in the former.
Not that the show disappoints on the stand-up front: despite its tongue-in-cheek “tragedy” designation, far more of the 80-minute evening is devoted to jokes than to pathos. It was a rare punchline that didn’t produce chortles, and Zimmerman’s struggles to establish himself as a performer and to please his overbearing Jewish mother have universal appeal.
Especially as a fellow aspiring artist currently stuck with a somewhat unsatisfying day job (As suggested by the play’s title, Zimmerman previously spent a full 29 years as a waiter – and, as he points out, not even a fancy-restaurant waiter!) and who’s had to suffer not only a Jewish mother but two Jewish grandmothers, I found a lot of Zimmerman’s material refreshingly relatable. In particular, he does a fine job of poking fun at his family’s amusing flaws while still showing his respect and affection for them, which is particularly touching when he pays tribute to his late father.
However, some of his material was a little on the schticky side and veered towards the familiar and out-of-date. While jokes focusing on the banality of the restaurant business and the difficulty of living up to parental standards are timeless if not exactly iconoclastic, why bother, these days, with digs at Madonna?
Some of Zimmerman’s more original jokes involved his status as a successful but not big-name comedian, which means that to make ends meet he’s had to perform at some less than-ideal venues, like Indian casinos and retirement homes.
Yet being a successful but not big-name comedian has its comedy pitfalls. A big name can get away with a good deal of self-abasement partly because we know she or he is rich and famous; if we hear the same complaints from someone who we think may be genuinely struggling to make ends meet, it can be a little uncomfortable.
So, there’s a fine line between being amusingly self-deprecating and appearing so unfortunate that you risk invoking pity. Regrettably, I felt that Zimmerman occasionally strayed a tad too far towards the latter.
Perhaps Zimmerman would do well to emphasize the fact that his show enjoyed an acclaimed fifteen month off-Broadway run and is on its second tour of the country rather than relying on conspicuous name-dropping of some of the more celebrated comedians he opened for: Joan Rivers, George Carlin, Billy Crystal.
Additionally, the mostly-good stand-up notwithstanding, I’m not sure that Zimmerman took full advantage of the opportunity to make his show something other than stand-up. The comedian’s capacity as an actor and tendency towards theatricality is clearly visible when he briefly recreates his performance from a decades past college production, Scottish accent and all, as well as in sequences in which he imitates family members.
Whether his show offered the truly satisfying narrative one might hope for in an evening of theatre is another question. I wish Zimmerman had the guts to delve into the actual tragedy of having more or less wasted a good deal of his life rather than skimming the surface and moving on to the next punchline.
Maybe, though, My Son The Waiter: A Jewish Tragedy is just a show more enjoyable in the moment than it is upon lengthy reflection, and I don’t mean to downplay how much I enjoyed the show by focusing on the moments when it was a downer. If all you’re looking for is a ton of laughs, Zimmerman has probably got you covered.