Thomas Burns Scully
Jewish comedy and New York seem to have been intertwined since the dawn of time. It’s difficult to imagine one without the other. Whether we’re talking Woody Allen, The Marx Brothers, Jerry Seinfeld or Jon Stewart, every generation of New Yorkers seems to have had a fair allotment of Jews telling jokes. Of course, comedy fashions change over time, the landscape of comedians and comedy writers shifts one way or another, but the Jewish voice in comedy is always present and identifiable. It isn’t wholly surprising, then, that a show called ‘My Son the Waiter: A Jewish Tragedy’ is running Off-Broadway, and has just been extended through to December. Its writer and sole performer Brad Zimmerman works unabashedly in the field of old-school Jewish humor. Gags about difficult mothers, thrifty father figures and a general wry appreciation of life’s inconsistencies, these are the orders of the evening, and that’s exactly what the audience gets. But does this well-worn territory still have a place on the New York stage? Not all that surprisingly, the answer is yes.
The show is, essentially, Brad Zimmerman standing on stage and giving you the highlights from his life-story. Much of this relates back to the context provided by the title. Zimmerman was a waiter for twenty-nine years whilst pursuing his acting career, and had to contend with his mother’s good-natured, passive-aggressive disappointment. He talks his way through early-life success as a sportsman, actorly development at college, and, of course, three decades of work in the service industry. Along the way there are light diversions in to the realms of wine-tasting, Kabbalah, air-line piloting and more. The tone is generally warm, albeit with a caustic impatience for stupidity. Towards the end of the show he also talks humbly of his later life successes, and his affection for his parents, which gives the show it’s heart. It’s a well put together piece, working neatly within the realm of the conventional one-man show mold. What’s not to like?
Zimmerman has a wonderfully calm and grounded presence on-stage. Like all the great comic performers, he rests comfortably in the spotlight, knowing that everything he’s going to say in the next ninety minutes is entirely correct, bluntly honest, and funny. And, largely, it is. Zimmerman is a funny man with funny material. His act has the occasional punchline that isn’t as strong as the rest, but his craftsmanship as a comedy writer and his salesmanship as a comedy performer mean that you don’t notice or care. You’re enjoying yourself too much. Generally speaking, that’s all you need to know about the show. You think you’d like a funny, older guy telling jokes about Madonna and his Jewish mother? Go nuts, this show is for you.
I do have some legitimate criticism. None of it is strong enough to tell you not to go and see ‘Waiter’, I stand by what I say above, but, informed buyers and so on… The show feels a little dated. Zimmerman’s observations on fame, human stupidity and so on are not wrong, poorly constructed or unfunny. However, if you were to send this show in a time machine to the early nineteen-nineties it would definitely not feel out of place. His material about Jewish mothers, Gentiles, even his (entirely authentic) new-masculine appreciation of his father; it could all play on VHS. This doesn’t make the show bad, but it does occasionally make it feel a little tired. I’m also (at the risk of sounding like Roger Daltrey) sick of older people talking trash about my generation. Zimmerman does it a little in his show, and it restarted the grinding wheel on which I have been sharpening an axe for some time. I know millennial aren’t perfect, but no generation is. The guys who came before you thought you were idiots too, you know. I have a lot I could say on that subject, but I won’t belabor the point. It’s not the thrust of his show, and the rest of it was categorically enjoyable. But really… sometimes it seems like the older generation is leading the world to ruin.
Final thoughts then? Go and see it. It’s fun. My few petty gripes are just that, petty gripes. This is a show you can enjoy, and that you can take your mother to. And her mother as well. If you like the old Yiddish jokes, if you miss your slightly grouchy uncle, if you enjoy the classic tale of a Jewish son dreaming the impossible dream of winning his mother’s approval, this show is for you. Brad Zimmerman is a wonderful storyteller, an excellent writer, and a likable, humorous curmudgeon. His schtick is on the older side, but it’s fresh enough for salad. ‘My Son the Waiter: A Jewish Tragedy’ is a show that anyone in their right mind would be proud to have written, and proud to be performing. Bottom line: if you want to laugh, then go. Because you will.
‘Waiter’ performs at these times: Monday at 7pm; Friday at 7pm; Saturday at 2pm & 7pm, and Sunday at 2pm. For tickets, which range from $45 to $99 (+ a 2-drink minimum), call Smarttix at 212/868-4444 or visit www.mysonthewaiter.com (Running time is 90 minutes)
This review was written by Thomas Burns Scully, a New York based writer, actor and musician. His work has been lauded in Time Out NY and the New York Times, and his writing has been performed on three continents. He is generally considered to be the thrifty person’s Renaissance man.
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