Fed up with decades of slaving away at Lindy’s, waiters at that iconic Jewish eatery used to joke about writing a tell-all memoir, “I’ve Waited Long Enough.” Brad Zimmerman knows the feeling. After 29 years of waiting tables as an unemployed actor, he finally has his own one-man stand-up show, “My Son the Waiter: A Jewish Tragedy,” in which he chronicles his agonizing odyssey to the stage. When it ran in June in Southern California, critic Pam Kragen of the San Diego Union-Tribune called the show “witty and deeply personal … part confessional, part therapy session and part black comedy.” It opens this Sunday on the Upper West Side.
Zimmerman, 60, grew up in Oradell, N.J. After majoring in theater at Rollins College in Florida, he eschewed working in his family’s furniture business in order to become an actor in New York; he decided to wait tables in order to support himself. But it was only in the last decade that he finally broke into show business, opening for Brad Garrett (“Everybody Loves Raymond”), George Carlin and Joan Rivers. Indeed, “My Son” garnered controversy last month when a fake “last recording” of Rivers surfaced, in which the late comic purportedly rehearsed a commercial for Zimmerman’s show; the show’s publicist, Beck Lee, has apologized for the stunt.
Like Billy Crystal’s “700 Sundays,” Jake Ehrenreich’s “A Jew Grows in Brooklyn” and Judy Gold’s “25 Questions for a Jewish Mother,” Zimmerman’s show includes an exploration of the actor’s own Jewish roots; he mines humor, in part by describing his relationship with his overbearing Jewish mother, who loved to tell him in excruciating detail about the success of her friends’ sons.
Zimmerman then limns the “humbling” travails of trying to satisfy nettlesome customers at restaurants like Hobeau’s (a fish restaurant) in Midtown, Manhattan Bistro in Soho, Chat ‘n Chew in Union Square and Le Figaro Café in Greenwich Village. He turns even his chronic lack of money into a joke: “For my summer vacation, I turned my fan on high.”
In an interview, Zimmerman told The Jewish Week that success eluded him for so long because he was “paralyzed by fear. It took me a long time to believe in my abilities.” Then again, he reflected, “It takes a long time to be great at something. We live in a world of mediocrity.” The show, he said, is at bottom about “staying the course — finding a purpose in life and not giving up.”
“My Son, the Waiter: A Jewish Tragedy” opens Sunday, Oct. 19 and runs through Dec. 31 at Stage 72-Triad Theatre, 168 W. 72nd St. Performances are Monday, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. For tickets, $45-$99 plus a two-drink minimum, call SmartTix at (212) 868-4444 or visit www.smarttix.com.