Waiter-cum-actor Brad Zimmerman’s road to success (sort of)

MysonSay you worked the same job for 29 years. If you averaged 40 hours a week, that would total 60,320 hours.

That, give or take an hour, is how long Brad Zimmerman waited tables in New York City. But unlike most people who do something — anything — for that amount of time, slinging hash was never his career. The entire time, he was working on his true loves: acting, writing and comedy. Along the way, he made strides, earning gigs opening for the likes of George Carlin and Joan Rivers, but he wasn’t able to hang up his apron until his one-man play, My Son, the Waiter: A Jewish Tragedy, hit the stage for an off-Broadway and touring stint that has lasted years.

As we talked over the phone just before My Son, the Waiter made its way to Richardson, his complexity as both a person and an onstage character became clear. He speaks in philosophical terms about his craft, and honestly about his own inner battles.

“My therapist once said to me, ‘Your journey is about confidence, in all areas of your life,’” Zimmerman says. “It took me a long time to get out into the world and experience the failure I was so deathly afraid of, and then ultimately to realize that it’s everything in terms of leaning and growing.”

Chatting with Zimmerman, it’s pretty clear that a source of that fear of failure is his complicated relationship with his mother. He recounts a time in the past few years when the two were driving to dinner. “I’m in my early 60s, I’m making more money than I’ve ever made in my life,” he says, “and she says, ‘Maybe you should go back to graduate school. So that you have something to fall back on.’” He says this without anger — only bemusement. If one could see him shaking his head through the phone, you would. “I couldn’t believe it came out of her mouth.”

The things that come out of his mother’s mouth make up a good amount of the play — and a good part of its humor — but there’s so much more, as Zimmerman chronicles his pursuit of a 29-year-old dream. Part standup comedy and part traditional theater, My Son covers his fears, his ideas, his years of “what’ll you have?” and his slow-burning tenacity that finally landed him where he wanted to be.

Almost every moment of those 29 years was spent working on his craft: taking acting lessons, studying his craft, writing, observing. “In his autobiography, Bruce Springsteen says ‘If you wanna take it all the way to end of the night, there’s a fire in the gut that just won’t quit,’” Zimmerman notes in his quintessential New York way. “And that’s really drive.”

That drive clearly is a huge part of Zimmerman’s psyche, but it resulted in him writing a play that, at its core, is part of a long tradition of one-liners and the age-old theme of Jewish boys and their moms. Where Zimmerman takes the twist is tying it into his own journey of self-discovery, of conquering fears. And while he offers plenty of comedy about his mother’s struggle with her son’s career (“If all goes well,” he quotes her as saying, “Brad is buying a bookcase”), in the long run it’s about relationships. “It’s not just funny,” he says. “It’s very meaningful — a lot of people are touched and inspired by it.”

As for his mom? She’s in her 80s now and still going strong. “She actually is very proud of me,’ Zimmerman says. “We have a great relationship. I love her to death.”

And, ever the showman, Zimmerman notes, “This will all be in the sequel.” Now that he’s not waiting tables, he actually has time to write it.

— Joanna Widner