‘My Son the Waiter: A Jewish Tragedy’ serves up the laughs in Lakewood

Don’t let the title dissuade you: You don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate Brad Zimmerman’s one-man show, My Son the Waiter: A Jewish Tragedy. A mother’s love and the struggle for personal success are universally relatable, and Zimmerman pulls us in for an intimate view of how both have influenced his life.

The joy in this autobiographical production comes not just in the jokes, but in actor/comedian Zimmerman’s natural ease in telling a joke, his near-constant movements around the stage — which help illustrate his stories and keep the audience’s attention – and the range of emotion packed into this short, very personal show. Enhancing it all further is Zimmerman’s thick Jersey accent, his ability to lovingly mimic his mother and deceased father, and the way he pulls the audience into the show (consider this a warning for late-comers and those who favor the front row).

In sharing a largely unvarnished story of his life, Zimmerman has the courage to make himself vulnerable. And that makes us not only like the production, but like him.

A life in 80 minutes

In just 80 minutes, he lets us walk with him along the winding road of his life, including 29 long years of waiting New York City tables while studying acting and hoping for a breakthrough; the depression that darkened parts of his journey; and the successes that finally came.

In his late 30s, a counselor urged Zimmerman to pursue his career “with reckless abandon.” And at 42, Zimmerman took his first stand-up comedy class – a choice that fueled his confidence and ultimately breathed life into his acting/comedy career.

Throughout it all, we’re also treated to commentary from his mother – who seems to perfectly fit the overbearing, food-pushing but always loving stereotype of the Jewish matriarch (and thus, Zimmerman says, the source of his best material) – and a lesser extent from his kind-humored, ever-supportive father.

Through Zimmerman’s voice, we can feel his mother’s angst over her son’s refusal to take a more traditional career path, but also sympathize with his frustration at her concern.

We also hear some regret over a life that did not (yet) unfurl in every way he’d hoped. Zimmerman shares his disappointment over lost romantic prospects, his so-far unfulfilled wish for a family and his dreams of performing on Broadway – but it’s gratifying nevertheless. While the viewer’s experiences may not be the same, most have felt that same ache of opportunities missed.

Zimmerman may not yet have achieved the level of fame he once dreamed of, but he performed with some of the best in the business – including George Carlin and Joan Rivers (who dubbed him “the best comic … in his price range”), and had a brief role on The Sopranos. Touchingly, after Carlin summed up Zimmerman’s show as “f’ing great,” Zimmerman’s first call – just as it was when he landed his first theater role in college – was to his mother.

And after decades spent believing in himself and his calling, the 60-something Zimmerman is not done yet. Told his one-man show won’t sell on Broadway, Zimmerman’s performed it Off-Broadway and across the country. If there’s one thing 29 years of waiting tables taught him, no one should underestimate Brad Zimmerman.