Alejandro: So how long have you been doing standup and how did you get into it?
Zach: It’ll be my sixth year stand-up anniversary at the end of April. I did improv in Chicago for a number of years, then when I moved to New York, they made you start at the bottom rung of every ladder, and I did not wanna do improv with 21-year-olds. So I did hard stand-up comedy, and I’ve enjoyed it since. It’s funny, improv teachers in Chicago would tell you, standup audiences are evil. They cross their arms. They’re like, make me laugh. And improv audiences are like, we’re here for the journey. I was actively discouraged from touching standup at all.
A: Where did you study improv in Chicago?
Z: I studied at iO, Second City, and the Annoyance. Second City sent me on two cruise ship contracts, two four-month stints at sea. They never put me on their main stage. That was all I wanted when I lived in Chicago. It’s so interesting how dreams can … for me at least, I can be influenced by the community I’m in as far as what my dreams and goals should be, a little too much. So leaving Chicago was very good for me. I was like, oh wait, there are so many other ways to make people laugh and it’s not just these six jobs on a stage in Chicago.
A: Did you find, being a comedian from the LGBTQIA+ community, did that feel different for you in New York City? Or do you feel like it’s such a melting pot that it didn’t matter?
Z: When I first moved here, a lot of groundwork had been laid that made me feel included and accepted. I remember one of the first LGBTQ open mics I did called Open Flame, at Mood Ring, it was all queer comedians doing time. So I felt very comfortable and accepted and welcome. In New York there are gonna be queer people in every audience, whether it’s the majority or the minority. I think as long as you’re aware of it and acknowledge the audience, they can have laughs along every spectrum. It can be hard representing a community, so it’s great when there are multiple queer people on a lineup, and the burden of representation isn’t solely on me. Because I am queer, but I’m also Zach Zimmerman.
A: A whole person.
Z: A whole damn person. A person and a half some days.
A: Any memorable experiences with a heckler?
Z: I did an hour in Seattle for the first time, rented a little theater. I didn’t know how many fans might come. And then these two drunk women showed up and interrupted the whole show. And I managed them fine. But afterwards I see one of them, like, riffling through my bag? and I’m like, there’s no way. She’s like, stealing something? And then her friend falls down, and she goes to help her. And I noticed she’d taken my chocolates! The Fran’s chocolates that a friend’s mom had bought me, this little box of nine chocolates, she’s taken them out, opened them, broken the seal, eaten two of them. She probably would’ve eaten them all if her friend hadn’t fallen! (Laughs) Oh my God. But I don’t get angry. It’s not really a go-to emotion of mine. In that moment, though, I felt violated, I felt hurt. Later, Fran’s actually reached out and sent me some replacement chocolates. But I also I emailed the woman and she hasn’t got back. Since I ran the event, there was a way to contact attendees. So we’ll see, Jerry in Seattle!
A: Switching gears, I want to get to your book: Is It Hot in Here (Or Am I Suffering for All Eternity for the Sins I Committed on Earth)? How did that come to be?
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been drawn to prose and writing. I wrote a novelization of my life in high school — luckily that’s been lost to the sands of Time. But when the pandemic hit, and stand-up was gone as a creative outlet, I turned to writing essays. I wrote one about my mom going back to work at Red Lobster during the pandemic, and The New Yorker very kindly published that. And so that set the wheels turning, like hey, maybe now’s the time to collect some of the stories about my conservative family, dating life, jobs I’ve had, and start to combine that into a thing that people might want to read.
It’s not pandemic specific, it spans my whole life. But it’s definitely a product of my perspective on my life at that time. So it’s a snapshot of a moment. And the response has been really nice. I’ve had some queer friends who grew up with conservative parents and are like, oh my God, I, I resonated deeply with this. And I’m excited for that. That means a lot to me. Obviously you also want it to hit the bestseller list and become a TV show and like, all the trappings of success. But I do think just making a couple people feel seen, or if it’s a hundred people’s favorite book, or some queer kid gets ahold of it, that’s cool and exciting too.
A: Any memorable experiences in Philly?
Z: A number of years ago, when I worked in advertising, I did not like my job, so I was always trying to not do my job. So one idea I had was to go to this “Gay at Work” conference in Philadelphia. I made my job send me there. And so I got paid to get drunk in the city, and I went out to one very crowded gay bar, I think it was Woody’s? and I used a line I don’t think I’ve used since. It has to only be used when it’s true. I went up to someone and asked them, what’s it like to be the most beautiful person in this bar? And when it’s true, it works. It has to be true. You can’t use it otherwise. It’s too powerful.
Z: That was the night I hooked up with the most beautiful man in that bar.
A: I love that! Let’s talk about your upcoming show at City Winery on April 28th. What are you sharing in your set?
Z: A lot about family tension and romance. And lately I’ve been interested in exploring my love of deals and coupons and the trouble that gets me into. Like, when I tried to participate in a Denny’s Black Friday t-shirt promotion. And when I was once in a tuna fish class action lawsuit that, um, maybe I shouldn’t have been in? I’m starting to play with some stuff that’s not as heavy, but silly and very specific to me. And then I’m definitely telling some stories about things that are in the book.
There will also be plenty of crowd work and getting to know the people of Philadelphia. By that night of the tour, I’ll be towards the end, having tried to sell as many books as possible. So I’ll be my true core exhaust self. You’re gonna get the unfiltered Zach Zimmerman experience.