Out comedian Zach Zimmerman's first comedy album Clean Comedy debuted at number one on the iTunes Comedy charts. He's a Princeton University graduate that performed in Chicago with The Second City Theatricals.
He took his act to New York, where he now performs regularly at Union Hall, Stand Up NY and Caroline's on Broadway.
His Gay But Not Too Fabulous Tour arrives in Chicago in March.
Windy City Times: Didn't you grow up in the South?
Zach Zimmerman: Yes. Originally, I am southern Virginia. I moved to New Jersey for school, then Chicago in 2010. I was there for seven years until New York, [where I've been] for three years now.
I came of age in Chicago. I worked at Center on Halsted and enjoyed my Boystown moments. I loved, lost, then left!
WCT: How did this evolve into standup?
ZZ: I started in improv and sketch in college. I moved to Chicago because it was cheaper than New York. I took a summer intensive at The iO Theater. I thought it was amazing.
I wanted to create art onstage and make people laugh forever after that. I stuck with it and did some cruise ships with The Second City. After that, it was time for a new challenge, so I switched to standup when I moved to New York.
WCT: [Have] there ever been struggles performing for straight audiences?
ZZ: Great questionyes. In more metropolitan cities, it can be a healthy mix. Sometimes I will ask if there are any gay people in the room. If it's silent then I pretend to leave the stage.
There was one night at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year, [and] there were a ton of straight bros in the audience. They were cracking jokes like, "My mate is into you." I guess they thought that was funny. When I was leaving the doorman said he had invited a bunch of people to the show, thinking he was helping me. Those were the wrong kind of people!
WCT: Do you talk politics or hot topics in your act?
ZZ: It is very autobiographical. I talk about the South and gay relationships. I don't have a Pete Buttigieg joke, but the way I think about the world is potentially a political act.
WCT: What does the title of your tour"Gay But Not Too Fabulous"mean?
ZZ: I opened for Alyssa Edwards, the drag queen from RuPaul's Drag Race, last March. When I got the email I didn't know who she was because I don't watch Drag Race.
WCT: Uh, ohthey are going to take away your gay card!
ZZ: When I came out, I wanted to kiss boys. I didn't know I would have so much homework. There are 12 seasons of Drag Race!
I took the gig and opened for her. I asked the booking agent why they asked me to open for her. He explained, "They wanted someone gay, but not too fabulous." That is me. I talk about it in the show.
My show was called Clean Comedy, but I felt Not Too Fabulous describes me. I came out late. I had friends in college who knew who they were at 16 years old and watched all of Drag Race. They went to all the right parties and bartended at Minibar, when that was around. I feel I was stunted by my upbringing and figuring out my fabulosity.
WCT: So it was about Alyssa not wanting anyone to outshine her?
ZZ: Yes. I talk about that in the show also. Gay audiences can be tough to please. Gay comics playing to gay crowds were the judgiest and harshest of the bunch. Only in the past few years has that started to quiet down.
There hasn't been a super-famous gay standup. We are only getting a couple of figures now.
WCT: What comics have influenced you?
ZZ: The sad thing is they were all old, straight, white men. I loved Jay Leno, Jim Gaffigan and Patton Oswalt.
Now there are queer folk that have come of age in New York [who] do standup, like Joel Kim Booster, Matt Rogers and Bowen Yang. They are part of a new wave of comics coming out.
WCT: Your comedic timing is very good, judging from the clips I have watched.
ZZ: I think improv training taught me to listen to the audience. They are telling you what to focus on. That way I can be interactive, rather than doing a monologue for me.
The biggest lesson Edinburgh taught me from doing a show 30 times in a row was acknowledging when people give you love or a smile. Don't get lost in what you are doing and be open to how an audience reacts. I hear you. This is live and not on TV!
WCT: When did you stop eating meat and become a vegetarian?
ZZ: It was my first year of college and I watched a documentary about meat. I wanted to decrease the suffering of sentient beings. I also gave up christianity, so needed some way of thinking I am better than other people! [Laughs]
WCT: What are you working on next?
ZZ: I'm debating on going to Edinburgh again. I am working on some new material for an album.
WCT: What would you call your album?
ZZ: Some of the themes I am exploring are about jobs, so maybe Blowjobs? The title doesn't really come until late in the game.
I also have a Christian magician character that I like to play. I first developed him in Chicago. He does a magic show, then tries to convert everyone to Christianity. I might double-down on that and bring him back to life!
Catch Zimmerman at The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave., on Monday, March 16, at 7 p.m. Tickets can be found at HideoutChicago.com .