Joe Zimmerman. Cult Classic.

Gorilla Specials: Joe Zimmerman’s Debut Special Is A Future ‘Cult Classic’

Joe Zimmerman is a uniquely calm comic whose slightly dry delivery makes his clever punchlines land hard. While pacing the stage, he delivers his jokes as tidy observations, with precise act-outs and an aversion to the risk of having a joke lose steam. Within these bits, there’s somehow room for absurdity, irony, and steep sarcasm. For example, Zimmerman has a joke very early in the set that goes:


“I love Asheville. It’s the only place where I’ve seen a redneck and a hippy and it’s the same person. Like is that a tye-dye gun holster? I think the drum circle just played ‘Freebird.’”


Here, there’s such play in the lines, but each works as a perfect bit of comedy. It’s these elements coming together, and the unique temperature of Zimmerman’s energy, that makes him a beloved comic in New York, and someone perhaps overdue for their first special.

Joe Zimmerman: Cult Classic.
Joe Zimmerman: Cult Classic. Courtesy of 800 Pound Gorilla.

The power of Joe Zimmerman’s comedy rests in the mild and ordinary.

Throughout the special, Zimmerman takes mundane activities and experiences like ghosting, bird-watching, and seeing friends and injects them with new life and perspective. Sometimes this is done with hyperbole, such as when he shares why he runs late for things (“I was showering for a long time, and I forgot you existed, Briefly. Just briefly. But I respect you.”). More often than not though, Zimmerman is able to generate hilarity when he’s leaning into aging with a sense of absurd sincerity, such as this bit about gummies: 


“Weed gummies…gateway into regular gummies. Wow. They taste good. I forgot how good they taste.  No I’m eating weed gummies, regular gummies, vitamin gummies. I’m a gummy boy now and it’s tough. It’s a lot of gummy. Doing a lot of gummy. And it is more fun to say you’re doing gummy vitamins. Yeah, you wanna come over, do some c? We can do e. I got fish oil, make your eyeballs slippery. We can do some supplements, gaba, tryptophan, melatonin, get in bed by 8. Last time I took melatonin, I almost didn’t wake up. That was nuts, dude. Love melatonin, dude.”


Zimmerman delivers this while scratching his neck casually, and this move coupled with the stoked drug talk of certain men in their 20s and applied to the obsession with better health and sleep that comes with your 30s and 40s situates the comedy in Zimmerman’s sweet spot: playful irony that maybe isn’t ironic at all.

Zimmerman’s regular-guyness has ample room for cruelty.

Pacing the stage with an awe-shucks demeanor in a Banana Republic shirt, Zimmerman is far from the slovenly, brash comics that “tell it like it is,” which makes  it thrilling to hear him be cutting about things like the true meaning of the David & Goliath story (“I learned that range weapons always defeat melee”) and school:


“Recess is right after lunch because that’s how digestion works. Yeah, now that you’ve had spaghetti with milk, seems like a good time to go running around in a parking lot. They all puked again. Good thing we have our one janitor.”


Perhaps the best example of Zimmerman’s ordinariness bumping up against the prickly frustrations of other people comes when he goes to visit the petroglyphs in Arizona, which are ancient rock drawings, saying: 


And there’s a plaque that says ‘unfortunately there’s no way to translate what these mean today. However, this little squiggle might be a snake.’ And you’re like, ‘yeah, I can see that.’ And then they go, ‘and this little circle might be a portal into another world.’ Wow, you really took some liberties on that one. No way to translate, but you’re going to guess portal off of that. Alright. 


This then leads Zimmerman to encounter another tourist who asks if he didn’t wish they could go back in time to ask what they really meant, which leads Zimmerman to discussing how stupid that would be. Over and over, his mildness makes his outrage that much funnier to the audience and viewer alike.

Zimmerman is one of the best at crowd-work.

Crowd-work can come across as tedious, even obvious when it falls into the obvious trap of engaging the audience about their work or dating life. Zimmerman avoids this, and makes it enthralling, by taking it down unusual avenues. In one instance, Zimmerman introduces his hatred of being told he’s like his astrology symbol, and that he decided to write down bad people associated with every other symbol to take them down a peg when the conversation starts up. He then asks audience members what their sign is, and there’s genuine excitement in the room as they wait to see not only who the historic monster is, but if it’ll be worse than the person before them. Without fail, Zimmerman generates incredible laughter from the simplest timing (“Gemini…have you ever heard of Jeffrey Dahmer?”)


The special ends with a small introduction of Nixium (“How do I join your cult? Sir, it’s a self-help community. Well, I am brainwashed already. Sign me up!”) and how hard it is to start a cult (“Follow me! No, you’re annoying, Derrick.”). Zimmerman then has the audience repeat phrases after him that are empty nonsense like indoctrination language (“I am blessed with this life #blessed I have released all irrational fears, and replaced them with real fears. I forgive everyone who has ever left me, except for Beth. I look really good, thanks to this new coat from Banana Republic.”). Through his clever and unusual approach to joke-craft, Zimmerman has generated a special that’s a true Cult Classic.

See Joe Zimmerman at work in his newest special, Cult Classic, premiering tonight on Nateland Entertainment's YouTube channel at 6 PM CT!

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