Prospect staff writer José Pablo Fernández García ’23 sat down with Zach Zimmerman ’10 after his second performance of Clean Comedy at McCarter Theater Center. A stand-up comedian who has recently performed at the 2019 Edinburgh Festival Fringe and is about to embark on his 2020 Gay But Not Too Fabulous national tour, Zimmerman discussed his journey as a performing artist and the Princeton experience.
José Pablo Fernández García: So, I did kind of stalk your Twitter account beforehand just to learn more about you, and I saw a tweet about being back on campus and it being a subject of therapy. What's it like being on campus as a professional performer?
Zach Zimmerman: I was afraid it’d be trippy, ’cause walking through campus I’m like, oh that's where … I have a lot of memories of campus and forged a lot of like firsts, and so to be back on the place where that happened is kind of nuts. And this is where I like first fell in love with making people laugh, so it’s cool to return and feel old as fuck.
JPFG: I mean it must feel sort of like bookends since you graduated in 2010, and it’s a decade later.
ZZ: It’ll be my 10-year reunion this year which we have some hideous costumes planned for which will be fun. Have you been to a reunion before?
JPFG: No, not yet. I’ve heard so much.
ZZ: Yes, they’re very strange, especially Triangle-related reunions. But yeah, students are so young is kind of what I’m grappling with ‘cause I felt like an adult while I was here, and now I’m like, no, y’all are still little babies, little cherubs on campus.
JPFG: So, what’s sort of been the journey in the decade since you left campus?
ZZ: Oh, just pain, suffering, humiliation, rinse and repeat. I spent a long time — I moved straight to Chicago, crew ships with The Second City, iO Theater, and then moved to New York three years ago, doing comedy. It’s been — I joked in the talkback that Princeton teaches you or college teaches you how to — college is four years of teaching you how to swim and then you get thrown out of a plane. So, it's been kind of piecing together this comedy career, has been kind of fun and weird and unexpected. Yeah, I have no idea what the next 10 years look like, but we’re having fun getting there.
JPFG: I have some friends who also plan on going into, if not comedy, at least being a performer, so do you have any advice for them?
ZZ: Oh man, don't chase money. You’re not entitled to anything. Celebrate process over product. And be a part of a community or collaborate with other people — get to know other people, especially right after school ’cause those are the networks that will help you in the future. And be nice; be a nice-to-work-with person because there's a lot of very talented people out there, but the kinder you are and easier you are to work with, the more people will want to. And sort of know that life doesn't happen on your timeline either, so be very patient and devoted to your craft. I remember when I first graduated, I was like, I’m going to achieve XYZ by these particular dates. And if that had happened, it’d be great. I was like, oh, I achieved my goal! But then when it doesn’t, you have to unpack like, wait so why did I want this thing? How can I recalibrate my goals to be more creative-based things I can control rather than things I can't control? Because there’s so much in entertainment you literally can’t control. Like, did I not get this job ’cause a five-year-younger version of myself was in it? Or did the director’s son want to audition for it? There's so much out of your control, that all you can do is hone your craft, take classes, build a community, keep creating, make, make, make, make, make.
JPFG: As a member of Triangle, I could probably just make this whole interview about it — ask you for stories — but do you have maybe just one that really stands out?
ZZ: Oh, a Triangle story! Oh my god! It was a Triangle tour — which, the group goes on a tour over intercession. Is that what you call it?
ZZ: Over intercession, and we were staying in like a classmate’s parents’ house. And my good friend and I found this shitty bottle of vodka and Dixie cups, and we started doing shots of the shitty vodka in Dixie cups. And went on some like nude chat site that was weirdly existing, but you could like talk to any random person. And we just kept like chatting with them and got too intoxicated for ourselves and had a rip-roaring hangover the next day on the bus ride all around town. I think, oh man, I feel like it shouldn’t just be a drinking story. What’s a good Triangle story? I dressed as a woman a lot ’cause I was an actor and a writer.
JPFG: For the kick line?
ZZ: Yeah, for the kick line.
JPFG: And shifting topics a bit, your show obviously dealt with a lot of your growing up, especially as a member of the LGTBQ community. So, if you don't mind, could you maybe share a bit about what it was like being on this campus, especially 10 years ago with all the change that’s happened since then?
ZZ: Yeah, I mean there's — people come to Princeton with different levels of knowledge about themselves and comfortability about who they are, and for me, it very much was a process of discovery. I like, yeah, I gave my first blowjob while I was on campus and sort of started to figure that out because I really didn’t have an inkling of my sexuality before getting to campus. And it was seeing like shirtless volleyball players in the Wilson courtyard where I was like, oh, do I want to look like you or be with you? Turns out the answer was both. And then, just, I was lucky here to have such a supportive group of friends that didn’t force me to like, apply particular labels. So, it's cool to come back now that I know who I am and also see the campus growing. We had the LGBT Center when I was here, but it always felt a little separate from me ’cause I wasn’t yet identifying while I was on campus. And I'm sure that's — it’s been cool in the decade since to watch fellow classmates come out too. A lot of people don't do it at Princeton for various reasons, and my hope would be that that's less of a case now and that people are coming out in high school or as soon as they do know.
JPFG: And is there anything you might want to say to current students that identify as part of that community?
ZZ: My main piece of advice for every student is to spend all of Princeton’s money and use the Princeton credit card for everything you can imagine. Travel everywhere. Study everything. Use it while you can, and I would hope — Yeah, have lots of fun. Be really kind to each other and know that in 10 years the world could be very, very different. So, yeah always just lead with love. That sounds so cheesy maybe. Yeah, my advice is always spend money, and stop — this is also just general advice, less to just queer people — stop — in the creative life no one's gonna give you an assignment, so you kind of need to live, make the things you want to make, and stop waiting for like the teacher to give you an assignment.
JPFG: Well, I thought we’d end with some fun, quick questions.
JPFG: A favorite spot on campus?
ZZ: The 1879 arch because I was a religion major. I went to arch sings there. And one night my senior year, I walked by it at like 1:30 in the morning, and there was some party happening in an office above it. And I went in there, and it was like magical. And maybe it was all a dream.
JPFG: A favorite place to eat whether on campus or in the town?
ZZ: I’m a Bent Spoon queen. Go get their — not cupcake or ice cream, but the caramel brownie is the most delicious thing on earth.
JPFG: I’ll add that to my list of things to check out.
ZZ: Try it. Then get high and try it. Both are delicious.
JPFG: And did you have a favorite class you took while you were here?
ZZ: Oh man, my favorite class. I’m trying to remember; I feel so bad. Religion, theater, the atelier. Who's sticking out? Oh, this is so naughty. Why don’t I remember — I took a — Yeah, I’m drawing a blank.
JPFG: That's fine.
ZZ: I feel so bad.
JPFG: So, they just announced a new residential college.
JPFG: Yep, Perelman, so I want to get your opinion. Should its mascot be the platypus?
ZZ: Perelman the Platypus?
ZZ: Well, the Ty Beanie Baby community celebrates Patti the Platypus, so there is precedent for alliterative platypus names. And there’s a baby platypus that I saw on Twitter recently, and they are adorable. So, I think Perelman the Platypus is a great idea. Do the other residential colleges have mascots?
JPFG: Yes, so Mathey is the moose.
ZZ: Oh, these are new! We didn't have these.
JPFG: I’m trying to get the platypus campaign going.
ZZ: Start it. Start it now. The eighth residential college, it's going to be called Zimmerman College rumor has it. Just give me like five years.
JPFG: Okay, I'll call in five years.
ZZ: Good, perfect.
JPFG: And lastly, the campus squirrels or the campus fox?
ZZ: There’s a fox? I mean now that I’m on campus, there is. But where? We didn't have a fox!
JPFG: There might be more than one; they’re the new celebrity in town.
ZZ: The squirrels have had their time. Let's shake some stuff up! Let’s get these foxes on campus. And from Fleabag season two the fox is a symbol, so I support foxes.
JPFG: Well, thank you so much!
ZZ: Oh, of course!