When she performs, Amy Zimmer’s got a roster of hilariously offbeat characters in her back pocket at all times. As a writer, she’s consistently and surrealistically funny. I completely lost my shit when she took us inside the brain of Matt Lauer for The New Yorker after he received a firestorm of criticism following his softball conversation with Trump at the “Commander-in-Chief Forum” last September. I’d seen Amy read the piece one night at the recently-closed Over the Eight, and then suddenly it’s an article getting posted all over my various timelines a day later. After the set at Over the Eight, we talked about the bit and she didn’t even mention that it was also getting published by one of the largest periodicals in the country. Amy Zimmer is a rare talent, and disarmingly humble.
I’ve had the immense privilege of working with her multiple times and she easily transforms into any role while still remaining somehow quintessentially “Amy,” no matter the context. We did a “sitcom” of sorts last year for MoreArt’s MONTH2MONTH series with Ana Fabrega and Lorelei Ramirez where Amy nailed playing a quirky New York apartment building superintendent. We also collaborated on a performance called True Detective: Season Three at Essex Flowers last summer that included comedian Sam Taggart and artist Jayson Musson. Amy helped write the backstory to murder victim Winnie Deetz, whom she also played in the live performance, steering Deetz’s narrative to that of a dangerously on-point satire of YouTube personas complete with original video content for the character. Working with Amy is a great experience as she’s in possession of nearly limitless novel ideas and angles. Further, she’s got that unnameable personality trait that other performers seem to link with instantly--people seem to understand that they can trust her immediately.
Beginning next week, Amy’s hosting and curating a new monthly called That Was Fantastic at New Women Space in East Williamsburg. The series kicks off on Tuesday, May 23rd with performances from Jaboukie Young-White, Casey Jane Ellison, Darcie Wilder, Patti Harrison, Peter Smith, and Lena Einbinder. Putting that group together on a single bill should be a fucking felony. If you go to it and aren’t dying the entire time it’s because you’re already dead. Plainly put, this show is not optional. You are going.
Amy graciously took some time out of her schedule to talk with me this week, despite the fact that today is her fucking birthday, teaching me a few things about shipping domesticated animals, outlining future contexts for comedy, and putting together a fantastic list of people we should all be reading and seeing live.
Have at it below, screedlers.
How’s your week been going, Amy?
Sean! It’s been a wild week! I was in Chicago last weekend with family that I haven’t seen in maybe ten years, and I was having dinner with some pretty estranged older cousins. My mother was talking about how she really wants to get a little dog. And this is true; my mom really wants a little dog. Maybe if your readers have any tip-offs, they could hit me up? Just a little dog. No strings attached. A dog that’s really going to go the distance in quality companionship. Cute, silly, etc. A little dog, but not too small. Nothing inhumane. Thank you, in advance.
I mean, that sounds fine so far to me...
Well, she mentioned this, and one of the estranged cousins mentioned a friend of theirs who sells dogs, or something? Pretty sure my mom will adopt, but my mom said, “Really? Are they in Florida?” She lives there–-I’m from Tampa. The cousin shook his head, No. “But I know they send them all over the place. They ship dogs.” And then he kept asking his wife, “Don’t they?”
“Yeah. Yeah, They ship dogs.”
I couldn’t stop laughing at, “Yeah, they ship dogs.” He kept saying it over and over again. I’m extremely certain they do not ship dogs the way he thinks that they do. Such an upsetting phrase to say so confidently. And it was said so confidently. He was also laboring over a pile of food.
That upset me more than I think it should have. But I can’t dwell on it because I have real questions for you. I wanted to talk about the new monthly that you’ve put together, That Was Fantastic, at New Women Space.
Yeah! I first came across New Women Space when I did Arti Gollapudi’s show there and met Sandra Hong, one of the co-owners. I immediately fell in love with the space and what they were about. We ended up meeting after the show and talking about what they wanted to build out of their community space. We had a long talk about our shared interests, politics, and I remember breathing a real sigh of relief, like, “Oh, we are absolutely on the same page.” Long story long, we talked about doing a show together, and here we are: That Was Fantastic.
Is it aiming to differentiate itself from other monthly shows put on by your peers?
The goal is to showcase and amplify new voices, promote unwavering inclusivity, and to be a facilitator for writers, comedians, and performers to find new audiences. The show is a bit different from other shows, in that it is the only one run by me. You should expect some bits, some sketches, some surprise gags, readings... some nice music! If one person walks way learning about a talent they hadn't known before, or hadn't seen live before, I'll be so happy. And if I walk away discreetly with a little dog in my arms, well, that'd be alright.
I’m sure that your mom would appreciate that. I’m really excited about the first show on May 23rd. The lineup looks incredible. How did it come together?
I knew that I wanted this residency to be a variety show, where you could come see some comedy, but also expect non-comedic performers as well. I’d really like this show to be a place for writers to come read their work. That’s important to me. I have a soft spot (skull, left quadrant) for a good reading series. I hope this show can be a place where all of those things can converge happily.
Was it important for you to situate it within the context of a nontraditional comedy venue like New Women Space? Their website stresses the importance of in-person gatherings as a foundational means to foster community, and that the space is designed to prioritize women and femmes of all experiences. The average mainstream comedy night certainly doesn’t aim towards those ends.
Yes, absolutely. It was something borne out of chance, but I feel very grateful to have a show at a place that is devoted to building community with such a considered and intersectional practice. I recognize what an extremely rare thing that is. I am very excited to host a show a place that celebrates all gender variance, identity expression and experience; where femme-identifying, genderqueer, trans, and non-binary friends are celebrated and respected.
Some of the go-to places for--and sorry for calling it this--alternative comedy have closed recently, for a variety of reasons. How are the people in the community adapting? Do you feel like we’ll see more nights happening in nontraditional spaces?
Unfortunately, your use of “alternative” has been reported and catalogued. I’m sorry! It’s out of my hands.
I knew that was going to be a problem the second I said it.
Words hurt! I think lots of people are skittering around, trying to let things fall where they may. Instability is the de facto right now, on obvious national and global levels, and on personal levels. I’m hoping these more personal shake-ups will help comics meet other artists they typically wouldn’t. Some of the best performances I’ve ever seen in my life have happened at venues that seem diametrically opposed to each other, when they really aren’t. So, it’s been very disruptive, but I hope it spurs new connections. And sure, I would love to see more nontraditional nights and spaces. Don’t get me wrong–-I love a traditional night and space. I think it’s important to not be dependent on either environment. But when you take a traditional space and put that “non” in front? Whole worlds open up. Why aren’t there more shows in tunnels?!? That sort of thing. These are the things I’d like to question. What I hope I’m remembered for.
In your own life in New York, you seem to travel pretty fluidly between what previously might have been perceived as distinct disciplinary circles. You’ve collaborated with musician Lafawndah, written for arts magazines Topical Cream and The Creators Project plus high-profile spots like The New Yorker and McSweeney’s, created sketch videos with musician Thurmon Green, and you perform regularly in the Brooklyn comedy community.
It’s been a wild ride. Those people mentioned are people I love. There are very few people who have vision like Lafawndah, and Thurmon Green is genius. I’ll never not be stanning for him. Thurmon will always have sole credit for calling me out as a comedian, a long time ago. I highly suggest dropping everything and listening to them both right now.
I know in my circumstance, traveling different disciplinary circles has never been an intentional focus, but a result of my interpersonal relationships. For a while, I was writing very privately, and I was surrounded by friends who were making very interdisciplinary work, for no other reason than their impulses and interests demanded that of them. It wasn’t done with strategy or excessive consideration of category. I have a lot of friends in nightlife, for example, who are wonderful artists, and their experiences in nightlife inform their creative practice. Sometimes when I talk to comedians about that sort of thing, I get raised eyebrows, and vice versa. I wonder if people envision some horrific We Are Your Friends mutation, which could not be further from what’s going on. Similarly, artists I’ve met through nightlife, people who are unbelievably funny, can be a bit wary of comedy environments. But the truth is, both worlds overlap a lot more than one might expect. I’d love everyone to know more of each other.
Do you feel that there’s a generational push to overlap and blur these categories? Or, is it just sort of happening organically?
I can't speak towards a generational push, but I feel like if people forego categorization, it's usually just because they're exhausted from it, and not for some other novel reason.
It’s a volatile climate, and since the election I think lots of people have had to re-examine a host of definitions, to see where their focuses lie, of how best to be of service in the face of all this non-stop pain and violence, while trying to hold on to a little integrity. It's hard, and everything is constantly changing. I’ve read the news six times since writing this answer–-none of it offers a clear way forward. But I hope having a little bit of fun can help nourish the process. And I hope, ultimately, we can circle back and remember what’s deeply true: my mom could use a dog.
I hope my readers are understanding that your mom really does want a dog. One last thing: whose work should we all be paying attention to in 2017?
This is tricky! There are so many people in comedy who consistently mess me up for days when they perform. If I mention some I’d be leaving out a lot of amazing talents. I will say everyone on the lineup this month are people I find undeniably brilliant. I'm thankful for comedians like Ana Fabrega, Lorelei Ramirez, and Ruby McCollister, among so, so many others.
I’ll always drop everything for Juliana Huxtable. She has a new book out that I’m aching to read. Same goes for House of Ladosha. Ragga NYC, too, and their current show at the New Museum. I'm always following FluCT. Discwoman. Bearcat. Yulan Grant. Kimberly Drew.
Also, there’s so many writers right now who consistently take my breath away. I’ve been reading Doreen St. Felix, Jenna Wortham, Durga Chew-Bose, Jenny Zhang, Jia Tolentino, Whitney Mallett, Fiona Duncan. This question stresses me out so much. I could list 200 people.
Thanks, Amy. I hope your mom finds herself a dog.
Thank you, Sean! I’ll be sure to tell her over FaceTime audio. It will mean a lot to her.