Beyond the beard

“Big debuts off the bucket list”: Since moving to New York from Asheville, Joe Zimmerman has performed on Comedy Central, late-night TV and at the Just For Laughs festival. His two LAB shows will be taped for his debut solo album. Photo by Mindy Tucker

Former Asheville resident (and former Beards of Comedy member) Joe Zimmerman will be coming back to town to record his debut solo comedy album at Lexington Avenue Brewery. Since moving to New York City a few years ago, Zimmerman has been a rising star in the national comedy scene, doing television spots and winning accolades at respected comedy festivals. Xpress spoke with him about his burgeoning career and his upcoming local shows.

Mountain Xpress: What was it like doing John Oliver's New York Stand-Up Show? Has being on a primetime Comedy Central show increased opportunities in your career?

Zimmerman: It was my first set on television, and what I’ve learned in doing comedy and even being up here in New York is getting your television debut is a very difficult thing. Every comic in the world wants to be on a late-night show or on Comedy Central, so it’s just very competitive. Every TV booker is very hesitant to be the first one to book you because they’re worried that you’ll get nervous and their booking will look bad. The show went really well. It kind of felt more like a relief to do it than an achievement, but either way it was good. It’s kind of a validation for other people to say, “Oh, he’s done that, I guess we can book him now,” but also people can see the standup clip with high production value. You kind of have to do that 10 or 20 more times before you can start selling tickets and having fans.

So, we can expect to see you soon on other shows, like your recent taping for Nickelodeon’s NickMom Night Out?
Yes, that will air in November. I also just got to tape The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, which airs Wednesday, Nov. 20. Ferguson was actually very different to tape. Unlike doing a comedy club or theater, with late-night shows, they ask you to look right into the camera, stand in one spot and keep the microphone far away from your face. They also ask you to hit the time and not do more than 4 1/2 minutes, but not less than four minutes and 15 seconds. You still get audience feedback, but you’re not supposed to look at them, which is very weird. So yeah, I got the two big debuts off the bucket list.

You've been up to other things as well.  One was Just For Laughs, the Montreal comedy festival, where you were named one of their “new faces.”
I think moving to New York City definitely opened up that opportunity. Montreal looks for new faces each year, and it’s kind of a big deal because all of the industry around the country comes to see who Montreal has picked. It’s the biggest festival in the world for comedy. That helped me get management and some more good word-of-mouth. The thing I learned from doing Montreal is a lot of people want to know, “Do you have any finished scripts?” I was like, “Oh, I didn’t write a script because nobody was asking for one.” I now think you should just start doing it before you get asked.

But now you’re probably too busy to take a break and start working on a script.
I haven’t been writing scripts, but I have been submitting writing packets for writing positions. I’ve submitted about seven different packets in the last six months. Mostly to late-night shows like Fallon and Letterman, or Comedy Central shows like Kroll Show or Inside Amy Schumer. [Also,] I’m putting a lot of energy into the standup right now, and the podcast I’m doing called Universe City. It's a popular-science-based podcast, which is really fun. I’ve always talked a lot about animals, and now I’m trying to talk more about the universe and stuff. It will start coming out soon.
Why did you pick Asheville and LAB to do your comedy album?
New Wave records did our Beards of Comedy album for Comedy Central. It's a big digital company based in Los Angeles that does a lot of big albums, so I’m excited to work with them. Putting together the hour for this album is probably my biggest project right now. LAB is actually one of my favorite venues to perform at. The sound system and the lights are so good there. Asheville is one of my favorite places to perform because the audiences are on the smarter end of the fence, the liberal-artsy end. It’s a good combination. I lived in Asheville for three or four years, so I wanted to return. Hopefully have some quote-unquote fans come out. Or just friends.

— Michele Scheve lives near Asheville; she can be reached at

who: Joe Zimmerman
where: LAB back stage
when: Friday and Saturday, Nov. 15 & 16
9 p.m. nightly, $10

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