Comedian and one-time Ashevillean Joe Zimmerman has been building an impressive resume over the last two years. The sharp-witted, New York-based comic has appeared on “Conan,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” and season 8 of NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” and he recorded a Comedy Central half-hour special in 2014. Zimmerman released his debut solo album, Smiling at Wolves, that same year. It reached No. 2 on the iTunes comedy charts.
Not bad for a guy who started his comedy career living in his friend’s garage in Hendersonville.
Zimmerman was 27 at that time, and he was just starting out on the road as a stand-up comedian. “The only key I had was a garage door opener,” says Zimmerman of his humble Western North Carolina beginnings. “It’s hard to be that optimistic about your future when you’re living in a garage in Hendersonville, but I also had some great times there.”
The comedian says he especially liked seeing the Hendersonville-Bat Cave exit option on the highway. “It always made me feel like I was a poor man’s Batman,” he says. “Going out into the world and using my powers to do good, and then returning, in secret, to my hidden lair.” His current tour brings him back to Asheville, where he’ll perfom at The Southern Saturday, Nov. 14.
Zimmerman didn’t mention whether he feels more like the real Batman now that he lives in New York City, but he is doing pretty well for himself. He was recently counted among the “Top 10 Comics from the South” by Paste, records a popular science podcast called “Universe City” and is working on a book of short fiction.
So it’s true that he has come a long way from his garage-inhabiting days, but Zimmerman still remembers his time in Asheville fondly, and even considers it a great place for a stand-up comic to start. “The crowds [in Asheville] felt a lot more artsy and creative, and you could be more experimental and take more risks,” he says. “Moving to New York, and maybe the Northeast in general, audiences have less patience, so you have to tighten everything up. But tightening everything isn’t necessarily always the funniest choice, nor is keeping everything loose, so it’s nice to know both worlds.”
The move to New York initially inspired Zimmerman to work harder and make his jokes shorter, because it’s a tougher city to secure stage time. “More recently, it’s inspired me to try more honest subjects and be even more myself onstage,” he says, “as opposed to a silly version of myself.”
Zimmerman is likely referring, in part, to “Deeperness,” a monthly show he hosts in Brooklyn. There, comics get together to talk about philosophical issues. Asheville audiences can anticipate some more of those deep(ish) topics to come up during his show at The Southern, but Zimmerman cautions against expecting anything too academic. “I like to talk about those topics — the universe, relationships, childhood, money, life and death,” he says. “But it’s all through the lens of someone who is very lighthearted and silly. It’s not like I’m a philosopher so much as a silly person who likes to think about outer space and watched ‘Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey’ on Netflix.”
The performer also gleans a lot of his inspiration from self-help books. “I just read one called Happiness, which was written by a monk, so I have some stuff on happiness and our constant and relentless pursuit of it,” he says.
On the fence about the upcoming local show? Zimmerman offered this: “Every now and then, you’ll run across a person who says, ‘I don’t like comedy,’ and it makes me wonder if they’re talking about all comedy. My theory is that people who say this saw one or two comedians they didn’t enjoy and then just decided they didn’t like comedy as a whole.” But that, he says, would be like going to a heavy metal concert and a rap battle and saying, ‘I don’t like music.’
There are different types of comedy, says Zimmerman. He’s probably even joking when he adds, “If you like the Spin Doctors or Hootie & the Blowfish, you’ll love me.”
WHO: Joe Zimmerman
WHERE: The Southern Kitchen and Bar, avl.mx/1yt
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 14, 8 p.m. $10.