Comedian Zach Zucker Is the Jewish Clown of a Generation

The proof is in his NYT Critics’ pick show “Jack Tucker: Comedy Standup Hour.”

Comedian Zach Zucker is, in his own estimation, “the Jewish clown of a generation.” Coming from any other 30-year-old white male comic, I probably would raise an eyebrow. But here’s the thing: I believe him. The proof is in his show “Jack Tucker: Comedy Standup Hour.”

“Jack Tucker” is 75 minutes of masterful clowning. In the show, co-devised with Jonny Woolley and Dylan Woodley, Zucker performs as a cartoonishly dim-witted stand up comedian named Jack Tucker. On paper, Tucker should not be funny. His style of comedy feels like Borscht Belt meets conservative darling, and his appearance is that of a businessman who got caught up in a hurricane. Jack Tucker attempts to weave convoluted jokes about being married, the Baha Men and Women’s History Month with an array of props he pulls out of his suit jacket or bats with the microphone. All of it is punctuated with a soundboard that offers the sounds of clown horns, “American Woman” by Lenny Kravitz, bleeping and someone saying “Yeah!” at dizzying intervals.

Like I said, that performance shouldn’t be funny. But Zucker mines hilarity from Jack Tucker’s flop. In the pure ethos of clowning, the former student of master clown Phillippe Gaulier plays with the audience. Zucker pinpoints the moments that tickles each individual crowd and then hits them hard, laughing at Jack Tucker along the way.

Zucker spoke with me via Zoom last week about his New York Times Critics’ pick show “Jack Tucker: Comedy Standup Hour,” getting kicked out of Hebrew school, the art of clowning and conjuring a Baha Men Renaissance.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

To start, I love the Jewish summer camp story you told Vulture which kind of explains how you became a comedian. I’m curious if there are any other parts of Jewish culture or Jewy moments that influenced you or explain why you’re a comedian?

Can I be totally honest?

Of course.

That whole interview is 100% fake. My best friend wrote the answer to every single question because I completely forgot and underestimated how big of a deal it was. It’s been referenced in a few different things now I’m like, “Do I go with it?” Like, it is really funny to be like, “Yeah, I used to drop rocks on my feet at summer camp to make people laugh.”

But truthfully, being a little Jewish boy and having so many Jewy moments in my life that have made my sense of humor what it is, I got to give it up to my grandpa Marv. We call him Marvelous. He was my hero growing up. He’s just the type of guy… it’s like when you watch “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and you see every single one of your relatives in all of the three or four main characters.

This influenced me in maybe a different way, but I was kicked out of three Hebrew schools growing up. I was restless. I was always in the principal’s office. I was a troublemaker. I have the spirit of somebody who if I didn’t believe a teacher or a person of authority deserved to be in the authoritative position, I would challenge them every step of the way. If you were a great teacher, I would be an amazing student. But those are fewer and farther between, you know?

Yes, totally. The Vulture thing very much reminds me of how Alex Edelman used to do this joke about how he has a twin and people would come up to him after the show and be like “I’m also a twin!” And then he’d have to explain that he doesn’t actually have a twin, it was just for the joke.

That’s very similar to our show, especially because I’m doing a character. People think I’m married all the time. Obviously, I’m not. I’m a chronically nomadic clown. And I’m like, you watch that show and you see a guy with a silver wedding ring that’s rusted copper, his fly is undone, his shirt is tucked into his underwear, which is pulled up halfway between my belly button and my nipples, his feet are out, there’s toilet paper on my feet… Bless the person who would love this man. But I promise you, Jack is very much a fictional character.

So people will engage with you, thinking that you are Jack Tucker?

Yeah, constantly. People will call me Jack and won’t understand that there’s a difference. They’ll think that like [Zach] is a character and that Jack is pretending to be an influencer guy which is devastating to hear. They think my day-to-day persona is just like an influencer who doesn’t really have anything to do.

That’s crushing.

It’s soul crushing.

Photo by Dylan Woodley

When it comes to Jack Tucker, I’m curious what comedy influences are there? Because he seems kind of Borscht Belt-y to me in a lot of ways.

I think the people that were directly influenced by that generation and that style of comedians and the ones that came after, those are the ones that I really admired and took influence from. And then as I’ve gone back and started watching people like Milton Berle, like holy shit that blew my mind.

My most modern influences were Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington as Neil Hamburger. I remember specifically seeing the two of them do a double bill in London in 2017 at the Soho Theatre my director Johnny, who does all the sounds in my show, and I was floored. That style of anti-comedy, cringe comedy and playing with the bad humor is where the nucleus of [Jack Tucker] came from. My style of comedy is more fast, silly clown, jokes, jokes, jokes, constantly throwing stuff up there, and that comes from the rhythms of circus performance and variety and vaudeville, stuff like John Cleese in Fawlty Towers.

And then I’ve got people in my life who I’ve been most inspired by. Sam Campbell, who’s a good friend of mine, is the best comedian in the world right now. And then there’s this ecosexual clown performance artist called Betty Grumble from Australia, played by my friend Emma, and this mime, Trygve Wakenshaw, a 6’5″, 6’6″ gangly, amazing mover from New Zealand who has taught me that you don’t need to speak so much. You can really convey so much and just play and get stupid and silly.

All of them have helped me realize that stand-up doesn’t have to be a guy in like cool sneakers, jeans and a flannel talking about how he fingers his girlfriend on the weekends. I want to be a showman. I want to be a jester.

I’m so fascinated by jesters and sacred clowns, and their ability to speak truth because they’re fools.

I completely agree. To me, clowns are healers. They speak the truth to power and they’re not afraid, and they do it through idiocy. As a clown, you just do something and then go, “Hey, I’m not doing anything. I’m just fucking around right here. You can put whatever meaning you want onto this. I’m not saying anything.”

My clown teacher Philippe is a driving force behind this. He would always go, “We will see what we will see,” which is like, if you are so playful, and so pure, and just present with [the audience] and listening to the room, the audience will begin to dream around you and project whatever meaning they want onto you. To me, that is more powerful than anybody preaching anything at me on stage.

How did you decide that you wanted to go to clown school?

[Going to clown school is] something where I think you don’t have a choice. It’s the only option left. But I moved to LA when I was 18 to be a star, obviously. I had the perfect mix of blind confidence and delusion. I found my way working at the UCB Theater. I was interning there and scrubbing toilets on the weekends for free classes.

Oh my God.

Dude, I know. My night manager at UCB was working for Sacha Baron Cohen’s company. And she was like, “Hey, there’s a free intern spot there. Can I put your name forward?” And I was like, “Sure.” Then Phillippe Gaulier, Sacha’s teacher and my eventual teacher, came to LA for the first time in 20 years, and what would be his last time in America for now. Good Jewish boy me was like, “Let me go take this workshop so I have something to talk about in the interview.” I didn’t know what to expect. But it completely changed my life. I [got the internship, and] a few more weeks went by and then I was like, Hey, I think I want to go to this clown school, but I’m working on my dream job right now. So I asked Sacha, “What should I do?” And he was like, “Dude, go to Gaulier.” So I left.

What I love so much about the show is that Jack Tucker is not supposed to be funny. But that in and of itself is funny, which is so playful and subversive. What do you think is so funny about trying and failing at comedy?

I forget sometimes that Jack is a bad comedian. Jack is my favorite comedian. I love Jack Tucker. Delivering every one of the lines, I forget that [the show] is written poorly on purpose. Like it’s written well, but the jokes are bad. That’s clown in its purest sense. What are the least funny things? A pie to the face, a kick to the ass. If you can make that funny, you’re a genius. So you know, it’s so dumb. But I forget that it’s dumb.

This is the stupidest fucking show ever, dude. The first 12 to 18 minutes of the show is me telling a joke about The Weather Channel, acting as if the crowd doesn’t know what it is. That’s the opening joke. It’s a fucking stupid joke. And I love it. I milk it longer and longer, every single night. My dream is to just do that joke for the whole show. One night we came close. In this whole run, twice we’ve made it all the way through the show. Every other show we had to cut a bunch of stuff because I’ve just been having too much fun playing with stuff that happens in the room. To me, the script is the script is the script. Who gives a shit? What’s most important is this crowd has the most fun in this specific experience. That’s what live theater is to me.


a joke about the baha men 🏝️ #stamptown #funny #comedy #jokes #bahamen #wholetthedogsout

♬ original sound – Zach Zucker

Is your bit about the Baha Men in this show?


I think that’s my favorite bit of yours. Can you talk about how you wrote that joke?

I think that’s the best joke I’ll maybe ever write in my life. I’m OK with that because I love it. It came from a true love for the Baha Men, and I’ve been able to connect with them. We have something in the works which I’ll hold my tongue on. But they’ve been very kind. I first listened to them and “Who Let the Dogs Out” as a kid and had their CDs. I think the joke came about because one day I was talking about the stuff I liked as a kid. And I was like “I wonder how many Baha Men there are?” Oh wait, it was because we were talking about Hit Clips. Do you remember Hit Clips?

Of course!

I had A*Teen’s “Bouncing Off the Wall,” “Livin La Vida Loca,” “I Want It That Way” and “Who Let the Dogs Out” on Hit Clip. We bought one for the show with “Who Let the Dogs Out” on it, and I think that’s how we got into it.

So anyway, I was like, “I wonder how many Baha Men there are?” And I started looking it up and I was like, “Guys, did you know there are NINE Baha Men?!” And then I discovered there had been 19 Baha Men total. And then I started to conceive the joke and threw in the “Yippie-ye-yo” sound effect. There’s more to it that I’ve even cut. Also, it’s a beautiful song. It’s a feminist anthem. It’s like, who let all these fucking dogs out? Who let these gross guys into the club? Everyone thinks the chicks are the dogs and it was derogatory. No, no, no, no! Who let the dogs out is about how the party was pumping, everybody’s having a ball. And then it goes “Until the fellas start the name-calling (Yippie-ye-yo).” And then it’s “Who let the dogs out.”

I always thought the women were the dogs!

It’s a feminist fucking anthem, dude! Of course, everyone thinks the dogs are alluding to the women. And it’s not. The song is about Baha Men kicking out the men that are ruining the vibe for their queens.

Wow, that makes me so happy.

It’s mind blowing, right? Not that the Baha Men need me. They’re fine. But I would love to take them back into the heat of the conversation and heat of the zeitgeist. I want to be part of the Baha Men Renaissance.

I love that. So you’re doing this show Off-Broadway now, what is next for Jack Tucker? 

I hope he finds his ex-wife. He misses his ex-wife and his boy.

I would love to do this as long as people are willing to come. Nothing makes me happier than being on stage and I don’t want to just give up on this show yet. So what I would love to do is to continue Jacking Off-Broadway, and then maybe eventually Jacking on Broadway. And I would love to make a special out of it.

This is where more of the blind confidence and delusion comes in, but I think that this is a Grammy and Emmy Award-winning special. I don’t think there’s a better written or a better performed show out there. If I don’t believe that, then who will? If you don’t believe that your own stuff rocks that hard, then tell me who you believe in because I’d rather go watch them instead. We had a grueling developmental process where we failed so many times. I’ve had maybe 600-700 walkouts in our run. I’ve had people throw bottles at me. I’ve had people start fights with me. We’ve been critics’ picks, we’ve been told to run from the show, we’ve sold-out runs, we’ve been kicked out of venues. It’s really a perfect piece.

“Jack Tucker: Comedy Standup Hour” is currently running at the SoHo Playhouse until April 13. Next, the show will be at the Netflix Is a Joke Fest in Los Angeles on May 9 and the Soho Theatre in London from July 15-20

Evelyn Frick

Evelyn Frick (she/they) is a writer and associate editor at Hey Alma. She graduated from Vassar College in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. In her spare time, she's a comedian and contributor for Reductress and The Onion.

Read More