Wednesday, March 19, 2008

INTERVIEW: The Great Holtzie

Adam Holtz, better known as The Great Holtzie, believes that he is the only comedian for kids in the United States. While there are funny magicians and guys with puppets, as he puts it, "they're just funny magicians and guys with puppets."

Instead, Holtz, for the most part, plays off of his audience of children. Like when he says that he's going to eat some McDonald's real quick, but instead of fries he puts rubber worms in his mouth. The crowd of 3-10 year-olds scream and shout in delight and horror at the same time as Holtz pretends that he doesn't understand. Or when the kids squeal as a toy gorilla makes fun of Holtz for being bald.

As an alternative to clowns, Holtz doesn't dress up in any costumes and if he does shtick such as balloon animals, it's usually mocking the tired concept. When snakes fly out of a can like the old trick, he comments "someday when you get older you'll go to Spencer Gifts and realize how lame this really is." This gets a laugh from the parents, whom Holtz tries to include too.

Overall, the idea is taking off. It hasn't even been a year since his first performance but it's quickly grown to summer shows at XPN's Kids Corner, Saturday afternoons at the Helium Comedy Club and this summer at the Keswick Theatre, a 1,300-seat theater.

How did you come up with the idea?
I kind of came up with it because I’ve got a five year-old step daughter and I’ve got nieces and nephews and I’m always the pied-piper and the party planner entertaining kids. And I just felt that there was a need, everything was lame, all creepy clowns and weird magicians and I never understood why people had to wear costumes. And they’re all condescending, they’re the kind of people like “hold him here, let’s go check his hard drive”, like they’re going to show up in a kitchen on Dateline. So why not do a cool show for kids, take an adult stand-up kind of approach to it and be a little evil, not all nicey nice to them.

Where do you get the bits from?

It’s shtick that I’ve been doing for nieces and nephews [interview interrupted by mother that’s interested in booking the show]

Yeah, I just come up with whatever, sometimes I’ll go to Toys ‘R Us and walk around the aisles, that’s how I came up with the See ‘N Say idea. I’ll walk around looking for different ideas. And different things that I had around my house, like the didgeridoo thing and that’s usually funnier, she [the young audience member he brought on stage] didn’t react. And the Darth Vader thing, I collect Star Wars stuff, so that’s in. It just comes from everywhere. Things that make my kid laugh, things that make my nieces and nephews laugh.

So you test stuff out that way?

Yeah, it’s like a little laboratory at my house.

Does some stuff not work and you take it out?

Totally some stuff doesn’t work. But the good thing about it is that I do so many shows that I can throw one thing in there and my instincts are good enough that someone’s going to laugh, that it doesn’t totally bomb. I have the luxury of weaving things in, even if I’m getting paid for it.

Is it hard to get kids’ attention?

No, its short little segments so it captivates them, for a forty-five minute show I have them unless they are really young. But the kids are great, I’m lucky that for what I do, just the animation and the running around- I try to give kids what they want, but not what parents or adults think they want. Like the fart jokes and the burp jokes, I try to make it in the concept where it’s funny. Like some of these lame kids movies will throw in an obligatory thing in there and it’s not funny, so I try to put it into a context.

Is it important to have little jokes for parents too?

That’s just my thing, that’s what I want to do. It’s like a good Pixar movie or a ‘Simpsons' episode or something- that’s why I do the thing like talking to the bookie or some of the dry jokes, like the wink-nudge things for them because I want it to be entertaining for them as well. And actually be a real family thing instead of something that the parents have to suffer through. I want it be cool, I want it to be definitely straddle the fence.

It seems like when you get a little thing out there for the adults, the kids wouldn’t even notice.

Right, and I throw in stuff that is safe, not like double-entendre sex stuff- they’re not getting it but it’s still creepy that you are still doing it- like talking to a bookie. Or when a give the kid steak knives. The kids freak out, the kids get it but the parents do as well. I think my biggest source of inspiration over the past year was when I read the Steve Martin autobiography. It’s just such an amazing book and as a kid I wanted to be him. My mom bought me an aluminum arrow and I cut it in half with a hacksaw and took a coat hanger and that’s what I wanted to do, but I never had the balls to follow that dream to go after comedy. And as a kid I would do little shows for my friends.

And he did a lot of magic and goofy stuff-
Yeah and that’s what I would say was my biggest influence that I want because it was just so absurd and weird and that’s what I want this to be.

I haven’t seen a clown in a while, what kind of stuff would a clown do?

They do balloons, the same stuff that they always do. Just bad dimestore magic, just creepy. And these people do a good job and I guess they’re nice people, but I try not to see them either.

Do you think there are parents that are sick of that clown stuff too?

Oh, absolutely. People can’t stand them.

Do you know of anyone else doing what you are doing?
No one. I’ve searched high and low on the internet and I search and I ask and I make phone calls to people who are established comedy magicians and people that would know and no one is. There’s a guy in England and he tells crazy stories, really an amazing talent. But as far as what I’m doing and the approach that I’m taking, I don’t think there’s anyone. And that’s the crazy thing.

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