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Zach Zimmerman

Zach Zimmerman

Contributor

Zach Zimmerman is a comedian, writer, and author of TimeOut New York’s “Pretend I’m A Tourist” column. A regular at the Comedy Cellar, Zach has appeared on The Late Late Show with James Corden and had a debut album “Clean Comedy” debut on the Billboard Top 10. Zach’s writing has been published in The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, and The Washington Post; and Zach’s first book Is It Hot in Here? (Or Am I Suffering for All Eternity for the Sins I Committed on Earth?) (April 2023) is available for pre-order now.

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Pretend I’m a Tourist: Will I find true love at the top of the Empire State Building?

Pretend I’m a Tourist: Will I find true love at the top of the Empire State Building?

They say the most romantic building in the world is the Empire State Building. While I’d never accuse a skyscraper of ballot stuffing, I would like to know where the Times Square Olive Garden falls in the polls. The building’s claim to this title is the result of a number of rom-coms that have immortalized the building and its view, along with 93 years of marriage proposals, actual marriages, celebrity visits, and the twinkling, changing skyline, it is the site of magical romance. If this building is so full of love, maybe being in it would stir something inside of me and rekindle my love for New York City. I was greeted at the building’s base by Renita, a tour guide whose seen a lot of changes in her 20 years there: super-scrapers being built, the Twin Towers falling, proposals, marriages, celebrity visits, and the time when Will Ferrell showed up in costume to film Elf and she had no idea who he was, so she called security. She greeted me with a hug and a smile as wide as the building is tall. The lobby was recently redone after COVID with a replica structure that she insisted I nab a picture in front of. In addition to being my guide, Renita was my photographer, and, hopefully, the doula in the birth of my love for New York. Photograph: courtesy of Zach Zimmerman We weaved through exhibits about the building’s history—life-size video of riveters assembling the building (I normally don’t find construction riveting), posters of movies that helped turn the “Empty State Buil

Pretend I’m a Tourist: Could the Statue of Liberty rekindle my love for NYC?

Pretend I’m a Tourist: Could the Statue of Liberty rekindle my love for NYC?

They say "behind every strong man is a strong woman." I’ll add that inside of every 151-foot-tall strong woman are two park rangers, perched in the corners of her crown, advising you on the best angles for your photos. “If you look down, you can see her tablet,” one of them said after my ascent last week. “I don’t want to see the tablet!” the woman arriving behind me screamed. She had no malice against the written word or aversion to its July 4, 1776 inscription; she was just afraid of heights. “If you’ve made it here, honey,” the friendly ranger added. “The worst is over.” The Statue of Liberty plays no role in my day-to-day life as a New Yorker, but she’s lurking behind every corner for tourists. In only a few weeks, I’d already waved to her from outside a skyscraper, digitally flown by her, and watched her hold up a spectacular margarita glass. Now, in an attempt to regain the spark in my loveless marriage with New York City, I was inside her.The park ranger talked the woman down by asking where she was from, which led to them swapping tales of their times in Colombia. Eventually, the ranger morphed from an amateur therapist to a director of photography. “If you look through here, you can see her rays,” he pointed. I looked out through tiny windows at the water I had to cross to get here. The adventure began by boat. Like a friend who lives on Rockaway Beach, you have to really want to visit her. Before I boarded the good ship Miss Ellis Island (a great drag name) via Stat

Pretend I’m a Tourist: I touched The Ball

Pretend I’m a Tourist: I touched The Ball

I touched The Ball. I don’t know if I was supposed to touch The Ball. I wasn’t told not to touch The Ball, so I touched The Ball. I half-expected to be electrocuted or at least granted three wishes by the troll who lives inside (health, wealth, and time travel). Instead, the palm-sized, triangular Waterford crystal, attached via a central screw, sort of wiggled. I wondered if I should tell someone like a nervous flyer noticing part of the wing isn’t joining us in the friendly skies, but I touched a second of the 2,688 crystals, and it wiggled about a half-inch, too. It must have been of those situations where it’s more secure if it’s less secure, like how skyscrapers are supposed to sway a little in the wind and newborns should have a few electrical outlets to play with. If there was something wrong with The Ball, now was the time to find out. It was 11:30am on New Year’s Eve Eve and I was at the top of One Times Square for a combination dress rehearsal-press opportunity: The Ball Test. Getting to The Ball was a feat. One Times Square, the building that’s hosted a New Year’s celebration since 1905 when the New York Times moved in and gave the area its name (Times Square), was under active construction. Gray fence doors, white hard hats, neon orange vests, black-and-white waivers (“God forbid,” an employee said), and yellow-and-black “Caution” tape streamers were the welcome committee. (“It’s going to get worse,” a member of the construction crew told me.) The only hint that t

Pretend I’m a Tourist: I ‘met’ Wendy Williams, Lady Gaga and Audrey Hepburn

Pretend I’m a Tourist: I ‘met’ Wendy Williams, Lady Gaga and Audrey Hepburn

The elevator doors opened to a ninth-floor party room where the lights were dim, pop music was pumping, and Ariana Grande was staring right at me. Feeling underdressed, I avoided eye contact, but everywhere I looked was A-list stars: Kate Winslet standing about 20 feet in front of Leo (I guess she did let go, Jack); Kris Jenner at the bar; and Morgan Freeman in a far corner like he was avoiding someone or preparing for a scene. In the center of the room was a sparkling fountain, which if you looked up, had Katy Perry, god bless her heart, attached via headpiece to the chandelier, spinning around as only Katy can. There was something off about all these celebrities, though, and I don’t mean they were on psychedelic drugs. They were all standing so still like we were playing the Squid Game version of “Red Light, Green Light.” If a bullet hit them, though, it wouldn’t reveal flesh and bone, but wax and fiberglass.   Photograph: courtesy of Zach Zimmerman Madame Tussauds NYC is one of 26 Madame Tussauds locations across the world—10 in Asia, eight in Europe, seven in North America, and one in Sydney—and the next stop on my adventure to fall back in love with New York via tourist attractions. I had only visited the museum once before, so it was time to say “hello” again to the incredibly life-like wax figures of superstars across music, TV, film, and time. The museum chain could have easily been part of the “Museum of Ice Cream” craze of the last decade, simply just providing co

Pretend I’m a Tourist: Wait, did I have an entirely pleasant time at SantaCon?

Pretend I’m a Tourist: Wait, did I have an entirely pleasant time at SantaCon?

A man dressed as the Grinch was sprawled out on the ground, a friend cradling him like Mary holding Jesus. His friends were dressed in red, the cops were dressed in blue, and the vomit he was producing was spectacular. It was 1pm at SantaCon 2022. I was watching the action from the safety of a Paris Baguette, enjoying a mushroom quiche and a delightful tiramisu portion. What alerted me to the fallen Santa were two photographers, racing from the cafe, who threw their cameras toward the drunk Grinch while his friends shoo-ed them away. The villains today weren’t the overserved, their enablers, or the police, but the paparazzi. My photographer and friend for the day was Brittany, who sported a green turtleneck under a stringy, red dress. She was taking a bathroom break with me in the cafe since we’d been drinking since 10am. In many ways, she was the sole reason I was at SantaCon. It was my idea and I asked her to go, but I wouldn’t have gone if she hadn’t said yes the night before. I’ve found on my quest to fall back in love with New York that it’s more fun to do these tourist attractions with a friend, especially when the primary activity is alcoholic. Weeks before, I had a short call with an organizer of SantaCon NYC, who referred to himself as “Santa.” “We get plenty of bad press. We donate a lot to charity, but all you hear about is a girl who lost her shoe. It’s not anything different than what happens every night, we’re just doing it in the day.” He was surprisingly grump

Pretend I’m a Tourist: The one where I fly and I cry

Pretend I’m a Tourist: The one where I fly and I cry

It was bound to happen. I’m a cancer (astrologically and on society) who breaks down at the cringiest mention of father-child stuff or queer love, so I was bound to cry on one of these NYC tourist attractions. I just had no way of predicting RiseNY would be the first. “What is it?” a lady in front of me asked. She worked around the block in Times Square and had been wondering about the experience ever since March when it first opened. “It’s a love letter to New York,” an employee behind the front desk answered. “A three-part experience.” Everyone’s always writing love letters to New York. Does anyone ever write a hate letter to the city? A text they regret? An e-motionally unhinged e-mail? I wasn’t really sure what I was about to enter, either. All I knew was the $35-45 attraction advertises itself with sneakers dangling over the New York City skyline. “Do you fly? Is it a helicopter situation? Is magic involved? And just how close to death will I be taken?” were my follow-up questions to “What is it?” Photograph: courtesy of Zach Zimmerman My flight began with a flight of stairs since the elevator was broken. There were lanes for VIPs and the lesser loved, and on this particular October afternoon, I was a VIP and both lanes were empty. I would have preferred to find the peasant’s row filled with a hoard of small children weeping and pleading, “We’ve been waiting for so, so very long in line, mister! Please have mercy on us!” but I had no such luck. Without a single tear sh

Pretend I’m a Tourist: I got wasted (away) at the Times Square Margaritaville

Pretend I’m a Tourist: I got wasted (away) at the Times Square Margaritaville

If you are wondering if there’s a 30-foot-tall replica Statue of Liberty inside the Times Square Margaritaville, holding a giant margarita glass instead of a torch, and curious if that glass illuminates every hour into a spectacular audiovisual show with animated sharks, fish, and fins all set to a Jimmy Buffett medley, you can set your worries aside: there is. On a Thursday afternoon in November, a green, Goosebumps-esque marquee welcomed me to the chain restaurant Mr. Buffett name-drops in his highest charting solo single. It’s one of 30-some Margaritavilles across the Americas and the next stop on my adventure of becoming a tourist in New York. While it seems sinful to spend time and money on something you could do at home while you’re traveling, the siren song of the familiar has mesmerized many a wayward traveler. In short, tourists love chains. The Times Square Margaritaville Resort is a glass aquarium at 40th Street and 7th Ave with two restaurants, four bars, and a skinny, 32-story hotel, like a long straw sticking out of a fishbowl drink. My self-assigned mission was to have a drink at every bar in the resort, punching an imaginary tropical punch punchcard. My prize would be a complimentary hangover. Something about being a tourist makes you want to get rip-roaring drunk at 2 o'clock on a Thursday. Up an escalator (stairs on vacation) and an elevator (stairs on speed), I searched for my lost shaker of salt, my salty friend Rebecca. I found her on the fifth-floor outd

Pretend I’m a Tourist: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade that almost wasn’t

Pretend I’m a Tourist: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade that almost wasn’t

Since its debut in 1924, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has only missed three years when helium and rubber were needed to stop Nazis. In 2020, the coronavirus was threatening the annual spectacle again. Children everywhere wondered if a version of the parade would happen and adults everywhere wondered if the joy was worth the risk. Macy’s compromise was a “limited parade” with “no spectators allowed.” I’m not a parade essentialist, but isn’t a parade without spectators just traffic? And how exactly can one hide a 30-foot-tall Pikachu? Since making New York my home, I’ve wanted to make a pilgrimage to the Macy’s Parade, long before this experiment to fall back in love with New York by being a tourist. Ideally, I’d befriend some wealthy benefactor who had a warm penthouse that would put me at eye level with Spider-Man, or I’d become a mildly-tolerated pop star and be booked to lip-sync on a winter gazebo by a brand with whom I have no affiliation. But each year on Turkey Day, I found myself guilted into traveling south to be with my family. I’ve tried to stop saying “going home” since my parents’ home is no longer mine. In 2020, for the first time in my lifetime, I was in New York on Thanksgiving Day, a train ride away from fulfilling a childhood dream. “Unfortunately, there is not an onsite press opportunity as the entire event will be for broadcast only and essentially a backstage/set,” wrote a Macy’s rep back to me. Her message was clear, but I know subtext when I see it

Pretend I’m a Tourist: Zach Zimmerman’s ‘Edward Hopper’s New York’

Pretend I’m a Tourist: Zach Zimmerman’s ‘Edward Hopper’s New York’

If you’re ever feeling lonely, go to a museum and read the words on the walls. Someone will always keep you company by standing directly in front of you. “Let the gentle people out. Let the gentle people out,” a museum guard by the elevator instructed. The fifth floor of the Whitney Museum was a bit too full: a gaggle of school groups, solo adventurers, old couples, odd couples, Old Money in suits and furs, and tourists dressed in near-tactical gear to battle the city’s streets. “It hasn’t been like this since Warhol,” my friend who works there told me. Edward Hopper is not Andy Warhol. The mass-produced, glitzy, pop glam of sweaty Studio 54 is at odds with the hand-painted, muted melancholy of an eerily empty New York. So what was drawing people in equal numbers to crowd together to see the lonely people in “Edward Hopper’s New York?” Support for a homegrown boy, who lived down the block for 50 years? Lusting after a version of the city with fewer people? Something about the pandemic (a viral tweet said “we are all edward hopper paintings now”)? Or maybe we all know that one painting of his, the one of a diner. I was there as part of my quest to fall back in love with New York by becoming a tourist. Tourists love museums, second only to taking photos of themselves in museums, and The Whitney is one of my favorites. Thanks to the institution’s generous definition of the word “artist,” I’ve been a member at a discounted rate for years now. I was curious if this new exhibit abo

Pretend I’m a Tourist: I climbed a skyscraper to feel closer to NYC

Pretend I’m a Tourist: I climbed a skyscraper to feel closer to NYC

Everyone said no. “It doesn’t sing to me.” “I’m a pass.” “I would vomit.” I was looking for a friend to help me conquer City Climb, an “intense aerial adventure” involving helmets, harnesses, and steep stairs, all at the very top of a very tall skyscraper. But all my friends are cowards. I‘m a coward, too, but a coward who wanted company. I’m afraid of heights, which means I’m afraid of falling and dying, or worse, falling and living; but I was trying to fall back in love with New York by becoming a tourist, and tourists do things they wouldn’t normally do. Tourists say “yes” (and “excuse me, do you know the way to…”). Finally, my friend Mike agreed to join me. “They don’t let you do things where you die,” he said; two days later, he made certain his life would go on by canceling on me for a callback. In his stead, I strongarmed my friend Delia, the video editor at Time Out, to join me. “HR told me to not fall off the building because there’d be a lot of paperwork.” I met her at Hudson Yards next to The Vessel, the carbon steel spiral still closed to the public, and took a series of escalators to a fourth-floor souvenir gift shop with more love for the 7 train than is ethically justifiable. Our reservation was for 5pm, timed to coincide with the sunset. A steady stream of tourists lining up for the elevators confirmed there was something to see. While most were headed to Edge, the open-air triangular outlook on the 100th floor with a glass floor and glass barriers, Delia and

Pretend I’m a Tourist: An afternoon on THE RIDE, NYC’s wild, interactive bus theater

Pretend I’m a Tourist: An afternoon on THE RIDE, NYC’s wild, interactive bus theater

A big, black bus, reminiscent of a rock band’s touring detail or a politician’s motorcade, pulled up. One side was windowless, making me wonder if someone was having sex inside; while the other side was a floor-to-ceiling window, confirming no intercourse was occurring. Its innards had been gutted, fitted with wide theater seats facing the sidewalk and enough lights and speakers to make the Halftime Show feel subtle. “Please buckle your seatbelts,” announced Scott and Jackie, two sassy tour guides, by which I mean gay. We all searched for the belts before Jackie let everyone know the truth: there aren’t any. “Safety’s a joke to us.” The bus pulled off, LED lights exploded like we’d won something at a casino, and a very loud, very original song played. Seventy-five minutes of surround-sound overwhelm that’s been experienced by over a million tourists over the past 10 years, THE RIDE (always in all caps) had begun. “What compels us to live here?” Scott asked, pointing to the dirty, crowded streets outside the window: “Those bicycles, that cab, being single?” And what had compelled me, someone who’s lived in New York City for five years, to be on a bus meant for tourists, to squeeze myself between 30 doe-eyed out-of-towners to take in streets I’ve already taken, see sites I’ve already seen, and go to midtown on a weekend? I was exhausted by the onslaught of overstimulation and worried that this experiment might backfire entirely. The hardest part of any vacation is the comedown.

Pretend I’m a Tourist: An unexpected prize on the death-defying Coney Island Cyclone

Pretend I’m a Tourist: An unexpected prize on the death-defying Coney Island Cyclone

“Win $100 for 2 minutes,” the man standing by a pull-up bar on Coney Island said. “Does anyone ever win?” I asked. “A 67-year-old just won,” he said, with enough emphasis on “just” to make me suspicious. “What body types win?” “Mountain climbers. Smaller people. All kinds.” At 6-foot-four with no ambition to be higher, my best hope was “All kinds.” The rules were strict: I wasn’t allowed to touch the ground, do a cross grip, or a pull-up (darn). Like a surfer who’s learned the meaning of life, all I had to do was hang. “Let me tell you the secret,” the gentleman said as he lured me closer to the bar. “Don’t adjust your grip. That’s when people slip.” I wasn’t sure if he was my ally against the game, or inception-ing me to lose. “Take a deep breath in, deep breath out.” I grabbed the PVC pipe. He pulled the stepstool away and started his stopwatch. I lasted 20 seconds.  Photograph: courtesy of Zach Zimmerman “You didn’t even try!” my friend Rebecca said.  I’d invited her along to my afternoon at Coney Island, the second stop on my adventure to fall back in love with New York via tourist attractions. We planned to pack in everything: we’d ride rides, eat a Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog, win a carnival game, and brave New York’s 95-year-old roller coaster, The Cyclone. I was beat already. The Luna Park wristband provided four hours of unlimited thrill-seeking on all Luna Park rides. It was the last week of summer and the temperature had just made a roller-coaster-sized drop from 80

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