Roy Zimmerman finds the funny at Allen Hall

With wire glasses resting on his nose and a loosely fitted tie wrapped around his neck, Roy Zimmerman stands in front of a microphone with his feet planted on the stage. His seamlessly unwrinkled polo shirt with rolled up sleeves and dark-fitted slacks make him a mirror image of a politician ready to address his audience candidly. 

His guitar is his only companion, accepting the role of a political aide, campaign manager, confidante and friend. Without much adieu, Zimmerman begins set with a smile — a collection of songs satirically targeting the issues surrounding the political sphere.

The singer-songwriter performs songs about social issues, peace, war and justice. The San Francisco native is in the middle of an eight-week tour across the country called “Funny Songs and Bad Advice,” which is exactly what it is, according to Zimmerman. He will be performing a free show at 7 p.m. in Allen Hall’s Main Lounge on Tuesday. 

Laura Haber, program and academic director of Unit One, invited Zimmerman once again to perform at the University. 

“We’ve brought him before, and many of our students seem to like his visit and his performance,” Haber said, adding that Zimmerman’s “thought-provoking and funny” songs are an interesting approach to political issues. 

Andrew LaPointe, senior in LAS, has seen Zimmerman perform before at the University and is excited for his return. 

LaPointe said that the reason why he enjoyed Zimmerman’s previous performance is because the singer-songwriter points out the “ridiculousness of what’s going on.” LaPointe admitted that he does not follow politics, but listening to Zimmerman’s songs do provide access to the current issues, as well as entertainment. 

“College students are at a place where ideas are forming and bouncing off of each other. They’re about to step out into the real-world political fray, you know,” Zimmerman said. 

Zimmerman added he is interested in hearing students’ views about fracking, the drone project or Affordable Care Act, as well as projects that they are working on. 

In the 2012 presidential election year, Zimmerman made a stop on campus as part of a “campaign promise” to perform in all 50 states before the Republican National Convention. 

Zimmerman found the differences in touring during an election year and an off year to be “funny.” 

“If you toured this kind of stuff during an election year — during like last year when people were so interested in the election, so into it — minute-by-minute (coverage) like a sporting event; people know what to make of it. People hear satire and they say, ‘Oh. I know what it’s going to be,’” Zimmerman said.

“In an off year, it’s funny because after an election year, people’s interests in politics kind of wanes a little bit,” Zimmerman continued.

He explained that people who are working on making political strides, as in speaking about certain issues that affect government, social and economic situations, get discouraged. He said people resist understanding politics because it’s “too hard.”  

“How do you make good things happen in the world, in this country and all that?” he asked.

That’s where the bad advice comes in, Zimmerman said. 

“Give up … You say that to people, and people get the message, ‘May be I shouldn’t give up,’” he added. 

Zimmerman is a natural comedian, recalling his junior high music antics as the starting point of his career, which transcended to forming small duos and trios in high school. In the 1990s, “the Clinton years,” Zimmerman began The Foreman, a comedy folk quartet that signed to Warner/Reprise Records. With a little over 20 years of performing under his belt, his work has gained attention from outlets such as NPR, Siris Radio, HBO and Showtime. He has also shared the stage with fellow musicians, comedians and politicians like Frank Black from The Pixies, Bill Maher, John Oliver and former president Bill Clinton. The singer-songwriter has collectively released 11 albums, six of which were solo albums. 

Zimmerman brought his music to YouTube, where his videos have encountered over seven million views. 

A solo performer for the last 17 years, the singer-songwriter collaborates with his wife, Melanie Harby, through lyrics. Examples of their work include “I’m In,” a song inspired by the 2012 presidential election about the progress being made, and “The Vagina Dialogues,” a song based off of Michigan State representative Lisa Brown’s argument against an anti-abortion bill. 

“We work really hard to make the lyrics not only funny, not only rhyme well, but actually have some depth and analysis to it,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said that although humor comes easily to him, finding the funny in the Afghanistan War or the War on Drugs is difficult. He said his focus comes from “human responses,” such as noticing a politician’s ego or spotting an audience member’s curling lip.

Zimmerman creates songs like “Creation Science 101”  — which looks at the teaching of creation in the public school system — and “Defenders of Marriage,” which covers same-sex marriages and the contradictory lines among religion, government and social institutions. Both songs critique the hegemonic relationship between government officials and their constituents. 

“Part of doing good work in the world is to say that this part of it is ridiculous and laugh at this part of it, while you work seriously on this part of it,” Zimmerman said. 

Zimmerman said that he has been accused of “preaching to the converted.” However, he said a satire show is similar to a lecture in class, where one has to come in with prior knowledge. 

“But I think of it as entertaining the troops,” Zimmerman said. “I’m not trying to change anybody’s mind, you know, but I am just trying to be a part of the conversation.” 

Amanda can be reached at [email protected]