Tucker Wolfson’s birthday was fast approaching—party time for the Lower Merion 7-year-old, and decision time for his parents. What would it be? Ice skating? A moon bounce? A circus theme? Just hats and cake won’t cut it these days.
“All Tucker wanted for his birthday was the Great Holtzie,” says Tucker’s dad, Paul. “He’d seen him a couple times before and couldn’t stop talking about him. A week after seeing the act, he was still laughing out loud over it.”
The Great Holtzie’s wacky stand-up comedy is officially a phenomenon among Main Line youngsters. Meanwhile, moms and dads showed their love this year with a Nickelodeon Parents’ Picks Award f0r Best Party Entertainer in Philadelphia.
The man behind the greatness is 40-year-old Media resident Adam Holtz, who’s been doing this full time for two years. “People ask me if I’m a clown, or if I wear costumes and do tricks,” says Holtz.
His answer: no, no and no. And he doesn’t do balloon animals, face paint or Pin the Tail on the Donkey.
Minus such traditional trappings, it’s understandable that many parents would be skeptical at first. Around here, Holtz is part of an exclusive club when it comes to his occupation. He describes himself as the world’s greatest—and only—stand-up comedian for kids ages 3-10.
“I tell parents, ‘I’ll make your kids laugh harder than you’ve ever seen them laugh,’” says Holtz, who charges $250-$400 for private events.
Apparently, Holtz is delivering on that promise more often than not. His act has been seen by thousands locally, and in New York and Washington, D.C. He’s performed for audiences as intimate as 10 and as large as 800 (at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside). He’s done WXPN’s Kids Corner, family shows at Helium Comedy Club in Center City, festivals at Penn’s Landing, and even a show at the Kimmel Center. He also makes appearances at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“I’d have to do 158,000 shows there to make up for the sins of my past,” quips Holtz in reference to his work at the hospital. “My niece spent some time there, and I feel indebted to them.”
It surprises even Holtz that no other stand-up comedian has honed in on his 10-years-and-younger demographic. “There was a need for something different,” says Holtz. “A lot of children’s entertainers—like clowns—are so creepy. Kids don’t need to be tricked into laughing by using silly makeup and outfits.”
In keeping with this belief, Holtz treats his young audiences with respect. He’s even been dubbed the “anti-Mister Rogers” by some fans.
“I wanted to take an adult stand-up kind of approach to it and be a little edgy—not all nicey-nice,” he says. “You don’t need a condescending tone to relate to children. I’m trying to elevate their sense of humor. If a kid walks out of my show wanting to make someone laugh because I made them laugh, then that’s a great thing.”
What gets laughs from his audience? How about the bit where he reaches for some McDonald’s fries and jams rubber worms into his mouth instead? Or when he excuses himself for a minute and returns with a blond wig as Hannah Montana, speaking in a gruff guy’s voice. Squeals of laughter are the only reassurance Holtz needs to know he’s on target.
The Great Holtzie limits his shows to about 45 minutes, keeping kids engaged with a constant flow of slapstick moves, self-effacing humor (a gorilla head mocks him for his lack of hair), and See n’ Say toys with his own recorded punchlines.
He practices his act on his 7-year-old stepdaughter, Ava Mengine, and his wife, Sandra. “I performed at my stepdaughter’s school,” says Holtz, who also has a 5-month-old daughter. “And now, when I pick her up, the kids yell, ‘Hey, it’s baldie!’ She likes it when they make fun of me.”
Holtz also makes it a point to entertain the ones who pay his bills—throwing in pop-culture references and lines from movies only adults can relate to. “I can’t tell you how many parents have come up to me and said, ‘You’re like those Pixar movies,’ because the show happens on two levels,” says Holtz. “I almost hate that comparison, because I don’t think I’m worthy of it. Some of the better kids’ TV shows—SpongeBob SquarePants and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack—are appealing because there are jokes in there for parents, and they don’t condescend to kids.”
In fact, some parents are disappointed when Holtz tells them he only does shows for children. “I don’t want to get into comedy for adults,” he says. “There’s way too much competition.”
Growing up in Margate, N.J., Holtz wanted to be the next Steve Martin. At 7, he convinced his mother to buy him an aluminum arrow, which he cut in half with a hacksaw, attaching the two pieces to a hanger to make the through-the-head prop used in one of Martin’s early stand-up acts. He’d do shows for his friends, putting a fresh twist on his hero’s bits. “I never had the guts to follow that dream and go after comedy,” admits Holtz.
Instead, he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in advertising from Temple University and work as a corporate headhunter in the IT industry for 15 years. But satisfaction was hard to come by. “I didn’t want to believe that this corporate life was what I was going to do forever,” he says.
A visit to a friend’s house in 2007 brought his second career into focus. “I was just playing with his kids—doing the same stupid stuff with them that always made them laugh—and my friend’s wife said, ‘You’re really good with kids; you should have a TV show or something,’” recalls Holtz.
That got the wheels spinning, and at 38, Holtz dove headfirst into his newfound passion. Within two weeks, he was booking kids’ birthday parties.
“Coming up with this idea was like finally giving in to the dark side,” he says. “There are so few people who absolutely love what they do. I’ve never done a show where I’ve felt like it was work. I feel like I dodged a bullet.”
Holtz knew that marketing himself in the right way was crucial. His target audience wasn’t kids, but adults—mainly the mothers who plan the parties. Specifically, he was looking for hip parents in search of something new and different.
Holtz invested in aggressive Internet marketing initiatives, so when you Google “Philadelphia kids’ birthday entertainer” or “kids’ comedian,” his site tops the search results. He has a Facebook page, ads on Craigslist and videos on YouTube. He even has his own e-newsletter.
“I’m constantly on the phone calling potential venues or introducing myself to moms’ groups,” he says. “This venture was an impulse that came out of nowhere, but I think a lot of great ideas come out of nowhere. It definitely isn’t a fluke that, two years later, my business is still going strong. I’m always out there promoting myself.”
In the end, Holtz wasn’t afraid to go after something unproven—and he’s been successful at it. It’s an inspiring lesson for adults and kids alike. And the future appears limitless.
“I’ve talked to some people about possibly making DVDs out of my act, and there’s a lot of different possibilities,” says Holtz. “But, for right now, it’s all about making kids laugh. Everything is validated when I get laughs.”
And the Great Holtzie should never be at a loss for an audience. Growing families like the Wolfsons—with their 3-year-old son, Dallas—have his fan base all locked up. “I see plenty of years of Great Holtzie shows in our future,” says Paul Wolfson.
To learn more about the Great Holtzie, visit thegreatholtzie.com.