The Great Holtzie Is Spreading The Laughter
By William Kenny
Times Staff Writer
Adam Holtz never felt truly comfortable in the business world. The Margate native and Temple University graduate tried several professional paths with varying degrees of success, but even at his best, personal satisfaction eluded him.
His first job out of college in the early 1990s was selling ads for a local alternative newspaper called Welcomat, a publication that later evolved into Philadelphia Weekly.
“I was terrible at that,” recalled Holtz, who earned his bachelor’s degree in advertising from Temple’s School of Communications.
From there, he decided to return to his boyhood home to try his hand at entrepreneurship. He and a pal opened a compact-disc store down the shore. But the endeavor turned out to be yet another ill-timed move.
“That was a time when Circuit City and Best Buy were selling CDs below cost,” Holtz said.
Not surprisingly, the partners were unable to compete. The business suffered a quick demise. Holtz returned to the city and rejoined the rat race as a corporate headhunter.
“It was during the IT boom and I was good at it,” he said.
The job continued to serve him well for the next 15 years, even after the high-tech bubble burst. Yet Holtz found himself in a position all too familiar to countless middle managers and other white-collar types.
He was in a rut where a lack of opportunity was systematically devouring his ambition.
“I was sort of the jokester of the office, but I really didn’t enjoy the job and it wasn’t really satisfying,” Holtz said. “I used to have crises like, ‘Is this what I’m gonna do forever?’”
A year ago, he made his escape.
Tapping into his harmlessly irreverent sense of humor and his polished marketing acumen, along with a long-suppressed boyhood dream, Holtz turned himself into The Great Holtzie — perhaps not the first, but, to his knowledge, the only children’s stand-up comedian in the region at the moment.
Since his inaugural performance, an unpaid “practice” show for a modest-size kids birthday party in April 2007, Holtz has appeared in more than 100 venues, including schools, libraries, day-care centers, hospitals, religious institutions, private homes, family festivals and stand-up comedy clubs on a fully compensated basis. He has taken his act to all reaches of the Delaware Valley and entertained groups of youngsters ranging from five to five-hundred.
And as Holtz embarks on his second year, his following continues to grow. On May 3, he’ll make his third appearance at the Helium Comedy Club in Center City. Later this summer he’ll perform at the WXPN Music Festival on the Camden waterfront and at the Keswick Theater in Glenside. That’s in addition to several private and charity shows each week.
Holtz is as surprised as anyone with the amount of success he’s had in such a short time.
“I never had any kind of entertainment experience,” Holtz said. “I would even get nervous in (business) meetings, but I always loved making people laugh.”
But laughs alone didn’t get him the kind of audiences that he needed to turn his act into a full-time job. In fact, for each 45-minute show, he spends hours on promoting the act, using time-honored marketing strategies and some of the newest tricks of the trade.
“My headhunting skills definitely come into play,” Holtz said.
From the start, he realized that although his show — his product — had to appeal to his primary audience, kids 3 to 10 years of age, his pitch had to appeal to a different demographic, the parents.
His first moves were to set up a Web site, print business cards and research the business to find out what other children’s entertainers offer and what they charge. He posted ads on Craig’s List, Google and other popular networking sites.
“Within two weeks, I had an act,” he said.
Holtz’s own Web site, thegreatholtzie.com, or simply holtzie.com, features an FAQ page, a video clip of a performance, testimonials from satisfied parents and, naturally, photos of laughing kids. Its paneled design is basic yet professional-looking.
“I’m not reinventing the wheel, but it’s revolutionary in a lot of ways,” he said.
That goes for both his marketing strategy and his approach to the kids. He feels that young people are a lot smarter than adults give them credit for much of the time.
“Adults, a lot of times when they try to entertain kids, they use a condescending tone. I think a lot of adults think they need to use simple vocabulary with kids,” Holtz said. “I won’t just talk to them with one-syllable words.”
In the same vein, Holtz scoffs at rent-a-clowns with their disturbing makeup, dime-store magic tricks and balloon-animal gimmicks.
“Kids and adults alike are afraid of clowns,” he said. “It’s an antiquated form of entertainment from a different time and place. My level of humor is by no means cerebral, but it’s definitely more sophisticated.”
He wears no special costumes or makeup, but uses a fast-paced stream of props, sight gags, slapstick and self-effacing humor to keep kids’ attention.
“I’m like the crazy uncle who comes over and gets the kids all wound up and then the parents have to suffer the consequences for the next couple of days,” he said.
“They love it when I walk into the room looking like one of their parents and the next minute I have (candy) worms hanging out of my mouth and underwear on my head.”
Holtz, meanwhile, loves that he’s finally found a career that is both profitable and personally fulfilling.
“Everything is validated when I get laughs,” he said. “It’s what I really want to do.”