Kids comedian The Great Holtzie Doesn't Clown Around
Written by Don Thomas
His friends and family know him as Adam Holtz, but to thousands of children everywhere he's known as The Great Holtzie; one of the few purely children's comedians out there.
The Great Holtzie performed Monday at the First Philadelphia Charter School (4300 Tacony St). Equipped with a hilarious arsenal of gags and jokes, he made the students roll with laughter at his offbeat brand of humor. Holtz opened his show saying he was tired and that he was going out to his car to take a nap before walking off stage. Coming out in a wig, he said he was Hannah Montana which made every kid go wild.
"His humor is almost like slapstick. It’s the type of humor that kids and adults enjoy. Its universal," says Jim Stanton, Administrator at First Philadelphia Charter. Students felt the same way. "It was funny," announced Amelia, a 3rd grader at the school. "I thought it was entertaining. I like when he ate worms," said Kwand, also a 3rd grader.
"I enjoyed it. It’s exciting and holds your interest," says Margaret Bickerstaff, a classroom assistant at the school.
The Great Holtzie himself had as much fun performing for the First Philadelphia Charter School as the students. "This is my second year and these kids are really fun. They’re well behaved and enthusiastic. The kids make it easy and fun for me to perform," says Holtz.
For parents tired of the typical clown routines of twisting balloons or cleaning up pony poop in their backyard, The Great Holtzie keeps children in hysterics through a combination of standup comedy and hilarious props.
"I want to bring a fresh and new take on children’s entertainment. I’m not reinventing the wheel, just making it a lot faster and a lot cooler," says Holtz. "I love kids, I love making them laugh."
Philadelphia Magazine took notice of Holtz, and included him in their Best of 2008 issue, for Best Comedian for Children.
Laughter is often said to be the best medicine, so the Great Holtzie has also volunteered at Children’s Hospital. "I’d do it every week if I could."
Part of his act is self-deprecating humor that the kids seize on and are able to respond back. Holtz is a very animated individual, so kids pay attention and many of the routines are visual.
Holtz has always gotten along very well with kids. Whether he’s entertaining his stepdaughter, or his sister’s kids, he says he has always been the ringleader when it came to entertaining kids for their birthdays.
Disillusioned with a career in headhunting for IT firms, he decided in March of 2007 to dedicate his life to the art of making children laugh. "It was all about making money," says Holtz of his former profession. "Kids are like animals. They’ll detect if you’re not sincere and true, they’ll eat you up."
Starting out, he used a lot of shtick that made those children in his life laugh and he then tweaked it a bit for larger settings. His first gig was a birthday party for his friends’ son. Since then, his largest audience has been at the Keswick Theater, where for two nights he performed in front of an audience of 800-900 people. He has also performed at Penn’s Landing, branches of the Philadelphia Free Library, WXPN Music Festival, and the Colonial Theater.
"Word of mouth is strong," says Holtz. "I really want [the act] to resonate with the kids." He sometimes gets a call from a parent who says, "My child saw you and won’t shut up about you."
Typically, Holtz performs at birthday parties, camps, schools, and daycare centers. The Philadelphia City Paper dubbed him the "Anti-Mr. Rogers."
Holtz gets many of his ideas from walking around Toys R Us. In one of his routines he gets into an argument with his See N Say. Kids also crack up at him reading from his Pet Shop Diary and wearing a Hannah Montana wig.
Other routines have involved The Great Holtzie pretending to eat worms out of McDonalds cartons, attempting motivational speeches with a straw hanging out his nose ("The children are the future!"), and exploding snakes.
"Its a performance I approach like a comedian. It’s geared toward young kids and their parents," says Holtz. The parents and kids often laugh at the same joke but for different reasons.
There are also obligatory fart and burping jokes, with the occasional underwear on the head (which always elicits a rise from the crowd). Anyone with a remote control fart machine will certainly gain respect from a young child. He also pretends to hand out gag gifts to children that have included steak knives and a book on Richard Nixon. Of course, the children don’t actually receive those gifts.
A lot of what sets him apart from other children’s entertainers is his lack of a steady costume or make-up. He’s not a clown or a magician like so many others who show up and do the same tricks over and over again. When a child gets older, they have seen the act before, so Holtz has changed it up.
"I wanted to update children’s entertainment," says The Great Holtzie. "Some parents don’t expect what they get. They don’t expect to see their kid laugh so hard or stay focused for so long."
To date, Holtz estimates that he’s done a few hundred shows, with seventy of them this past summer. Happy to be away from the corporate culture he once worked in, Holtz began to reflect on what his legacy would be and what he found fulfilling. "I’m able to give back to the world," says Holtz.