Comedian's life onstage is family joke


Tolstoy wrote in "Anna Karenina" that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

But Steve Solomon knows that every family is crazy in its own way.

And his crazy family has struck a comedic chord that's been reverberating across America - and beyond - for 10 years.

Solomon's "My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish & I'm in Therapy!" returns to Las Vegas on Friday for a four-performance run at The Smith Center's Troesh Studio Theater.

Solomon previously brought his solo show to the Suncoast and the Las Vegas Hilton (known these days as LVH).

This weekend's Smith Center gig, however, is "as theatrical as you can get," Solomon says during a telephone interview from his home base in Florida.

"I'm the youngest person living in South Florida," he jokes. When asked his age, Solomon replies, "according to (theatrical agency) William Morris, I'm 55-plus."

Whatever his age, Solomon definitely embraces a second career that has taken him from assistant school superintendent to stand-up comedian.

"I loved the kids, (but) I hated the bureaucracy," Solomon says of his former career. "I used to write material about how bad the bureaucracy was."

Following the time-honored wisdom of "write what you know," Solomon turned to his 1950s upbringing in the multiethnic Brooklyn neighborhood of Sheepshead Bay to mine material for a stand-up comedy career that took him from Florida to Atlantic City and the cruise ship circuit.

A decade ago, Solomon created "My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish and I'm in Therapy!" and took it on the road, playing to audiences who wouldn't know Brooklyn from Brooklyn Decker.

Iowa's capital city, Des Moines, "was the hardest," Solomon admits.

"They didn't relate" to a show that was billed in New York as "one part lasagna, one part kreplach - and two parts Prozac."

But in Montana, audience members "laughed, stomped and yelled" during the show, proving that everybody understands the concept of parents fighting, but "it's fight(ing) with love," as Solomon explains.

When Solomon brought "My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish ..." to New York, its two-year run proved "quite a surprise for everyone," he recalls.

Especially for his family members, who had the chance to compare themselves to Solomon's onstage interpretations.

"My family loves it," he says now. "My mom was the toughest. She said, 'You want to make fun of us? Go ahead.' "

Or, as his sister, a smoker with a foghorn voice, said of Solomon, " 'At least he made me famous.' "

Along with Grandma Angelina, Aunt Regina, Uncle Frank and more than two dozen other characters, all of whom emerge from Solomon's memories.

While the two sides of his ethnic family may represent different religious traditions, both share certain key rituals, he observes.

"They eat, they hug, they eat, they hug," Solomon says. "And then they yell."

Solomon has "just passed the 2,000 mark" on the number-of-performances meter, and "I'm always adding things" to a show that's been so successful it has spawned two sequels ("I'm Still in Therapy!" and "I'm Home for the Holidays"), along with productions featuring other actors that have toured South Africa and Canada. (Coming soon: Australia.)

The fact that other performers have succeeded with his material proves to Solomon that the humor's in the writing, not just the writer-performer .

But "when I do it, it's a lot smoother," he notes. After all, "it's me."

Performing his own show also allows Solomon the freedom to mix it up.

"I'm making some of the material a little more timely," he explains, estimating that "about 20 percent" of what he will perform this weekend is new to the show.

One added bit comes courtesy of his granddaughter, who gave Solomon "the cutest line" when he hoisted her on his shoulders and she looked down on his balding head.

"She said, 'Grandpa, did you get a haircut?' " Solomon remembers. And when he said yes, she informed him, " 'They took off too much.' "

The show is "scripted, but I never know what I'm going to say," Solomon admits, noting that theater crews know "if I'm off script, I'll be back. If it's a great crowd, I'll do my thing."

And doing his thing has proven remarkably successful.

"I never thought that this would grow and become a worldwide entertainment, but it has," Solomon says. "I'm honored to be able to tell my story to the world."

Contact reporter Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.

 

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