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Jewish-Italian ethnicity is fertile ground for humor
March 1st, 2011
Steve Solomon wants you to know about his Brooklyn family. Mother: Italian. Father: Jewish. Steve: a little meshuganah.
Steve Solomon on the set of his show.
The Solomons had an electric menorah, and mom attached it to a dimmer switch. That way, when her big Italian family went to visit her sister who lived next door, the electric candles could be faded into semi-darkness.
So go the Solomon family stories that are the backbone of “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish & I’m in Therapy,” the one-man comedy that Solomon is bringing to Vogel Hall at Milwaukee’s Marcus Center for the Performing Arts March 1-13.
In a telephone interview from his Florida home, Solomon, a Brooklyn native, reported that his family life was actually very harmonious. His Jewish grandmother made matzah balls and his mother made meatballs. Non-stop eating was the family’s signature trait.
There was no religious conflict in the Solomon home, he said. The young Steve went to Hebrew school, had a bar mitzvah ceremony, and celebrated Christmas at his aunt’s house next door.
Solomon’s first career as a Long Island high school administrator and physics teacher didn’t satisfy him. Looking back on his 15 years as an educator, Solomon said, “I couldn’t stand the bureaucracy. My brain turned to Jello.”
So he looked to comedy for a livelihood, and his dual ethnicity seemed a good hook for the jokes. With a gift for dialects stretching back to childhood, he could tell stories from both sides of his heritage.
The knack for accents isn’t confined to imitating his family. At age 12, Solomon made money by delivering orders for a neighborhood Chinese restaurant. The job required him to get buzzed into apartment buildings, and some customers believed the voice on the other end of the intercom had to be a juvenile prankster.
The clever kid solved that problem by assuming a Chinese dialect. Worked like a charm.
The comic’s ability with dialects fuels the 30 characters he becomes in “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish & I’m in Therapy.” They include an 85-year-old Italian man and Solomon’s chain-smoking sister.
He says the show is more than just a standup routine. “It is performed on a set, and it has a beginning, a middle and an end.”
Solomon isn’t the only person who performs the act. Another comic actor has done the show on the East Coast.
“My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish” has become a cottage industry for Solomon. He has written and performs a sequel and a Christmas-Chanukah version of the show.
And then there is the “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish” cookbook. He claims his mother sold him the recipes.
Solomon has played off-Broadway, and he spends about 40 weeks a year on the road with his shows. He is especially popular in South Florida.
Joking aside, how do Jews and Italians compare from the viewpoint of an insider? “Both do a lot of hugging, kissing, eating and have strong family bonds,” the comedian said.
“My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish & I’m in Therapy” runs March 1-13 in Vogel Hall at the Marcus Center. Tickets can be purchased at the center’s box office, by phone at 414-273-7206, and online at www.marcuscenter.org.
Damien Jaques is theater critic and columnist for OnMilwaukee.com.