Steve Solomon’s theatrical one-man shows – which began with “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish and I’m in Therapy” – have been criticized for perpetuating stereotypes and also just for general crassness.
But Solomon’s “naughty, but not dirty” family-centered storytelling is traditionally old-school, and that may have something to do with his comic beginnings.
“The person that influenced me was Jonathan Winters. He would do sound effects and I would emulate him. I worked all my life with the sound effects,” says Solomon, who also was mentored early in his career by George Carlin, himself a comic known for politically incorrect humor.
Solomon brings the fourth installment in his “Italian/Jewish” series, “Cannoli, Latkes & Guilt,” to Booth Playhouse beginning Tuesday, when it starts its seven-day run.
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“It is politically incorrect, and I think that’s why people love it,” says Solomon, who left a career as a high school administrator and physics teacher to pursue comedy writing. “Old ladies that wear black dresses and stir sauces and gravy – that’s a stereotype? That’s the way I grew up! That’s every old Italian lady I knew. The older people know that’s the way it was. It’s not a stereotype. I’m describing people I come into contact with.”
He says that while his family has mostly embraced the shows, which feature 20 different recurring characters and are more akin to plays than stand-up, his daughter did once ask him to remove a joke.
“She brought all of her friends to see the show when it was on Broadway,” Solomon says. “In the scene, she’s a crazy teenager. I have a friend that says she’s spoiled. And I said, ‘No. She’s supposed to smell like that.’ She came backstage and said, ‘Dad, that line has got to go.’ ”
“Cannoli, Latkes & Guilt” is set in his parents’ attic as they’re preparing to move to Florida from the Brooklyn home they’ve shared for 40 years. “My sister and I were going to take care of the moving,” says Solomon, who discovered they hadn’t bothered to pack the attic. “The attic was far from empty.”
And he says the humor transcends ethnicity.
“In Galveston (where he played last week), there wasn’t a Jew or an Italian for a thousand miles,” he says. “It’s not just about family. It’s about airports and doctors and people you come into contact with. I think that is why it works.”