Arts and Culture | Local

Hit comedy draws on Italian-Jewish Brooklyn heritage

Steve Solomon

Sometimes being Jewish is not enough. Sometimes, you have to be Italian too, to really send you over the edge. To find out more, the AJP interviewed playwright Steve Solomon, author and star of the award-winning show “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish, and I’m in Therapy.” The show plays in Tucson at the Invisible Theatre on Jan. 15 and 16.

Solomon, who has performed the show over 1,590 times in more than 70 cities around the country, and as far away as Bermuda and South Africa, speaks about the universality of the themes of the play: “It’s a lot of fun. I do 30 different characters. It’s a one-man show. The characters you will recognize, and you don’t have to be Jewish or Italian to recognize them because it’s not just my family. It’s people you meet at the airport, your doctor, the cops that stop you on the highway. They’re a myriad of really funny people that I bring to life.”

For the show, Solomon draws heavily on his background growing up in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, in a heavily Jewish and Italian neighborhood. He describes his mother as a “tough as nails little Italian lady,” and his father as a “very mild-mannered Jewish fellow.” He slips into character easily as he recounts the often riotous realities of his upbringing: his Italian cousins Vito and Angelo ribbed him, “We got Christmas, we got 10 days off, we got this, we got that. Whadda you get? Like, wooden dreidels with candles?”

While affirming that his family wasn’t religious, Solomon does concede, “It was important for my Dad for me to be brought up with Jewish culture.” He became a Bar Mitzvah, went to temple for the holidays with his father, and learned to speak fluent Yiddish from his paternal grandmother. (He also learned Italian from his mother.) Asked how he mimics so many different voices in his show, Solomon compares himself to his Jewish grandmother’s parrot, who listened, learned … and repeated.

Although writing comedy came naturally to him (he wrote material for Jewish comedians Henny Youngman, Joey Adams and others he met at the Stage Deli in New York before going pro), Solomon’s first career was in education, as an assistant superintendent of schools on Long Island for 15 years. Tired of school politics, he decided to quit education and try his hand at comedy. He wrote this show in 10 months and it was picked up by entertainment giant William Morris, who presented it at the Schubert Theatres on Broadway. What was supposed to be a 12-week run turned into a two-and-a-half year run, and now the show tours nationally and internationally.

Solomon has written two related shows, “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish and I’m Still in Therapy” and “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish, and I’m Home for the Holidays.” The original play was awarded “Favorite New Play” by and won the “Broadway Theater Fans Choice Award” on BroadwayWorld. com. The show was also nominated for awards by The Connecticut Critics Circle and the San Francisco Drama Desk.

Solomon is thrilled with his second career. “What could get better than doing what you love to do, getting paid for it, making people happy and going around the country meeting new people, shaking hands with everybody and doing it over and over again?” he asks. Call him meshuge, but that’s amore.

For ticket information, call 882-9721.

Maria Ma-Tay Russakoff is a freelance writer living in Tucson with her husband and two sons.