After learning that playwright Steve Solomon used to teach physics, I decided to ask about similarities between the two crafts. In typical stand-up fashion, he was off and running with a riff about sparks and explosions in his onetime classroom. “I was a fun teacher,” he says.
Seems former students still come to see his shows, which feature an homage of sorts to family dysfunction. His “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish & I’m in Therapy” opens a Phoenix run this week at the Herberger Theater Center. It’ll feature actor, comedian and impressionist Ron Tobin.
Solomon did the one-man show himself until demand outpaced his powers to get from place to place. Last year, he did about 200 of the 300-plus shows featuring this work or one of its variations. “We’re in South Africa now,” he says, “and we’ll probably be in Israel and Australia by the middle of the year.”
I say we clone all the good comedians and stick the rest of them in a closet. Solomon shares my take on comedy trending towards the rude and crude. “Most comedy clubs,” he says, “are a little too crude and coarse for me.”
Comedians are born rather than made, according to Solomon, who says he’s been at it since the age of two. Once he got a bit older, Solomon liked to trick his mom by imitating her father’s voice on the phone.
Growing up in Brooklyn, Solomon discovered that folks were reticent to open the front door for Chinese take-out unless he voiced a Chinese dialect. Seems his fondness for using diverse voices, accents and dialogues — something shared by one of Solomon’s two grown children — has turned into a rather lucrative career.
Solomon tells me he and his daughter used to walk around NYC pretending to be Russian immigrants who didn’t know English, and were pleasantly suprised at all the helpful types they encountered.
“There are about 20 voices we use in the show,” he says. Solomon says he looks for performers like Tobin who make people feel they’re actually hearing lots of different people rather than watching someone trying to sound like lots of different people.
The show is best appreciated, he tells me, by folks 40-ish and up. Younger audiences sometimes lament that “the jokes are old.” His response? “I wrote those jokes.” Solomon’s in his mid-fifties and readily admits younger crowds don’t always get it. “Kids who see it have trouble relating to it.”
Still, he’s generous in sharing advice with aspiring young comedians. “Don’t stop,” he tells them. “Do it any moment, any time — even if your family is annoyed.” There’s a twist, he says, that makes comedians see the world differently. Hence his belief that he can teach a comedian to be an actor, but not the other way around.
Turns out a remarkable actor with a gift for both comedy and drama will be in the Valley Tuesday night for a fundraiser benefiting Arizona Jewish Theatre Company. Ed Asner, whose voice-over performance in the film “Up” is among my son’s favorite film memories, performs a reading of “Advanced Chemistry” Jan. 17 at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix.
“Advanced Chemistry,” written by New Yorker Rich Orloff, looks at “love and lust among the senior crowd.” This production is being directed by Dan Schay, who served until recently as managing director for Phoenix Theatre. Orloff will attend the reading, and join Asner after for a short Q & A session. Then they’ll hit a post-show reception complete with complimentary drinks and dessert for those who’ve purchased VIP tickets to the event.
Asner is “the only actor ever to win Emmy Awards for playing the same character in both a comedy and a dramatic series,” according to his bio on The Museum of Broadcast Communication’s website. We all remember him as Lou Grant on both “The Mary Tyler Moore” show and its “Lou Grant” spin-off. He’ll be joined on stage Tuesday night by Janet Arnold, producing artistic director for Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, and Jenn Taber.
Asner’s long and diverse list of credits includes eight television series, two television miniseries, more than three dozen made-for-television movies and more than twenty films. Broadway fans can enjoy his performance as “Pop” in the 1993 “Gypsy” film starring Bette Midler.
Asner hails from Kansas City, attended college and made his professional stage debut in Chicago, and made his way to Hollywood in 1961. He’s earned five Golden Globe Awards, seven Emmy Awards and served as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1981-1985.
During the course of just a few days, you can enjoy acting, playwriting and comedic genius. No lab coat required.
Coming up: Rock & roll for a cause