Watching Steve Solomon perform “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish & I’m in Therapy” is a bit like listening to a mockingbird. You’ll catch a little Alan King here, a pinch of Seinfeld there, with a smidgen of Don Rickles, Billy Crystal and George Carlin thrown in. Adding to the sense of comic deja vu, his delivery is peppered with clever vocal effects — the kind that were Bill Cosby’s trademark during his standup days. The result, not surprisingly, seems generic and warmed over.
Solomon’s one-man show at the Brentwood reliably whacks the funny bone, but it lacks the essential ingredient of classic comedy: a unique and memorable voice. A former teacher, Solomon has toiled in comedy’s trenches for years, working cruise ships and opening for bigger acts. Judging from this material, he has plumbed other performers deeply at the expense of self-examination.
This tour of his blended family (the title says it all) stops at all the predictable places, and Solomon pulls some well-worn tools out of his comic’s gig bag. The action takes place in the office of Solomon’s therapist, who never shows up but has thoughtfully installed a piano in the corner, which (surprise!) Solomon plays several times during his act.
“Therapy” begins with a cell phone conversation between Solomon and his octogenarian parents. They’re hard of hearing, of course, and a little slow on the uptake: “I’m here! Your son! Who else calls you Dad?”
Solomon’s Jewish-American father met his Italian mother in Europe during WWII, and their marriage guaranteed decades of cultural misunderstanding. There’s an extended bit, quite funny, about his mother’s painstaking but ultimately futile attempts to grasp the intricacies of kosher cooking. Solomon’s Jewish grandmother is a dispenser of odd philosophical bon mots: “Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer you get to the end, the faster it goes.”
Solomon’s material becomes even more familiar when the subject turns to his ex-wife, a woman “who used the smoke alarm as a meal timer.” Their sex life, a lust-fest before they tied the knot, disappears after marriage. “She said, ‘Touch me where I’m most sensitive.’ So I took her to my mother’s house.” Add a rim shot to a joke like that and you could be in the Catskills during the Eisenhower era.
There’s an underlying sweetness to Solomon’s persona that makes it hard to completely dismiss his overly comfortable brand of comedy. He talks with sensitivity as well as gentle humor about his son’s homosexuality, for example.
There are also moments of insight and, yes, even originality to Solomon’s show. He’s at his best, ironically, when he mines the most mundane aspects of his life. His failed attempts to add a little levity to a tedious educators’ retreat provide some of the evening’s freshest humor.