Comic one-man show juggles meatballs and matzah balls

Steve Solomon is no cutting-edge comedian. In fact, instead of a knife metaphor, let’s go with a ladle metaphor. In his show “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish & I’m in Therapy,” Solomon dishes out jokes the way his Sicilian-born mother spooned out marinara: by the pot-full.

Now running at Marines Memorial Theatre in San Francisco, “My Mother’s Italian” is a play only in the loosest sense. It’s more a stand-up routine with set decoration. But borrowing from Borscht Belt shtick, Seinfeldian observational humor and his own autobiography, Solomon puts together a winning show in which the audience laughter never lets up.

“My Mother’s Italian” is Solomon’s first play — his only other experience on stage was as a stand-up comedian. Still, the former public school administrator has hit a home run in his first at-bat.

The scaffolding for the show has Solomon, playing himself — bald and doughy — showing up for his psychotherapy appointment. But the doctor is running late, so Solomon turns to the audience seeking to unpack the baggage of his life.

Within minutes, Solomon revs up his bada-bing delivery, throwing out so many punchlines that the audience happily looses its ability to distinguish good jokes from bad. Most are good, or good enough.

As the title suggests, he’s a Jewish-Italian hybrid. His Russian Jewish father meets his Italian Catholic mother in a restaurant in Palermo (“She was the bouncer”) and ends up starting a family in Brooklyn.

Solomon introduces us to a large cast of characters, most of them family members — like his hacking, emphysema-addled sister — all recreated with uncanny vocal verisimilitude. The guy is a mimicry savant, serving up accents, speech impediments and sound effects like a Mel Blanc clone. His larynx alone is worth the price of admission.

As for the jokes themselves, many have a vaudevillian ring (“I was born with nothing, and I still have most of it”). Some echo the Borscht Belt, as when he remembers how his grandmother responded when asked for the quickest directions to her home. “Are you walking or driving?” she inquires. “Driving,” he responds. “Then that’s the quickest,” she says.

Many jokes stray into potty humor. But with Solomon’s perfectly calibrated ingenuousness, even that cracks up a crowd.

Solomon is at his best when he’s being original: impersonating his Italian uncles from Jersey, with their physical tics and jerks, like some “deaf sign language for the Mob.” Or recalling how his Jewish grandmother taught his Italian mother to keep kosher, with the meat and the fish and the chicken and the eggs all colliding in a kind of “Who’s on First?” for yentas. That was inspired.

Comedian Don Rickles used to rip people to pieces in his act, then end his routine with maudlin claptrap to prove he never meant to hurt anybody. Solomon is much too sweet a shlub to go for the jugular like that, but neither does he go in for over-sentimentalizing his act.

Solomon breaks no new ground in “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish & I’m in Therapy,” but he doesn’t have to. One need not be Jewish or Italian to relate to this immigrant’s son and his tale of culture straddling.

Audiences should hurry before Solomon splits, though. They won’t catch a Tony or Obie winner in action. But they will get a night full of laughs, some of them convulsive. And that’s usually the best therapy.

Steve Solomon’s “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish & I’m in Therapy” plays 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays, through August 12, with matinees 3 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays, at Marines Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter St., S.F. Tickets: $37-$49. Information: (415) 771-6900 or online at

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.