The out immigrant comedian’s 10 year journey to becoming an overnight success
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
Standup comedy is a profession of overnight success that takes decades to achieve. That’s certainly true of Solomon Georgio. You probably first saw him no earlier than his 2015 appearance on Conan, in which he portrayed himself as a gay Italian-African immigrant, providing countless avenues for fish-out-of-water jokes and fake bragging about having the face of an angel.
But if you buy his brand-new full-length comedy album, Homonegro Superior, or see his new special (released the same day) on Comedy Central, you’re struck by how much, much gayer his comedy is in a long-form format.
“Yes, I’m very much gayer, once you give me free rein,” he quips, with a charming but slightly nervous titter. “I tend to always perform the longer [and gayer] set [live]. I tend not to cater to my audiences.” In other words: You book Georgio, you get Georgio.
And what you get is amazing. He riffs with this sweet, disarming innocence but can be merciless about it. He and his family immigrated in 1985 when he was a child — first settling in St. Louis, Mo. then moving to Fresno, Calif. — “two terrible cities” he doesn’t hesitate to say — “before landing in heaven, i.e., Seattle.” Attacking people’s towns might be considered tour-date suicide, but Georgio doesn’t blink an eye.
“People are aware of where they live — nobody is telling you how glamorous Topeka is, even the people from Topeka, so I’m not going to be the one onstage lying to you,” he reasons. “But we [all tend] to present a hard stereotype of an entire city.
There are always at least a few thousand opposing [that stereotype]. I don’t think I [perform in front of] an audience that [doesn’t get me].”
Georgio will put that thesis to the test Thursday in Dallas, when he serves as the opening act for the indie-folk band Deer Tick. His Dallas performance — on the heels of two shows in Arizona early in the week — will be the first live dates he’s done since the album dropped in late October, and his first gig with Deer Tick. (“I don’t know what [the band’s] opinions of me are, or their process of selecting me… but they certainly made a good choice,” he deadpans.)
It’s the culmination of a decade working clubs.
“My first 10 years of comedy, no one new who the fuck I was,” he says. “The album [represents] everything I’ve done in the last 10 years, summed up in one record. It’s a great feeling but then there’s also the problem you have to keep talking about it afterwards.” (Zing! Georgio one, interviewer zero.)
That 10 years meant developing his act, his style … and deciding what his comedy should be about, including all the gay stuff.
“There are always going to be people out there who have ideas of what you should be doing and what you shouldn’t, and they can go fuck themselves,” he says brightly, following quickly by a chuckle. “I always feel weird when people say I am speaking in a taboo manner [about my relationship with my boyfriend], but we speak very openly with each other. There’s a lot of shame we immediately associate with [private activities], even going to the bathroom, which is something we literally all do. We treat common things as weird, and people who try to shame someone for using the bathroom…?” — he’s clearly referring to a certain infantile President of the United States — “…What is wrong with you that you feel bad about that? I always say, “Oh relax — you’ve done far weirder in your personal life.”
He was buoyed by his interest in comedy by role models like Maria Bamford, Margaret Cho and George Carlin — his personal triumvirate of comedians who spoke their minds from a unique perspective and without apology, while still conveying a genuine vulnerability.
Comedy was also essential in helping a strange little foreign kid for understand American culture. “It was like a peephole into what was really happening,” he says.” Growing up, I wasn’t intentionally funny, so it wasn’t something I did in any way.
But comedy is a better form of communication — you get to your point so much better.” But it’s also something of an aphrodisiac for him. “What I needed was to get a laugh — every time I do a TV taping, I feel like I’m having an entire-body orgasm.”
Such frankness probably doesn’t ingratiate himself to his parents, to whom he came out at 18. “I think there were plenty of hints I gave them my entire life, but they were surprised by it; my siblings, on the other hand, weren’t in any way,” Georgio says. “I’ll just say [my parents] aren’t openly upset about [my comedy] anymore, though I’m pretty sure they don’t like it. My siblings feel differently — they love it.”
He hopes the audiences for the Deer Tick show are equally open. They are, after all, mostly there to listen to the band, not see some queer African talk about gay sex. “Some people could be there to see me, but in the end they are there to hear music,” he says. “It will be fun for me — you want music, but I can get a little more mental with you beforehand.” So he just gets to show up, be funny, and look pretty. No pressure.