The Comedian who’s struggling with just what fame means | WBEZ
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The Comedian who's struggling with just what fame means

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Julia Solomon in her North Side apartment. (WBEZ/Kate Dries)
It’s impossible to not laugh when talking to Julia Solomon, both with her and at her, at least a little and she knows and relishes it. When we met, the 21-year-old stand-up comedian was brutally honest about her desire for fame, relative fortune and just getting people to like her. Well, not like her, but at least like her work.
Wanting to be liked is something most comedians readily admit to, and so we discussed this issue in depth, especially after discovering our mutual love for WTF with Marc Maron, a podcast where comedians share their innermost neuroses and the economic realities of trying to pursue their craft. Even in her moments of insecurity, Solomon is steadfast in her devotion to comedy and possesses a confidence that seems necessary to get to the level of success she desires. Solomon might not have a plan B, which, given the economic realities of her field could seem a little crazy, but perhaps that's what it takes to get what she really wants.

You like me, you really do
I go to Columbia [College]. I’m in my third year here. I started off as a theater major my freshman year. And then I switched over to television writing and producing, just because I wanted to be able to learn … video editing and producing and things that, and I didn’t really like the theater major there. So I started doing that, and I should be done next year, but we’ll see (laughs).

I’m from Buffalo. I wanted to be in a city, so this really appealed to me. They have a program here where you can do Second City and get college credits so I was like, ‘Oh I really want to do that’ – even though I haven’t done that and probably actually won’t now that I’ve been here.

I always thought I was hilarious, I always thought I was really funny. That was my thing, that was how I made friends and stuff. Just a smarta**. I would do like voices in class to make the kids laugh and I used to do like a New Yorker voice and everybody thought it was so funny … I mean it’s not even good, but for a 4th-grader pretty impressive maybe. I’d be like ‘Cmon let’s get a coffee and a bagel and we’ll talk,’ and they’re just like ‘Oh my gosh, you’re so funny!’

But I always just thought I would be kind of like a Molly Shannon. Or any of the girls on SNL (Saturday Night Live), doing goofy characters and acting and stuff like that. So I always wanted to do comedy but I didn’t see it as doing comedy; I just thought of it as doing acting. And then I kind of just started being aware of stand up and I liked that because you get to do whatever you want …

I was never the one to make my family laugh, so I guess that’s why I wanted to do that. … Sometimes they’re like, ‘Okay, you need to cool it.’ But I’ve always made my mom laugh and she has a great sense of humor.

The bad student...
I really don’t like being in college. I’m a very bad student, I’m not good at doing work. I don’t know what it is. Either I can’t handle … it’s not even that big of a workload, but I can’t handle it as little as it is, and then I’m just really bad at time management and making sure I get everything done.

...Who loves comedy
I don’t know that I would have sought out an open mic … I mean I’m sure eventually. It was just kind of like, they had it at the school and I was like ‘Oh, yeahhh, I’m going to do that.’

I was nervous … I just talked about orientation and it was like really dumb … there were just condoms everywhere that they were handing out. And I was just like (weird voice) ‘I think they want us to have sex with each other.' And everyone’s like 'Oh my God,' like roaring with laughter. And I was like, 'Yeah guys.' It was ridiculous.

That’s why I was really scared to do my first open mic [at Chemically Imbalanced Comedy] because I was like, everybody’s going to be so old. And then I went with somebody so then I was nervous because I didn’t want them to think I was a loser … So I abandoned all my jokes and wrote new ones that weren’t jokes yet – which is fine to do at an open mic but … I just didn’t really get what was going on yet or what I was supposed to do.

… I was a mess. I got – first of all – so dressed up. Like, big dangly earring(s) ... I got all dolled up, and then I got nervous so then I drank. … I didn’t know a lot about stand-up but I knew people bombed. And I was like, 'Ugh, well, it didn’t happen the first time so I guess it’s going to happen now.' And then that was still in my head and it totally did happen.

I didn’t understand that you had to go out all the time to get better so I like, thought I was a stand-up but I would go out once every two months. Really randomly. Like the school had open mics once a month and I would go to that.

A home filled with comic influences. (WBEZ/Kate Dries)

...who's figuring it out

The Lincoln Lodge is really awesome. I guess that’s my big thing this year. Aside from getting stage time there, we’re all producers. So basically that means we each have specific jobs and we have to make sure we’re selling tickets and promoting it and booking people and doing duties and stuff.

I’ve never had a place (before) where I’ve gotten to go up a lot. Even though I want to do well it’s not the pressure of, well, if I don’t do well they’re not going to book me again. Because at least why I was brought on was not because I was at a level that I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m really awesome.’ But I think they saw a potential in me so that was very nice. 

To be famous
I'm so lucky that my parents are supporting me as long as I’m in college, so at least for the next two years – and I’m sure as long as I guilt them and they don’t lose their jobs – I don’t think I’ll be on the streets. But it’s important to me to be able to, not necessarily rely on them which is why I’m like, well, I guess I’ll get a job at Bloomingdales.

I used to really just want to be famous but (now), I just want to be able to not have to work at Bloomingdales and do comedy, but also be like, not recognized but like, have recognition in the industry … not necessarily where I walk down the street and people are like, ‘Oh hey,’ but people are like, ‘Yes, I know that comic, she’s great to work with, let’s book her.' And oh, also be a star.

I love Chicago, I love living here, I love all the people here, so it’s not like a thing like, I can’t wait to live in New York or I can’t wait to live in L.A., but yeah, I want to be on that next level where I have to be in those locations.

What I think is if I keep doing this, really doing this and working hard, how can it just not happen? And obviously it couldn’t, and I used to worry about that a lot. … But it’s like, as long as I’m able to make a living as a comedian, I guess that’s making it … Sometimes I get bummed out about it and I’ll just be – I used to really put so much pressure on myself: 'I don’t know what I’m doing, what am I doing, why would I ever go to New York, I’m not funny enough.' But … Phyllis Diller didn’t start doing stand-up until she was 37 and she already had five kids. And I’m 21. So if in 10 years or 16 years, how can I not be somewhere in like at least 16 years. … If you just work so hard, there just can’t possibly be a way that you’re not going to succeed, I feel.

The transcript above features an extended version of the interview. Explore more stories from Chicago's Hungry Artists.

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