Chi-Town Comedy Chat: Working It Out On Stage and Off With Soli Santos

Soli Santos

The word strong doesn’t even begin to describe Soli Santos, a comedian, actress and producer born, raised and based in Chicago.

Whether she is focusing on fitness – as a personal trainer and body builder – or furthering the definition of funny as a stand-up act and producer, Santos goes all in pushing herself to be the best she can be. The overachiever also holds not one, but two degrees, in psychology and television production.

Though she had artistic interests at a young age, Santos first focused on physical strength before pursuing her comedy career.

“I grew up in a house with boys so I’m kind of a tomboy. Doing the fitness stuff and strength-building seemed to kind of fit that tomboyishness. The arts and entertainment is not in my family’s repertoire. That was more foreign so it seemed scarier to me,” Santos said of her early aspirations. “Also, growing up Latina, being Puerto Rican and growing up in a culturally machismo environment, I think of people – and when I say people I’m think of my family – being more accepting of strength-building physically than the arts.”

Much like Santos’ approach to strength-training, she pushed forward in comedy by acquiring skills, listening to her gut and subconsciously recognizing signs from the universe steering her in new directions.

“The very first time somebody told me I was funny was at a family function,” said Santos. “I was probably like 12 years old. My family arrived and a lot of other people were already there. One of my cousins said, ‘Soli’s here. OK, we’re ready. Make us laugh.’ I remember looking at him like, what are you talking about. All my other cousins were sitting at this table wide-eyed looking at me ready for me to entertain them. I was not prepared.”

Later in life, Santos prepared herself for the stage by taking levels A through E at Second City, studying long-form improv at iO and signing up for sketch comedy writing classes, but it was a chance viewing experience that really opened her up to stand-up comedy.

“I was watching the WGN Morning News and their Around Town reporter Ana Belaval did a segment where she took this stand-up writing class with Cameron Esposito called Feminine Comique. I was like, ‘OK, this is it. I’m going to register for this class,’” said Santos.

One year later, Santos was sharing a stand-up stage with Ana Belaval.

Santos continued to push herself into new experiences working with The Kates and producing Las Locas Comedy.

“I got to collaborate with Kelsie Huff along with Amy Sumpter and some other wonderful ladies – Elizabeth Gomez, Mona Aburmishan, Brittany Meyer, Adrienne Gunn, Denise Medina and Alexandra Tsarpalas – for a year helping to kind of produce The Kates shows,” said Santos. “When we split with that, I met up with Janice Rodriguez, and we decided to collaborate to do something a little more inclusive. We wanted it to be an all-women’s stand-up show, but we also wanted to be LGBTQ-positive, non-binary and really welcoming, so that’s what started Las Locas.”

While still performing stand-up across the city, Santos is once again redefining her career, this time as an actress. She recently appeared with the UrbanTheatre Company’s production of “Not For Sale,” and she’s currently involved with director Vincent Truman’s short-film “Enter the Mollusk.”

“I was given these opportunities to collaborate with some other wonderful actors because I have done stand-up, improv and sketch.”

Final Five Questions with Soli Santos

Soli SantosWhat makes you laugh?

Wow, that’s a really good question. I’m gonna think about this all day now. What makes me laugh? I feel like people who are genuine, when they’re just being themselves and that’s when the funny comes out. Pure genuine people being relaxed and comfortable.

Do you have a favorite joke either that you do or you love from another comedian?

One of the jokes that I like that I do is about the fact that my boyfriend is 12 years younger than me. So, I’ve been called a cougar and I hate that word. A friend of mine called me a cougar once and I felt like I needed to clarify with her and I told her, “I’m not a cougar. I’m a pedophile. You get it right (Laughs).”

What establishments or landmarks would you recommend for someone to visit in Chicago?

That’s hard because there’s so many wonderful things to do in the summer. I would tell anybody to just in general go to any of the street fairs or fests. They are great. You have music and food and it’s cheap.

There’s so many things. Even the architecture tours. You can sit back and just enjoy the boat ride even if you don’t want to listen to the tour guide speaking. I’m a native Chicagoan. I’ve been on those boats, and it’s just nice to sit back and it’s a new way to look at the city. We’re so used to not looking up. Finding out the history of the buildings gives you a whole different perspective on the city. Being a native Chicagoan, it helps give me a better appreciation of the city that I’m in. Why it looks the way it does, who contributed to that and why things are designed the way they are. It makes me appreciate this place more.

Do you have any comedy recommendations to share with the world?

I’m going to be biased and I’m going to go local because I think it’s the foundation of people starting out. Also, I’m pro all-women shows so you’ve got The Kates. If you want to go to Las Locas, do it, even though I’m no longer a co-producer of that show with my busy schedule, but I would say support local. Support any of those comedy shows. They’re fun and they’re relaxing and they’re cheap. If you want to hang out, do something different and not spend a lot of money, that’s the way to go.

What makes you Rebellious?

Do you have another 45 minutes? What makes me rebellious? I mean, for me, I think it’s not being able to express myself. If I’m not able to do that, that’s a problem for me. Not having the freedom to just be me as a person. I say that in terms of society’s dictations of what women are supposed to do or how we’re supposed to be.

I think part of being a woman in comedy is you’re breaking that. You’re basically saying f*ck you to the patriarchy because it’s a very male-dominated environment. There’s usually only one woman on a show – if it’s a co-ed show – and that’s why there’s a lot of these women’s stand-up groups that are trying to empower each other because there isn’t a lot of opportunities like that.

I think it’s also basically saying that women are funny too because you hear a lot about women aren’t funny. No, we’re funny. You just can’t f*cking handle it, basically.

(Photos courtesy of Soli Santos)

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Laurie Fanelli is a Chicago-based writer and photographer who specializes in live entertainment coverage. She is at home at major music festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo and, of course, Lollapalooza and Riot Fest. She loves chatting with hilarious comedians and has interviewed the likes of Maria Bamford, Paula Poundstone and Tracy Morgan, to name a few. She has photographed tons of great bands/musicians – from every genre – including Rob Zombie, Florence and the Machine, Alabama Shakes, Neil Young, Shania Twain, Pitbull, Pierce the Veil, Kendrick Lamar, Patti Smith and many, many more. When not writing or shooting shows, Laurie loves to spend her free time training for marathons and exploring the city of Chicago. She is a longtime vegetarian and animal advocate who likes to cook healthy, delicious meals that everyone can enjoy. For more information or to contact Laurie, head over to www.lauriefanelli.com.