By Nicole Kohut
Although he denies it, Harris Solomon, CC ’22, has earned his status as a campus character through three separate avenues of fame: 1) the “guy in mustard button down shirt who looks like Timothee Chalamet at Hillel,” 2) the Varsity Show newbie donning a diaper, and 3) perhaps most notably, the writer, producer, and cast member of Bard Overboard, an off-Broadway comedy that debuted at the SoHo Playhouse in November.
Those who managed to snag a ticket to any of Bard Overboard’s four sold-out shows exited the playhouse feeling like a VIP with a dash of vertigo—and not just because some Haim sisters could be spotted in the crowd. For nearly two and a half hours, playgoers got to experience the impressionable nooks and crannies of Harris Solomon’s mind, every moment brimming with excitement, humor, and a little bit of sex appeal. Now, a few months after the commotion has died down, Harris remains a man of simple pleasures—a Milano M5 on olive focaccia with balsamic glaze and the not-so-occasional Silver Moon cinnamon roll.
What few know, however, is that before Harris could fulfill his destiny as Columbia’s newest auteur, he played an infinitely more important role: the tech guy to my Violet Beauregarde in our fifth grade production of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Thankfully, as time went on, Harris found his way to the stage and I found my way off of it. Over years of friendship, aided by the close proximity of our childhood homes, the file named “Harris” that rests on my computer’s desktop has grown to include a medley of his many projects, including the eulogy he gifted me for my 20th birthday. While I’m certain that, in a few years’ time, I will have sufficient material to write and profit from a cutting-edge musical memoir based on Harris (see Lin Manuel Miranda’s Tik, Tik … Boom!), one unanswered question stands in my way: When did the transition from booth tech to artist extraordinaire occur, and how?
In pursuit of answers, I met up with Harris to chat over a plate of “THE Dish,” a delicate balance of sushi rice with teriyaki sauce, fried tofu, and frozen vegetables that Harris perfected when we lived together our junior year. While I wait for Harris to wrap up a Zoom meeting for the Varsity Show, which he is co-writing this year, my eyes scan the rest of the room, taking note of Girl Scout cookies and Brazil nuts before landing on six large cases of Vintage Italia Penne Straws huddled in the corner. A present from his worried mom, Harris tells me after catching my gaze. He tosses me two bags—marinara and lemon garlic—to taste test, and it’s not long before we forgo “THE Dish” in favor of the weird pasta chips. The cannellini bean flour and xanthan gum crunching between our teeth creates a symphony similar to the soundtrack of our elementary school snack chats, and our conversation can finally begin.
Unlike many artsy Angelenos, Harris has never studied under Stella Adler and his parents are not producers. Instead, Harris became starry-eyed for the stage during a two-week sketch comedy class at his middle school led by a “hip, young, cool guy” from CalArts who would soon become his mentor. Presented with this neat history, I briefly kid myself that my burning question has finally been answered—the missing puzzle piece has fallen into place, and I can now continue laying down the tracks for a future biopic. But nothing about Harris Solomon could ever be that simple.
Before I can pivot to another line of questioning, Harris throws his legs into the sky, using them to propel his body from the crack of the couch onto less-than-stable footing—a physical mannerism I have come to know well, and a sure sign that his previous response should not be taken for anything more than a prelude. And so the true origin story begins: “Actually—I feel like you’ll get this—if I look way back into my life, part of my identity was getting our group of friends in elementary school to crack up,” he says. I remember this well. Harris would trot around the playground, finding comical ways to relay the relationship status of his cooler best friend to many ladies-in-waiting—or, as Harris prefers to call it, “fending off the press.” While Harris is most certainly a leading man in today’s world, the many years spent serving as a member of another’s entourage provided him with extensive joke-telling practice and fundamental comedic source material. Raw criticism spewed from the mouths and minds of sequin-wearing nine-year-olds has served as excellent fodder for material like Bard Overboard.
Despite its success at the SoHo Playhouse, Bard Overboard was originally intended for an audience abroad—in Scotland, to be exact. While visiting the Edinburgh Fringe during the summer of 2018, a starstruck pre-frosh Harris instantly knew that he wanted to return with a production of his own—and he knew exactly how to do it. Like a true Columbia hard-ass, he studied every element of the festival to determine how to craft a smash-hit play. For instance, Harris tells me that he deliberately constructed Bard Overboard around a comparatively large ten-person cast so that his play would stand out against the one-to-two-person shows typical of the Fringe. As for the plot, though it has evolved substantially, Harris initially thought to write about a group of cruise ship actors when he remembered, simply, that “Everyone knows Disney cruises, so that’s a thing that can get some attention.”
Unfortunately, the production was put on hold when the 2020 Fringe was canceled due to Covid. Nearly a year later, when the world was beginning to regain its color, Harris’ play faced a new challenge—New Yorkers. But tailoring the script to an audience with lots of opinions and limited free time was just the beginning of Harris’ to-do list. After scheduling rehearsals to accommodate his cast of current and graduated Columbia students, reading contracts, and laying down rental deposits, Harris schlepped to his grandmother’s (oftentimes flooded, most always moldy) basement in Queens to build the set with his Penne Straw-fueled biceps. Despite these troubles, Bard Overboard soon premiered at the SoHo Playhouse which, years earlier, staged the debut of Fleabag—a show that inspired Harris to “do both [writing and acting] … and thank God for that because I think I would go crazy if I had to choose one.”
I want to ask him about that second half—the acting half—but before I can, Sam Needleman, our third and final roommate from way back when, interrupts with a FOMO-fueled phone call. “Hey, bubby,” Harris answers after swiping my phone off the table. Moments later, Sam is with us on the couch, Penne Straws in hand. The completion of our triad sparks something in Harris, and soon he’s revealing all the juicy secrets behind each character of his play.
He tells us that he strives to be the antithesis of his own Bard Overboard character—a leotard-wearing narcissist with a BFA from the University of Central Florida. “I don’t feel like I’m that person, but I think there’s a place in everyone’s mind that is that … you know, that’s hyper jealous and is so ambitious and wants to do everything and thinks he’s God’s gift to the world … you know, everyone! Because we’re built that way in a world that values that.” When I ask him about Winston the Wonder Weasel, the cruise ship’s sexually charged mascot, Harris delivers a less wistful response: “I mean, I guess he’s just a furry.”
Not long after Sam makes an unwanted exit, Harris reveals that, despite the unique qualities he’s built into each character, he sometimes sees them as a single unit: “I wanted to show someone who was coming to terms with their fate. Someone who had a dream and was able to realize—well, this sounds very basic—but they were already doing what they wanted to do, they just had to look at things another way.”
“So, kind of like you?” I suggest.
Harris settles into the couch, shoots back up again, and does a little dance before pushing out a formal response.
“Yeah? Maybe … I DUNNO!!! Perhaps …”
Then a shy smile.
“Maybe a little like me.”