Photo by: Sam Hanson
By: Anna Hanson
Gemma Soldati grew up in New Hampshire with three older brothers and, she says, “two parents who
are in love and gross.” When she was 19 years old her family home burned down and it became clear
she is in the right line of work after she described a scene from this very tragic day.
G: My dad was the mayor at the time so the whole city was there and I showed up in a bikini because I
had been canoeing when I got the call. As I went to hug my dad with tears streaming down my face my
bikini bottoms fell off with this huge crowd of people watching.
Bleeds: Oh. My. Gah. You were destined to become a clown.
G: I know! My life is a joke! My WHOLE life is a joke.
This could read as sad but it wasn’t. She was able to see the humor in it and it wasn’t that long ago. The
house fire happened in 2010 and she speaks as though it happened in another life (of which I’m fairly
certain she’s had 16).
She went on to study at the New School in NY before transferring to Antioch in Culver City, CA to round
out her Liberal Arts degree. She transferred for love as she had met a musician named Austin and they
fell HARD for each other. It was really sweet to hear her voice change tone and her eyes beam when she
talked about him. So she meets Austin and moves across the country because why not and they’re
happy and things are lovely and then he passed away unexpectedly when they were both 22. Gemma
speaks about it as though she’s processed this huge loss and I was the one who couldn’t get over how
recent 2012 was. I promise this isn’t just a list of sad things but it’s important to know these deeply
terrible things that have happened because as you’ll see they’ve put her through the ringer and spit her
out on the other end equipped with the most perspective any 26 year old could hope to have and just
the best outlook I’ve encountered in a long while.
Here’s a fluffy Q&A to balance out whatever emotions you’re feeling:
Bleeds: What is your favorite type of cookie?
G: Oh no. Tough one. See, part of the issue here is that I love candy. So I can’t even deal with cookies. I
think I like chocolate chip cookies with a big ass glass of milk…and I’m done. I can be wild. But right now
all I’m thinking about is one big chocolate chip cookie with a big glass of milk. Not too soft and chewy
but definitely not crisp.
Bleeds: Fair. What’s your default candy?
G: I’m disgusting. Sour, sugary, garbage. It’s so bad for me so I try not to eat it…but I think about it a
When we did this interview Gemma was in a show called The Simple Simples and she had taken several
improv classes and was beginning to learn the art of clowning (for any readers unfamiliar with such
things, improv takes a “yes, and” approach to any situation and teaches you how to adapt to any
number of situations as a performer and essentially removes the word “no” from your list of options.
Clowning is much more physical and about the exploration of human emotions and imagination using
the tool of, as Gemma puts it, “our stupid bodies”). No not a birthday clown and no not a sad clown.
Take any and all face paint out of the mental picture you have right now and think “clown” in terms of
Sacha Baron Cohen or Tony Hale as Buster in Arrested Development (who is also the person Gemma
would choose to narrate her life, just sayin’). You see now? Hope so. Currently Gemma is continuing
her clown studies at the Phillippe Gaulier school in France. She’s in good company as previous
attendees range from Emma Thompson to, you guessed it, Sacha Baron Cohen, the god-clown himself.
The curriculum is split up by the style you choose to study so it’s not just “clown class” there’s neutral
mask and Greek tragedy, Shakespeare and Chekov. Is your mind having trouble absorbing a new image
of what it means to be a clown? Mine too.
Here’s another lighthearted Q&A to distract you:
Bleeds: If you could roll with anybody, who would be in your entourage?
G: In Fantasy Land I would have Jon Stewart, Sophia Loren and PeeWee Herman. We would be really
silly, sexy, smart.
Bleeds: Love that. How about people you know, do you have an ideal group for that?
G: Yes. Everyone I love. I want a big scroll that I can unfold and it keeps going with all the names. I have
some really amazing best friends. My brothers. My parents. We’d all have a party and dance. That is
my dream. Everyone in my life dancing together forever is my literal dream. Even my unborn child. I
can’t wait to have a kid because I think they’re gonna be really dope. I just want to be a mom. I’m not
pregnant right now. But I like to tell people I am.
Growing up she watched The Mighty Boosh on BBC America and attributes that as having been the first
thing that ever truly inspired her. She says, “I remember thinking that I wanted that. Whatever it was. I
didn’t want to imitate it I just wanted the spirit behind it. I still do.” Other favorite performers include
the Marx Brothers and Eddie Izzard “because he’s so smart and he raises the bar.” As for current
inspirations, Gemma is most inspired by, “dope ass female performers. Annie Lenox. Bjork, she blows
my mind. Gnarly, badass chicks inspire me. Women who LIVE. …and also Reggie Watts.” I think we’re
all with you on that one, Gem.
I wanted to know where Gemma saw herself in the next step of her life and I always hate being asked
that by others but talking with someone who has so much life and joy in them I couldn’t help but want
to know what to hope for in her future. I honestly couldn’t help but ask. Her answer was exactly what I
would have guessed it would be. She’s just taking things in stride and trying to be open to opportunity
and growth. Yet another life lesson bestowed upon me by sweet Gemma.
“I’m trying to have faith that it’s all going to work out. I don’t know what that looks like but I’ve been
given a lot of gifts in life and I’m trying to surrender to the process and growth of it all. Shit might go
pretty badly but you have to take the good with the bad. I just want to be better. I want to be a better
human. A better performer. A better friend. …I just want to lead a good life.”
Pre-France Gemma worked in marketing and for a theater and as a publicist but throughout her life
she’s been a performer. Her mother put her in improv classes at the age of six and frequently told her
to “save it for the stage” when she was being dramatic. The only thing Gemma can visualize for “down
the road” right now is maybe, someday, teaching. “I really love kids. Someday I would like to teach.
There were people on my path that inspired me and I think it’s important along the way to have
someone who gives a shit. I think I would like to be one of those people.” I would take all of her classes.
Should you ever be blessed with meeting Gemma you would sign up for whatever she was
teaching/selling/peddling because she would sparkle you into it. Sparkle is a verb in this article and it
means exactly what you think it means. She would speak with so much energy and excitement but still
keep her dry delivery to keep you on your toes. Then she would do a shimmy and never actually ask you
to take her class/buy her products but you would just end up offering her money because you felt
inexplicably compelled. See? Sparkled.
Gemma’s sense of self and purpose is empowering in many ways but to me it was how much she shares
the credit with others that was most impressive. She would never tell you she got where she is today
alone, or that she didn’t need help during every single part of her journey. She credits improv classes
and “really getting me going,” to Austin’s dad, her brothers and parents for “always being 100%
supportive,” her two nephews as being “the light of my life,” and her whole family and network of
friends for “inundating my life with so much love.” Gemma spoke about a piece of advice her mom had
offered her about how it’s just as important to know what you DON’T want to do when it comes to
finding a career path. I said her mother is a very wise woman and this was her reply:
G: She’s a living saint. She’s everything to me.
See what I mean? Gemma Soldati is nothing if not a team player. Being a performer and creating your
own material means that sometimes you make things that your parents won’t exactly love. This can
lead to anxiety for the rest of us but Gemma says she’s getting better at coping with it by simply
remembering “my parents and I have different lives.” Life lesson number 52 from Gemma.
Knowing Gemma the little that I do I pictured her performance preparations being something along the
lines of Step 1: eat a sandwich, Step 2: perform. I was mildly shocked to learn this was not the case and
in actuality her process is much more relatable just like every other single thing about her.
“Before I walk out on stage I want to die. I want to run away and quit and never do it again. But then I
see the audience and I’m all in. You can’t bullshit your way through the clown stuff and that’s what I love
most about it. People will either love it or they’ll hate it. It’s as simple as that. I’ve always been a clown
but now I’m learning how to be a human because you have to be completely open and transparent.”
I wanted to know how hard it is to trust an audience when you have to be so open with them. I thought
it would be difficult to not feel betrayed if they didn’t laugh or engage and I still think that but wisely
pointed out that it’s not the job of the audience to validate a performance. “Actually I’ve always trusted
my audience but I haven’t always trusted myself,” she says. “I want to provide for my audience. There’s
so much crap out there right now. We’re saturated in garbage and I want to get to something that’s
actually good in this modern, stupid world. I’ve learned that it’s actually about trusting my own voice
and trusting that what I’m interested in has value to someone else. That has taken me a long time to
She has already put a lot of good into the world and is well on her way to undoing a lot of the garbage
that her audiences endure. Gemma, you are a dope ass female performer and a woman who LIVES. You
dear girl are one gnarly, badass chick and a hell of an inspiration to the rest of us. France can’t contain
you forever and we cannot wait to see where you go next.