Tony Solis: Everyone's Best Friend

By Mary Young

Do nice guys finish last? You couldn’t prove it by Tony Solis, host of the TV show “Eh! You Da Kine, Ah?” on OC 16. The half-hour show features local celebrities and attractions, with the easygoing Solis as interviewer and tour guide. “It’s like hanging out with him,” said former co-worker Carie Ishizuka. “He’s like a nice, good local guy that you’d want to be friends with.”

The show’s success has a lot to do with Solis’ personal style, said Lianne Killion, programming manager at Oceanic Time Warner Cable. “Tony has a great personality, he’s funny, and he just plays to the camera,” said Killion. “He touches on something that a lot of local people like to see, which is seeing a celebrity when he or she is not in the limelight.”

“Eh! You Da Kine, Ah?” is the latest of a series of projects for the multi-talented Solis. He has been a recording artist (that’s his voice singing the show’s musical tag), radio personality, comedy writer, comedian, and actor. He plays the main comic role in the play “Aloha Las Vegas,” which will return to Kumu Kahua Theatre this June for a third series of performances.

TV viewers recognize Solis from commercials, most recently a series of improvisational spots for Foodland. He did a national commercial for Pepsi and one for Pepsi’s Japanese counterpart, Calpis. In the Calpis commercial, he appeared as a dancing aloe vera plant.

Solis grew up in Mililani, but he was born in the Philippines. His parents brought the family to Hawaii when Tony was one year old. So he tells a lot of Filipino jokes.

“That’s my shtick,” he said, “because we’re a funny race, you know, funny people.”

Filipinos have stereotypes, like any nationality, he explained.

“Ours is that we eat dog, and it really irritates me. For the record, I just want to straighten that out here and now: it’s not that bad. On Thanksgiving, everyone gets a leg, . . the meat’s a little bit “ruff,” but you know, it’s not that bad.”

“I had relatives come down from the Philippines to stay with us. They’re so fascinated with America — they’ve seen the commercials, especially the food commercials. They said, you know, we want to eat at the fast food place, Taco Bell. And we went there, but it got a little ugly, because my grandfather ordered the Chihuahua.”

Comedy writing is Solis’ specialty, but he also writes music, plays, and short stories — “stuff that hasn’t come out,” he said. He writes a regular column for Oahu Island News.

“I just like to write,” he said. “I’m not even a conventional writer, quote
unquote, I mean I wasn’t schooled in it.” He refers to his style as “heart writing.”

“I’ve never met anyone in my lifetime who talks the way we’re taught how to write in English class,” he said.

Solis produces and writes the weekday Aloha Morning Show on radio station KINE-FM. The script includes jokes, facts, and topical news delivered by the show’s host, Brickwood Galuteria. Solis says he spends at least three hours daily writing the show and researching facts for features such as the kamaaina question of the day. He also dreams up the daily riddle, “what kind of food am I?”

“Then I go in the studio where we spend five hours,” he said. “The morning show is all about time, commercials, sponsors, hitting the jokes — and so those things all have to be written out.

“But the element that makes it so fun is the spontaneity. All of a sudden in a piece, Brick will be talking, and I’ll have an idea and I’ll start writing it down, and so he’s talking about the piece I’ll hold up the paper, and he’ll read it while he’s talking, and then he’ll hit the punch. So those are the spontaneous things that happen.”

Growing up, Tony was “very outgoing, always trying to get people to laugh,” recalled his older brother Joe, a martial arts instructor who lives in Las Vegas.

“He was very headstrong. He didn’t really listen,” said Joe. “If he wanted
to do something he was going to do it, but you couldn’t really stay mad at
him because he would always make you laugh.”

An underachiever in school (“I got suspended eight or nine times”), Solis graduated from Mililani High School in 1987. He went to Leeward Community College and then began training and working as a plumber.

It was about this time that he and his friend Kevin Saito formed their musical group, Mililani. “We named it after where we were from,” he said, “ So I always joke that it’s a good thing we weren’t brought up in Kunia.” Mililani eventually recorded a CD of island contemporary music, mostly original material.

At 23, Solis married his wife, Tori, and they started their family: sons Isaiah and Micah, now 12 and 8; and daughter Zoë, 2-1/2. When Isaiah was a baby, Solis was playing music in clubs three nights a week while holding down a full-time job and going to school.

“I went from a straight D plus student to a solid C minus student,” he joked. “I actually had to work. I thought it just about playing cards, you know, like some of the other trades do, just enjoying myself and having a few beers before class. What happened was I actually had to start learning. And so now I was studying physics and I didn’t even know it half the time.”

After seven years as a plumber, he got a job in the promotions department of a music distributor. It was his connections in the music industry that brought him to radio. He got an internship at “The Fish” Christian radio, KAIM. At the same time he had his own Hawaiian music program on the Japanese information station KORL, broadcast in Nagoya, Japan.

“I started in Christian radio, then I moved into heathen radio,” he joked. Solis is a born-again Christian, and his faith is a top priority. He quotes scripture freely in casual conversation.

He spends his limited spare time at home. “As much as I’m an extrovert, I’m just as much an introvert. People don’t know that about me, but I love being alone, almost as much as I love being with my family.”

A former high school wrestler (“I wanted to be a wrestler for the WWF”), he enjoys watching his sons’ wrestling matches. And he cooks for relaxation. “I cook spaghetti, I can cook pinak bet (a Filipino dish), I make my famous eight-egg omelets. But with only one yellow,” he said, and that’s for health reasons. “If I had it my way, I would eat the shell and all.”

“I have a pretty clean lifestyle,” he said. “I don’t drink, really, I quit smoking two years ago, I don’t do drugs.

“But I gotta say this,” he said. “I really wish I could smoke a joint once in awhile. I’d like to have a fatty, but I don’t do it because first of all, it’s my belief, and secondly it’s illegal.

Though he is protective of his private life (“there are some things I will not share”), he wants to be approachable. And that’s a good thing, because strangers often approach him to say “Eh! You da kine, ah?”

“Earlier this week I was coming to work at four in the morning, and there was a traffic accident,” he said. So I’m in traffic, and this truck is next to me, and I don’t know how many people were in the truck but it was four in the morning and they were yelling “Eh! U da kine?”

Most people who watch “Eh! You Da Kine, Ah?” know what the title means. But for those who don’t, Tony provided a translation. “In proper English terms,” he said, “It means ‘Hey, aren’t you that guy we see on TV (or onstage, or hear on the radio, etc.)?’”

If you’re asking Tony Solis, the answer is yes.