Fans of JB Smoove may best remember him for his role as Leon Black on HBO’s breakthrough comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm
, but it’s his skills as a comedian that have made him an in-demand performer for the past several years. Honing his chops in New York City, Smoove quickly made the rounds at the comedy clubs in the city before relocating to Los Angeles where he gradually picked up acting gigs and stand-up appearances along the way. When Larry David tapped him to join Curb
in 2007, it cemented his status as one of the premiere character-driven comics operating in Hollywood today. His first one hour special, That’s How I Dooz
It recently aired on Comedy Central, and he’ll begin hosting Russell Simmons Presents The Ruckus
this Thursday (Jan. 26) at 10 p.m.
had a chance to catch up with Smoove from his home in Los Angeles and talked about his early experiences onstage, Leon-isms, and what it was like working with Sacha Baron Cohen on the set of his upcoming film, The Dictator.
Do you remember the first time you did stand-up?
JB Smoove: Aw hell yeah! I remember it exactly to a tee. I did a talent show; as a matter of fact, the first time I had ever been onstage was on a dating game in college. That was the first time I was ever onstage and I actually damn near performed stand-up, because it was a dating game and I played one of the bachelors. Man, let me tell you something, I ripped it so hard you’d have thought it was a stand-up show. That’s how funny it was. Every answer I gave was so crazy. I just got into because I thought it’d be a fun way to have fun onstage, I didn’t even care about the date. As a matter of fact, me and the girl never went out. I won the date and I never took her out because I didn’t care about the date, I cared about being the man around campus for a week, you know what I mean?
What college did you go to?
I went to a two year college first and I got an Associate’s in engineering drafting, and then I went to a four year college and got a degree in graphic design in Norfolk, Virginia. Norfolk State University, which is a black college. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of a black college?
Did you ever use your degree in graphic design?
Yeah man! When I first got out, I came home and I started working for a t-shirt design company and I was very good at logo design. I always wanted to be into advertising when I was growing up. I used to watch Darren Stevens on Bewitched, and I thought I could be an advertising dude. I was also an artist; I use to draw a lot when I was growing up. Then I got into stand-up because I started doing the stand-up thing, and I started doing stand-up after work. So I started going into the city after work every night, and I’d go down there and have my little five minute set and I started expanding my five minutes to half an hour and an hour and that kind of stuff. So I just started doing stand-up here and there, then I started getting opportunities like; I flew out to L.A. for In Living Colour auditions, I started doing different things, I started doing some movie stuff; I just started doing little things at a time and then my stand-up started to take off. I started doing colleges and then I did every comedy show imaginable from Def Comedy Jam to BET’s Comic View, Comedy Central’s Kamikaze came out; I did all these kinds of shows that were ground breaking kind of shows.
Do you think if you had stayed in New York and didn’t move to LA that your career would’ve taken a different path?
As a comedian, no; as an actor, yes. To a comedian, New York is the place to be as far as stand-up. LA’s a little different. There’s not as many comedy clubs here, and it’s a little different. To me New York City is the proving ground for anything, stand-up, babysitting; it don’t fucking matter. New York has so much opportunity you can be the best at whatever you want to be in New York City.
What’s your opinion on crowd work?
Man, you can come see me six or seven times in a row and you’ll never see the same show twice, because I don’t like to be robotic onstage. I like to perform for that particular audience. I’m not going to go onstage like a fucking robot and keep reciting jokes over and over again. I’m gonna bore myself. I don’t wanna bore myself because then I’m not putting as much energy into it because I’m repeating the same shit over and over again. I don’t consider myself a stand-up comedian. I consider myself a performer; a comic as opposed to stand-up comedian. Stand-up comedians stand there and do their bits; I break every rule in creation. If there’s a rule that can be broken in stand-up, I’ll do it. I turn my back on the audience; I’ve gone behind the curtain onstage and actually did bits from behind the curtain. I’m trying to perform for this particular audience and I’m trying to perform for myself; I’m trying to make myself laugh too. If I go onstage like a robot and keep reciting the same shit over and over again like I’m in a Broadway play it becomes boring. I listen when I perform as opposed to just going onstage and doing jokes. I listen to the audience and what they want to hear. Sometimes an audience can take you in another direction, and that’s the way I like to perform. I don’t like to perform like I’m cornered and I’ve got to rely on these fucking jokes. If you go in there with an open mind you can go any direction you want to go.
How long have you been cultivating the material that’s on That’s How I Dooz It?
You know what, I can’t even tell you because I take a lot of chances. There are bits on this special that I have never done onstage before. I’m so in the moment sometimes that I like to just go. I feel like if I’m on a roll, you need to have enough confidence in what you do that you’ll almost have to create your own world around what you do and take claim of what the fuck you do, instead of focusing on what’s working and what’s not working. You have to make it your own. I make bits my own. I believe in just getting in there and getting dirty. When I go onstage, I rip my shirts, I’m sweating; all these different things happen. That’s called being in the moment and just doing what you do. It’s called That’s How I Dooz It because, that’s how the fuck I dooz it. I’m not gonna go up there and be political because I’m not a political comedian. I’m gonna be exactly what I think is funny. Some of the material is material that I’ve had, and they’re classics to me, but they change all the time.