You know him as the take-no-crap, pee-in-your-pants hilarious Leon Black on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, but what you may not know is that comedian JB Smoove didn’t start his career harassing and manipulating a certain anal Larry David. Since 1999, Smoove has been paying dues and exercising his comedic chops; he’s even made appearances on The Chris Rock Show and Saturday Night Live. The North Carolina-born, Mount Vernon, New York-raised, Los Angeles resident recently appeared in the comedy We Bought A Zoo and is now a regular on the new NBC sitcom Bent. Keep up!
This month, Smoove’s stand-up concert DVD, That’s How I Dooz It drops, and lucky for us, he shares exclusively with EBONY.com about just how he dooz it all …
EBONY: You’ve been pretty busy of late. You’re in the recent film We Bought a Zoo with Matt Damon, and later this year, The Dictator with Sasha Baron Cohen; you’re doing voiceover work for the upcoming animated film Ice Age 4; you’re a regular on this new NBC sitcom Bent; and you have a new stand-up comedy DVD coming out next month,That’s How I Dooz It.
SMOOVE: Just keeping the fires burning, man. Keeping the lights on, you know what I mean?
EBONY: Obviously, JB Smoove is not your birth name. Why did you change it?
SMOOVE: Well, before I got into stand-up, I used to be hip-hop dancer in a crew. My name was J Smoove, and my partner was J Groove. So it was Groove and Smoove, and when I got into stand-up, I added a “B’ and I became JB Smoove [laughs]. It’s a cool name for me, though.
EBONY: Well, you have to admit that when people hear your name, they know who it is.
SMOOVE: Exactly, man, exactly! I wanted to make sure that I’ve lived up to that also. I try to dress smooth, I try to keep my face shaved, I try to keep my head cut. I try to do all the things to keep it smooth-going!
EBONY: I have to tell you that Larry David’s HBO show Curb Your Enthusiasm is my absolute favorite comedy show. And what I’ve always heard about how it’s done is amazing. There’s never an actual script with dialogue for any episode; David basically writes out an outline for each show detailing the plot, and all the dialogue is improvised. Is that true?
SMOOVE: It’s exactly that, man. We get like a six- or seven-page outline of the episode, and we kind of fill in the blanks. But it’s as comfortable as me and you are right now. We get in there and kind of stick to our characters. And by now, I know what my character would say and what he wouldn’t, and that way I stay on course all the time. A lot of people get their outlines the day before, but I like to get to the set, go though the wardrobe, pick out something and just go. I don’t want to over think it. I don’t like to be over- prepared.
EBONY: I don’t think people understand just how hard improvising is. You have to think of what to say, but you have to also listen to what the other person is saying and have to be at least the three steps ahead for what comes in response to that—and be funny all at the same time. It’s like a mental chess game.
SMOOVE: It really is. Improv relies just as much on listening as it does you delivering dialogue. That’s the hard for some people. Some people just concentrate on what they’re going to say and they’re not listening. You have to listen in order to see where the other person is going to. And that’s the genius of putting people together in that sort of situation. For certain people, it’s very comfortable. I remember Larry told me one time this one actor had come with some cue notes in his pockets, and Larry took the notes and tore them up. “No cheating, no cheating!” We’re all in the same boat. I love it!
EBONY: Is the show coming back for another season? In the final scene of the last episode last season, you and Larry were stuck in Paris.
SMOOVE: I don’t know. We’re all at the mercy of Larry David [laughs]. Larry has put in some great years. He’s put in eight seasons, but I always told him he ought to do 10 because it’ll look great in a DVD box set [laughs]. But we’ll see what happens, man.
EBONY: You’re now a regular on this new sitcom on NBC, Bent. Is your goal to have your own show one day?
SMOOVE: Oh sure. If I had my way, I would like to do a Leon Black Curb Your Enthusiasm spin-off. I think people love would to see that guy still moving and shaking it. One of those things where the first episode would be Leon telling Larry thanks for everything and going out on his own and seeing what happens to him. That’s a show I would love to do one day for HBO. That would be fun to do.
EBONY: I’ve heard that doing stand-up is like the most terrifying and dangerous things that anyone can do—like facing the lions in the arena.
SMOOVE: I always tell young comedians if you walk up on that stage and grab that microphone, you’re halfway there. All you have to do is channel yourself and talk about what you know about, so that when you walk off the stage you’re always in character. If you want to go onstage and talk politics, do a funny spin on politics, then know what you’re talking about. And I think what it is about stand-up is that immediate reaction you get from audience. That’s the bug; that’s what gets people. But it has its ups and downs, and it’s hard. For those who do it well and love to do it, it’s amazing! But stand-up is its own animal, man. It’s an amazing gift to have the gift of gab. To grab people and hold them just long enough to do what you’re doing. I love it!
EBONY: Do you find that every audience has its own collective, distinct personality and you have to mold and shape your act to fit with that audience?
SMOOVE: Yeah, every audience is different. I consider every show different. You can come and see me three times, and you’ll never see the same show. I believe in performing for that particular audience. I don’t believe in being a robot onstage just repeating the same thing over and over again. I like to get up there and make myself laugh, to be in the moment. I want to be able to react to it. If someone spills a drink, I want to be able to react to it. If the lights go out in the club, I want to be able to react to it. I want to be able to react to anything and everything, because that is our moment.
When you’re onstage performing stand-up, things only happen one time. I’ve done bits where I improv a joke, and people are dying. The next show I try to repeat it, I can’t do it. Because with the first audience ,that was our moment; it can’t happen the same way again. We were all there, a certain type of people were at that show, and we all got it. The next night, it will a totally different joke with a totally different audience.
EBONY: Dumb question, but would you say that leaving dancing to do comedy is the best move you’ve ever made?
SMOOVE: [Laughs] You know what, man? You can never ever abandon your dancing roots. I’m sure that at some point in my career someone from Dancing With the Stars is going to call me. I still go out and party and dance, man; that will never go away. I love to party. I love to dance. I love to have a good time. I’m the party starter. I’m going to have to show that side of me one day.