It seems that anytime you go to the movies, he’s there. Turn on the television, he’s there. Every time you turn around, you run into comedian/actor J.B. Smoove, who is without question one of the funniest and hottest comedians in the business today.
Beginning his career in 1999, Smoove (who’s real name has not been revealed to anyone, not even N’DIGO, but is speculated to be Jerry Brooks!), started to perfect his stand-up comedy act and while doing so, appeared on numerous TV shows and films such as Saturday Night Live, The Chris Rock Show and Everybody Hates Chris.
But, there’s no doubt that his 2007 break out role as “Leon Black” on Larry David’s HBO comedy series, Curb Your Enthusiasm, playing David’s annoying and manipulative house-guest, has by far greatly displayed his talent and even further potential.
The North Carolina born, Mount Vernon, New York raised and current, along with his wife and teenage daughter, LA resident, can be seen in the recent film We Bought a Zoo and has a full plate as a regular on the new NBC sitcom Bent, which premiered this month.
Adding to his schedule, Smoove scored a major role in Sasha Baron Cohen’s (Borat, Bruno) new comedy, The Dictator, which is prompted for a summer release, and voiceover work in the upcoming animated Ice Age 4.
With a rocketing career and numerous projects currently in the works, it’s a question how JB is able to keep the balance but still remain busy.
“Just keeping the fires burning man,” he says in his usual Smoove style. “Keeping the lights on you, know what I mean?”
He took some time from that busy schedule to chat with N’DIGO about the life of Smoove.
His birth name remains a mystery, but the name he christened himself is unique and actually derives from a pre-comedic life of dance.
“Before I got into stand-up I used to be a hip-hop dancer in a crew. My name was J Smoove and my partner was J Groove. So it was Groove and Smoove and then when I got into stand-up I added a “B’ and I became J.B. Smoove, he laughs. “It’s a cool name for me though.”
And let’s face it, when you hear his name you know immediately who it is. Something that Smoove definitely had in mind when he adapted the alias.
Being a stand-up comic, a profession known to be the most terrifying and dangerous thing that anyone can do, is like facing the lions in the arena. But, it’s what Smoove enjoys most about the gig. It’s in the moment. Now or nothing.
“I think what it is about stand-up is that immediate reaction that you get from the audience. That’s the bug. That’s what gets people,” he says. “But it has its ups and downs. It’s hard, but for those who do it well and love to do it, it’s amazing!”
He adds, “But stand up is its own animal man. It’s an amazing gift to have the gift of gab. To grab people and just hold them just long enough to do what you’re doing. I love it.”
With years of experience, Smoove agrees that every audience has its own distinct personality and you have to mold and shape your act as you go along to fit with that audience.
“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 on stage 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.”
That, “in the moment” approach and mentality leaves room for the comic to be unique and maintain an audience. “You’ll want to see a comic because you know that he’ll give you something different every single time,” he believes.
The skill acquired from his stand-up routine comes in handy when working on Curb Your Enthusiasm, where the entire show’s dialogue is calculated improvisation. There’s never an actual script with dialogue for any episode.
Characters are trained to act and react on impulse, knowing only the details of the plot David writes out.
“We get like a six- or seven-page outline of the episode and we kind of fill the blanks in. But it’s as comfortable as me and you are right now,” Smoove equates the work atmosphere.
“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 through wardrobe, pick out something and just go. I don’t want to over think it. I don’t like to be over prepared.”
Improv is a unique skill to attain. It thrives from natural ability and studied technique. A lot of people don’t understand just how hard improvising is. You have to think of what to say, but also listen to what the other person is saying and have to be at least three steps ahead for what comes in order to respond and be funny all at the same time. It’s like a mental chess game.
“It really is,” Smoove confirms. “Improv relies just as much on listening as it does you delivering dialogue. That’s 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. And that’s the genius of putting people together in that sort of situation.”
And might I remind you, no cheating allowed!
“I remember Larry told me one time this one actor had some cue notes in his pockets and Larry took the notes and tore them up. ‘No cheating. No cheating,’” he laughs. “We’re all in the same boat. I love it!”
Bent and Beyond!
While fans of the HBO series await the fate of a ninth season, JB keeps it moving as a regular on NBC’s Bent, a new romantic comedy about a womanizing male surfer contractor and his beautiful, no-nonsense, type-A client, who work together to remodel each other’s lives as they renovate her Venice, California home.
JB’s character is an electrician and he and his crew are working to build actress Amanda Peet’s character’s house.
He recently told the Huffington Post, “I love the electrician side of it, because electricians, they’re the veins of the house. We allow you to see the darkness come to light. And my character takes major pride in his work.”
JB has formatted his career to embrace various opportunities and make them work to his advantage. Understanding the nature of the comedy business and having the ability to interchange talents on the screen and on the stage will continue to award him a lasting career.
Next on the to-do list?
“If I had the perfect storm I would like to have a Leon Black Curb Your Enthusiasm spin-off. I think people would love to see that guy still moving and shaking it,” Smoove says.
“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.”
(JB Smoove’s stand-up DVD, That’s How I Dooz It, is scheduled for an early April release. Visit his website at www.stillsmoove.com.