Q&A: ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ star J.B. Smoove cracks up DC’s Warner Theatre

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with J.B. Smoove (Full Interview) (Jason Fraley)

You know him best as Leon Black in the HBO sitcom “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (2000-present).

This Friday night, you can catch J.B. Smoove performing stand-up at Warner Theatre.

“I can’t wait to come to D.C. — it’s been an absolute minute,” Smoove told WTOP. “I’m a wild card, so I tend to cater my show to my audience. I use my ears as much as my mouth. I like to go where my audience takes me. … It’s going to be a little bit of sound effects, animation, some Leon from ‘Curb,’ some Lonnie Maclay from ‘Almost Christmas,’ some J.B. Smoove from “Real Husbands of Hollywood,’ anything I’ve ever done I incorporate into my show. Who knows? I might even bring some Crown Royal, because I am the Crown Royal Vanilla Man.”

It’s the first stop on his nationwide “Lolligaggin'” tour, a fitting name for his casual demeanor.

“You know what I love about the word ‘lolligaggin?’ You’re just mindlessly moving and taking a break from the mundane world we live in,” Smoove said. “Why not live a day and lollygag it out? Just live in the moment for a little while? … Lolligag is probably on the same level as lampin’. It’s somewhere in that realm. Lampin’ is total relaxation and chilling; lolligagin’ is just free of spirit, free of mind. That’s why I chose ‘Lolligaggin’ and it looks damn good on a T-shirt.”

Born Jerry Brooks in Plymouth, North Carolina in 1965, Smoove grew up in Mount Vernon, New York, where he consumed every comedy routine that he could get his hands on.

“Although I loved [Richard] Pryor, Redd Foxx, [Bill] Cosby, I also loved Peter Sellers,” Smoove said. “Peter Sellers was gold to me. George Carlin was gold to me. … As much as I love sitting there playing my Pryor albums, the turn really came when I started going to the video store and renting VHS of all the comics I loved. I studied George Carlin the most; his thinking was so out of the box that he captured me. As far as TV and film, I just fell in love with Peter Sellers, I love physical comedy, I love ‘The Pink Panther,’ I love that movie ‘The Party,’ all of that stuff.”

He started exploring it as a career by taking an improv class in New York City in the early ’90s.

“Right after my improv class I took that summer, the club closed down,” Smoove said. “But I’m so happy that I got a chance to work with one of the legends, Marty Freeman from ‘SCTV.’ I got a chance to work with him, who was a really good friend of Lorne Michaels. All these little things that end up [helping]. I put that tool in my tool box and years later I end up [using it].”

Upon moving to L.A. in 1999, he found work on MTV’s “The Lyricist Lounge Show.” He also guest starred on “The Chris Rock Show” (1997-2000), where he considered Rock his mentor.

“Chris Rock to me was the ultimate as far as pace,” Smoove said. “He was like a machine gun to me. He had this pace, this mindset of he’s got this sniper on you, like bam, bam, bam, repeatedly, straight forward. His rhythm, his style, his writing skills, his mind is something I found to be amazing. … Back then, it was definitely the cats around me who were doing their thing. The cool thing about it is that we all became fans of each other, which helps a lot.”

Indeed, Rock gave Smoove his breakthrough movie role as the narrator and co-star of the cult comedy “Pootie Tang” (2001), written and directed by none other than comedian Louis C.K.

“I love the scene in ‘Pootie Tang’ in the music studio when he’s recording his song about nothing,” Smoove said. “He’s singing and my line is ‘Pootie don’t need no words! Pootie don’t need no music to make a hit song!’ I found that to be the most ridiculous, silliest thing ever that this man was saying nothing and people loved it. I found that to be one of the funniest scenes, that and me going to the farm with Pootie realizing the farm life was not for me.”

His first mainstream comedy came across Adam Sandler in the remake of “Mr. Deeds” (2002).

“When I got on that movie set, that was my first big, nationally released movie,” Smoove said. “I was happy being on set and working with Adam, but man the lunch! When I walked to the crafts table and saw all them damn lobsters, I said, ‘This man knows how to live! I know I’m on set with all these stars, but look at them damn lobsters!’ You can judge it by the craft services man, that’s when I knew I’m about to hit the big time, when I saw them damn lobsters.”

He transitioned into TV sketch comedy by contributing to “Cedric the Entertainer Presents” (2002-2003) and joining the talented writing team for “Saturday Night Live” (2003-2006).

“I’ve got so many sketches that never made it that are considered legendary,” Smoove said. “The Urine Detective, Butt Pregnant, the All-Day Cigarette, the guy who used to work counting money as a bank teller and now works at Subway making sandwiches but he can’t stop licking his finger to put the meat on your bread. So many damn sketches that never even made it!”

Then came his career role as Leon in “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” joining the cast in season 6.

“I was a big fan of the show before I got on,” Smoove said. “I had the blessed opportunity to get on the show and it was a match made in heaven. You’ve got a comedian who loves to improvise [and] Larry is an amazing, amazing writer. … Larry puts you in these amazing situations where you get a chance to improvise with him directly, improvise with other amazing actors and be a part of a show that has no script. … It’s probably an 8-10 page outline of what the episode is about and all the little details and nuances is stuff you [improvise].”

More recently, you saw him in a recurring role on TV’s “Fresh Off the Boat” (2015-present).

“So amazing man,” Smoove said. “Randall Park is my dude. That show is so fun to be a part of. Ali Wong, who’s one of the producers and writers on the show, these are all people we’ve all worked together with and you end up places where you end up working with great people. When you create a body of work and they know what they’re getting, you come in free of mind, they allow you to do what you do. That’s almost every show you see me guest star on.”

Today, Smoove remains one of the most ubiquitous faces in modern comedy, popping up everywhere from “Last Comic Standing” to “New Girl,” from “Date Night” to “Top Five.”

“I sat down looking at my IMDB and was like, ‘Wow,'” Smoove said. “I’ve planted a lot of seeds. … When I accomplish something, I plant more seeds so that — whether it’s a month later, two years later, five years later, 10 years later — my phone always rings because I always plant my seeds for later. … I’m not an A-list actor, but I’m very satisfied with my movement, I didn’t step on any toes, I didn’t burn bridges, I just worked hard. … I always say the phrase, ‘Plan your destination, improvise your journey.’ There’s more than one way to get where you gotta go.”

Find more details on the Warner Theatre website. Hear our full chat with J.B. Smoove below:

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with J.B. Smoove (Full Interview) (Jason Fraley)
WTOP's Jason Fraley salutes J.B. Smoove (As Heard on WTOP) (Jason Fraley)

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