You might not know J.B. Smoove by name, but you’ve almost definitely seen him on your television. He’s Leon Black in Curb Your Enthusiasm, a regular in sketches on Conan, and he's been featured on enough TV (and reality TV) shows to fill an entire network schedule.
When he's not busy acting, Smoove still does stand-up. And he’s bringing his own brand of comedy to Talking Stick Resort on Saturday, October 24. After all, it’s practically a global service in Smoove’s eyes.
“The world would be a crazy place to be without comics,” Smoove says. “We find something funny in all of the bullshit and the pain, and we manage through it. We process terrible news and give it back to you in a different way.”
Of course, comedians don’t just pop up one day. Smoove always maintained a group of hilarious friends, and that was ultimately how he ended up in comedy.
“My buddies in college dared me to go into a live dating game on campus, and you can’t dare me to do something,” Smoove says. “The other guys all had these corny lines, so I just went up to act silly and give crazy answers. People started going nuts, and I got a buzz from killing the crowd even when I wasn’t telling jokes. I became the man around campus, and I never even asked the girl out.”
It takes a lot more than a college dating game to become a successful comedian, and Smoove still had a long road ahead of him after his initial stage debut. He’d always been a fan of stand-up, particularly guys like Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, and George Carlin, but a little stage time and love of jokes just didn’t give Smoove the skills he needed to succeed.
“Wanting to do comedy and going on stage are totally different,” Smoove says. “Getting on stage and putting jokes together is half of the battle. Then I took an improv class in New York, and that was like my tool in my toolbox.”
Smoove knew he didn’t want to be too robotic on stage and would therefore need to be able to improvise whenever the moment arose. To this day, he alters his set for the crowd in front of him. It’s a little different than all of the TV shows he appears on, where most things are relatively set in stone, but that’s part of what the comedian likes about the live performances.
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“Stand-up gives you timing and rhythm and immediate reactions from the audience that you don’t get from filming,” Smoove says. “You can draw from the crowd and come up with things based on that. There’s not a director or a producer telling you what to do all of the time.”
That’s not to say Smoove doesn’t enjoy his television work. For that matter, Curb Your Enthusiasm's Leon is one of his best-known roles, and it was a bit of a dream come true for the North Carolina native.
“It’s one of my favorite shows of all time,” Smoove says. “I loved it as a fan, and I ended up on it as an actor. It’s so amazing to work with Larry David, working on Curb’s a blessing. I used to talk about it a lot, and one day my wife told me I would be on the show. She was right.”
J.B. Smoove is performing at Talking Stick Resort on Saturday, October 24 at 8 p.m. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster and start at $15.