- Actor and comedian J.B. Smoove caught his first big break by appearing on HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm." He's got even bigger plans for the future. "I would love to break a man's arm with Matt Damon," he says.
Right away, I'm learning something new from Leon.
Excuse me, I mean actor and comedian J.B. Smoove, who tells me he earned his stage name as a hip-hop dancer.
"With my stand-up, I come onstage dancing," he says in preview of his upcoming comedy show in Richmond. "I don't play around. I like energy."
This was before his early'90s days doing stand-up on HBO's "Def Comedy Jam." And before his stint writing for "Saturday Night Live," where he shared an office with Richmond native Bryan Tucker, or "B Tuck" as Smoove still calls him. And before he was performing sketch comedy for "The Chris Rock Show" and "Late Night with Conan O'Brien."
Today he's best known for his role as Leon, the hilariously blunt, fast-talking roommate of Larry David on the popular, often politically incorrect HBO sitcom, "Curb Your Enthusiasm." The madcap Lothario role has ignited his career, or "opened that ass right up" as Leon might say.
"He's a funny-ass character, but nobody could live the way he does," says Smoove, 47, from New York. "He's a dream character. Wandering around drinking his juice out of his cart, eating family-size bags of chips. He takes pride in looking out for people who look out for him. Somewhere in his Leonisms, it makes stupid sense. I love playing him."
Smoove, whose real name is Jerry Brooks, was born in Plymouth, N.C. and raised in Mount Vernon, N.Y. After his breakthrough on "Curb," he found minor roles in Hollywood movies including "The Sitter" and "We Bought a Zoo," and he just finished shooting a scene in "The Dictator" with Sacha Baron Cohen. He's also featured in a new NBC romantic comedy series, "Bent," with Amanda Peet, which is slated for midseason. In that one, he plays an electrical contractor whose boss is having a relationship with a client.
But Smoove would really love some Hollywood action film money.
"I told Matt Damon I'm looking for another 'Bourne Identity,'" he says. "If you ever need somebody to hit a man in the throat or break a man's arm with little effort — I would love to break a man's arm with Matt Damon. Break his calf, poke a man's eye out, all that good stuff. You chop a man in the throat, that's it," he says. "Party's over."
Talking with Smoove is a little surreal, he's naturally funny and not unlike a less crude version of Leon on "Curb." [The sample video clip below is very NSFW]
Onscreen or stage, his most obvious talents are physical comedy and his rapid-fire improvisational skills.
"Man, I feel like I'm that guy who can stand up at a boring party and turn it out, know what I mean?" he says. "[When performing live] I paint pictures onstage. I don't look at myself as a stand-up comic 'cause I break every rule in the book. I don't stand there and tell jokes, I act everything out."
It was his natural rapport with "Seinfeld" creator Larry David during a chance audition in 2006 which led to one of the great comedic pairings in recent sitcom history.
"Larry is a genius. It's like playing T-ball. You strike out playing T-ball, that's on you. It's about hitting the ball — and the damn ball is sitting right there," he says. "I'm good at positioning. I got to get the man on third home. Sometime I gotta bunt. Sometimes I gotta allow Larry to go where he's gonna go and not say shit."
It also helps that the show does not work from a script, but rather allows actors to police their own characters and develop the scenes.
"You'll notice that Leon looks right at Larry face-to-face. I'm focused on his smirkin', his eyebrows up and down," he says. "Being true to what your character does comes across to everybody. That's why people really love this dude. Producers have offered me roles that are not funny, because they see that intensity coming from a real place."
Throughout an hour-long conversation, Smoove is candid, kind and re-enacts several of his famous lines from the series. He even says to feel free to call him with any more questions, a rare offer from a national television celeb to a regional publication. Clearly, knowing B. Tuck must get you brownie points in J.B's book.
We talked some more about his stand-up act, which he is bringing to the National: "Stand-up rules are: You punch somebody in the face before you're out. Sometimes you don't get that in sketch comedy, a lot of gears have to work."
It all seems to be part of Smoove (and Leon's) hard knock philosophy of "bringing the ruckus," he explains. And even though we're on the phone, I'm starting to believe that Smoove can read my eyebrows somehow.
"It's like controlled aggressiveness. When you got a job interview, you want to bring the ruckus. You need the ruckus to meet women, get a job, defend yourself. You gotta recognize when somebody giving you ruckus to be able to retaliate with the ruckus. That's all the ruckus is — something in you built up over the years, that allows you to deal with the bullshit, to deflect the bullshit." S
J.B. Smoove performs at the National on Jan. 13 with an as-yet-unannounced special guest. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m. For information, go to thenationalva.com.