Ken Hoffman gets 'smoove' with a Curb Your Enthusiasm favorite
If you’re booked on an overseas flight and need some long-distance reading, just print out a copy of J.B. Smoove’s IMDb history. That’ll hold you till Paris.
Smoove (whose real name is Jerry Angelo Brooks) has enjoyed a 30-year career as an actor, writer, comedian, commercial spokesman, music video performer, game show judge, talk show host, and comedy club headliner.
He’s appeared in 20 movies and been a regular on 10 different TV shows. That’s him in the Crown Royale commercial. He’s the voice of Hackus in the Smurfs movie, Bosco “B.A.” Baracus in the Robot Chicken cartoon, and Dr. Ray De Angelo Harris in the Grand Theft Auto V video game.
And then there’s his role as Leon Black on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm — my favorite character on my favorite, funniest show ever. Nothing and nobody has ever made me laugh as hard as Leon “bringing the ruckus” on Curb. Smoove is performing his standup comedy show at the House of Blues downtown on Friday, July 26. Tickets are still available.
I spoke with Smoove: the first thing I wanted to know is …
CultureMap: You’re everywhere on TV, movies, and commercials. The only place I haven’t seen you is live onstage. What can the audience expect at House of Blues?
J.B. Smoove: I have a unique mix of physical comedy, improv comedy, opinionated comedy, sexy comedy, a little of everything mixed in there. If you love what I do on TV — my style, my delivery, my way of speaking, my over-explaining things like I do with Larry David on Curb — then you will love this show.
CM: How much of J.B. Smoove is in Leon?
JB: This is what I tell people. There’s a lot of Leon in J.B., and there’s a lot of J.B. in Leon. You will see a lot of Leon in my live show. We have the same delivery. We have the same opinions some of the time. Of course, I don’t live my life like Leon. But my style of comedy has a lot of Leon in it.
CM:So far this year, you’ve been in the blockbuster movie Spider-Man: Far From Home, a Super Bowl commercial, and Curb Your Enthusiasm is coming back on HBO after a two-year hiatus. Is this the best year of your career?
JB: There’s something about having a career where you drive your own car — when you pick and choose what you want to do. Hopefully, you pick things that help you shine, things that allow you to work with amazing people. I’ve had peaks and valleys over 30 years. I love the valleys, too.
I had a run where I did six movies back to back to back, like Hall Pass, We Bought a Zoo, Date Night, The Sitter,and a couple others. That’s what you want, a run of cool stuff to do. I’ve been doing Curb now for 10 years, since season six. So yeah, this has been a great year, but I look at the whole 30 years, not one year.
CM:For me, the scene that says everything about Leon is when Larry takes Leon to the set of a Seinfeld reunion. Leon notices Jerry rehearsing lines with Elaine. He turns to Larry and asks, “Who are these two right here?” Larry is incredulous. Larry says, “Jerry Seinfeld and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. What is it? You’ve never seen this show?” Tell me about that scene.
JB: The funny part was, we were improvising. Larry had no idea what I was going to say. In rehearsal, we don’t say actual lines, we just go ‘blah, blah, blah.’ We don’t want to give it away, and Larry doesn’t want to hear it. I already had it in my mind that Leon had never seen Seinfeld. I didn’t know who any of those people were. Larry busted up. We have to shoot scenes over and over because we laugh so much, and Larry is the one who laughs the most.
CM: How did you land the role as Leon in Curb Your Enthusiasm?
JB: I was in Los Angeles for one day for a memorial for a friend of mine. I got a call from my new agent. He set up an audition for me at Curb that same day. I don’t know how the universe works, but I know that being prepared is important. When I started doing standup 30 years ago, the first thing I did was take an improv class in New York. I took that class and waited for my chance to be on an improvised show.
And when it came, it was the greatest improvised show in TV history, Curb Your Enthusiasm. Everything you do has to lead to something. Taking that class 30 years ago put the tool of improv comedy in my tool box.
CM: When Seinfeld debuted, the character of Kramer was a mysterious shut-in who never left his apartment. Michael Richards put his stamp on the character and turned Kramer into a hipster doofus who knew everybody in New York. How much input have you had on Leon in Curb Your Enthusiasm?
JB: They told me later that they didn’t know who the character of Leon was until I walked in that audition. So I brought Leon to them from my imagination. Larry was at the audition, which surprised me. I did two scenes with him right there. (One of those scenes actually made it into an episode, where Larry confronts Leon about a stain on his blanket.) My instincts were right, bringing a certain style and flavor to that character. I was confident that I had a good idea of who Leon was, but that’s not enough.
My idea of the character had to work well with Larry’s character. Leon has to be a contrast with Larry. Every time I do a scene with Larry, I have to make a conscious decision, do I have his back, or do I go against him? It’s crazy how things work, if my buddy hadn’t passed away, I wouldn’t have been in L.A. that day to walk into that room and audition with Larry David.
CM: Were you a fan of Curb before you landed a role on the show?
JB: It absolutely is the most amazing feeling in the world to be on that show, especially for someone who loved Curb Your Enthusiasm from its beginning. I watched that show religiously. When I worked for Saturday Night Live, we would all sit around talking about Curb before we started working on that week’s SNL.
I would watch Curb and be amazed, wow, how are they getting away with this? How are they improvising like this and getting this show on the air? I’ll never forget my first day on Curb. Larry took me aside and said, ‘It feels like we’ve been working together for years.’ I said, ‘I think so, too.’ It comes from a few things. One is being prepared, but the most important thing is being put in the right situation to succeed.
CM:The most frustrating thing for Curb fans is having to wait so long, sometimes years, for another season on HBO. Curb debuted in 1999, but has done only nine seasons and 90 episodes since. The show took a six-year break between 2011 and 2017. Now it’s scheduled to return this year or next. Are you filming now?
JB: No man, we’ve already shot all the episodes. We’re all good now. Everybody wants to know if there will be another season after this one. I don’t know. Larry hasn’t said anything. I’m told that he tries to come up with a storyline that goes a whole season. Then he starts writing episodes. If he can do five episodes, he can do 10 episodes, and we go back to work.
I hope there’s another season, but only Larry knows.
J.B. gets smoove at House of Blues, 1204 Caroline St. Doors open at 7 pm; show is at 8 pm Friday, July 26. Tickets start at $29.50.