J.B. Smoove never has to worry about becoming a Seinfeldian low talker. The man is loud, talks a thousand miles an hour and has an infectious laugh. He’s the kind of guy who makes you feel proud of yourself when you force that laugh out of him.
You might know the fast-talking comedian/actor from his recurring roles on Everybody Hates Chris or Saturday Night Live, which he also wrote for from 2003-2007. Chances are you’ve seen him as Larry David’s neighbor and foil on Curb Your Enthusiasm. If you’ve been to the movies lately, you might have caught him selling Matt Damon a zoo in, well, We Bought A Zoo.
Anyone who can go from inhabiting Larry David’s dysfunctional sitcom world to taming animals opposite Oscar nominees deserves the title of jack of all trades. Of course, at the end of the day all Smoove is worried about is making his audience laugh.
Smoove started his comedic odyssey in college. He said he “was always this fun kind of fun cat in high school,” but he wasn’t always headlining at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. like he did on January 14. In fact, he had never been on stage until he was dared to go on a dating game show by his buddies.
“I won and never took the girl out,” said the 47-year-old Plymouth, North Carolina native. “She was beautiful. I was just happy to get laughs, the satisfaction of knowing I was big man on campus for a while. I never cared about the date.”
Smoove raved about his time at Norfolk State University, where he lived in an apartment with his friends and survived on noodles.
“I always recommend people go to college,” said Smoove, who was in school for a degree in engineer designing before he found his true comedic calling. “Not just to expand your mind, but to meet people. You can’t learn to take care of yourself while still living with mommy and daddy.”
Does That Lion Like Dark Meat?
Though Smoove loves working on the boob tube, he gets a kick out of seeing himself on the silver screen.
“There’s something about going to a movie premiere and seeing yourself on the big screen,” Smoove admitted. “[Movies] are a special event. You still got to get gas in your car, get a babysitter, buy popcorn…it’s a process.”
Smoove was probably spoiled by the opportunity to work with Damon and director Cameron Crowe on Zoo. He even offered to be Damon’s sidekick in the next Bourne movie, saying he’d love to “chop a man in the throat” and “kick ass.”
“[Matt] laughed his ass off,” said Smoove through a bout of his own hearty guffaws. “We’d talk about all kinds of stuff, like having kids. You see him as a real person as opposed to ‘Matt Damon superstar.’ All us actors were in the same boat: when we’re doing a scene with a lion, we’re all terrified. Is he staring at me? Does he like dark meat?”
Working with cats, dogs and chickens is one thing. But taming a lion is a different animal (pun intended).
“Domestic animals are a little more tame and easier to work with,” Smoove said. “Lions could care less. You’re just meat to them.”
Mind Of A Mad Man
Larry David is responsible for, among other things, unleashing the concept of double dipping, “the contest,” and the Soup Nazi via Seinfeld. As a regular on his current show, Curb, Smoove shed a little insight on the inner workings of David’s sick, sick mind.
“Larry is a fun dude,” Smoove gushed about the University of Maryland graduate. “With a few tweaks here and there, he could be the same guy [as his Curb alter ego]. He turns it up a lot on the show, but he wears the same clothes, drives a hybrid and does a lot of the same things. Larry’s Larry.”
Let that sink in for a second. The real and fictional Larry David aren’t that far apart.
“He’s a character,” Smoove agreed. “You get to see how his brain works. He always comes up with something.”
What’s The Deal With Giraffe Fried Rice?
Smoove’s own standup isn’t quite as demented as anything you’ll see on Curb, but that’s probably because no one writes for him. Heck, he barely writes for himself.
“I get inspiration from being in the moment,” Smoove said about his creative process. “I go on stage with an open mind because I don’t know where the audience is going to take me. I like to make it so we’re all in this together. I dive into the ocean without knowing what fish are in there. That’s the adventure of it.”
The man knows how to riff, sometimes going 15 minutes without using one written joke. Example: a bit where he pretended to be taking ridiculous orders (like giraffe fried rice) at a fast food restaurant, using the curtain to make it so the audience couldn’t see him but could still hear him preparing those bizarre meals.
“I can make a whole world behind a curtain,” said Smoove. “If [the audience] is giving me energy, I give them energy 10-fold.”
It’s that kind of enthusiasm and commitment to his craft that has launched Smoove to the forefront of the comedy world. His mantra is one that all inspiring comics should keep in mind while they try to replicate his success.
“I appreciate the patience it takes to be patient,” said the comedian in a rare serious moment. “Just be yourself. Build off your personality. Don’t get frustrated or discouraged. Don’t be afraid to be in the moment. It’s all about building. It’s you being yourself and making you work.”