The Cold, Comic Crush of Mr. J.B. Smoove
The Cold, Comic Crush of Mr. J.B. Smoove
By Eugene S. Robinson
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the business of being funny is deadly serious.
By Eugene S. Robinson
Sometimes comedians have those big-ass breakout moments where all of a sudden, they’re household names. Other times you have those stealth cats who you wake up one day to discover are in everything. That’s J.B. Smoove. From Curb Your Enthusiasm to Saturday Night Live, Smoove has touched all of the bases in between, up to and including Def Comedy Jam, Real Husbands of Hollywood, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and The Simpsons. And now? The Carlos Watson Show. You can find excerpts below or listen to the full interview on the show’s podcast feed.
How Lightning Strikes
Carlos Watson: Man, you have had a beautiful run. I was just going through all the things that you’ve done. That is a beautiful run … what season is this now with Larry David?
J.B. Smoove: Larry David? Oh, this is Season 11, man. I came in Season 6.
Watson: Wow. OK.
Smoove: And I do a lot of mentoring young people. One day I was doing an interview about the Boys and Girls Club, and the interviewer actually pulled up my IMDb. He mentioned stuff that I didn’t even realize… I forgot I did. Because when you really go back, I’m 30 years in right now, maybe 31 at this point. Because my daughter’s 26, no, my daughter is 27, just turned 26, 27. She’s 26. And I quit my day job the day my daughter was born. So that shows you …
Watson: You know, I was just about to ask you that, because that, in my mind, is when you knew it was happening. So …
Smoove: That’s the moment when I had faith in what I do enough to quit my day job and say, you know what, if I want to do something, a dream of mine, I’m going to have to go all in. And I was blessed to be able to go to the city and perform after work. While I was working at my day job I actually went for an audition for In Living Color. I ended up having to fly to LA for a week and I told my boss, I said, “Man, look, you know I do stand-up after work three or four days a week. Well, I did an audition, man.”
I was already doing colleges and stuff. I said, “Look, I’m going to have to take a week off. I have to take a week off to go to LA.” So myself and six other people all flew from different places and we all had to be in LA for a week.
I told my boss, I said, “Look if I don’t come back, you know what happened. You know what the hell happened. I’ll tell you what. If you don’t hear from me … There’s two reasons you won’t hear from me: One, I got on In Living Color, and two, I hit the lottery.” That’s the only two times your ass don’t call nobody back.
Once you hit the lottery, you don’t call nobody back. As the kids say, you ghost. You fucking ghost. I’m a ghost. I hit the lottery, I ain’t coming back. “He ain’t coming back. He told us. He hit those numbers. He ain’t coming back.”
So it just shows you that sometimes, you’ve got to juggle two things at one time and you know what they tell you all the time, this is something I learned. Two things: For Thanksgiving, you got to eat before you eat. Prep your belly. And when it comes to working, sometimes you got to have a job to get a job. You understand?
Watson: You know, you been talking to my dad. OK, that’s what he would always say.
Smoove: I believe that. I believe you got to have a job already to get a job.
Birds of a Feather?
Watson: Now, which comedians did you hang out with when you first moved out to LA?
Smoove: Oh, man. Ian Edwards, Hugh Moore, Lester Bibbs. Shit, when I first came to LA, man, I crashed at Lester’s house. Lester Bibbs, a good friend of mine, at his home. He lived near the damn airport, which was a journey to get from the damn … near the airport. He damn near lived on the runway. I mean, you hear them loading up the food on the plane. You like, “Goddamn. You too close to this damn airport, bruh.”
For a stand-up it was hard to drive all the way to Hollywood, man, from the airport all the time. And going there wasn’t bad; it’s coming back home.
But every comedian you can think of, we’re all old friends anyway. So anyone who I knew who was here, everybody’s from someplace else. This is LA. So I always say most of the comedians that I hung out with on the road are from New York, and we all converged on the most popular clubs, and that was Fat Tuesday.
Watson: Now, who did you guys think back then, if I had asked you, “Who’s definitely going to make it?”
Smoove: Oh, man, that was a hard one, man. Because you’re talking about … This is after BET, this is after Def Comedy Jam. This is like next wave of … Man, everybody was hot back then. I remember back then, Nick Cannon used to come in the club. He was a young kid. Man, he must’ve been 15, 16 years old. Popping up in the club man in the green room. So it was one of those, you know, everybody performed. You name it. Fat Tuesday had everybody, man.
Any given night, you had Eddie [Murphy] popping up, you had Arsenio [Hall] popping up. You had all the greats popping up. I heard Richard Pryor was there one night; now I’m going “back” back.
And I’m telling you, anybody you could think of was in that room, man. And it was one of those things where, you know, you just wanted someone to see you. You know, know you existed back then.
But everybody you could think of. Myself, I actually came all the way to LA just to go back to New York because I ended up doing … Chris Rock, he hadn’t seen much of my stand-up, but that one night I went on at Fat Tuesday. It was him. I think it was three of them. It was like Arsenio, Chris Rock, and maybe Eddie, or maybe … I forgot who it was. It was three guys. It was three of them in one booth, hanging out, you know, all the big dogs.
And that’s one of those nights when I lit that shit on fire. I lit it on fire. Sometimes you get in the zone, you know, you just got one of those nights where the crowd is like … Your energy is up.
I actually did well enough to have Chris … I had already done The Chris Rock Show … I mean, I had already done sketches on The Chris Rock Show, but then when he saw my stand-up, he invited me back to New York to do stand-up. So I was probably the only … he’s only had three, maybe three people or maybe four people ever to do stand-up on The Chris Rock Show. So I was one of those guys who ended up going. So it’s like, I came to LA to go back to New York any damn way. It’s crazy.
Watson: Who’s your favorite comedian?
Smoove: I like Mike Tyson, man. Tyson always said, “Styles make fights.” And I’m truly someone who loves … I’ll tell you this much. I don’t watch a lot of stand-up specials. I just don’t. And for some reason, I just don’t watch a lot of them, but I enjoy seeing people live and I feel … You know why? Because I feel the audience on my skin.
It’s an eerie thing, but we feel the audience and we feel … We see where this could go. We see like, “Oh, he’s got them in the palm of his hands. They’re just fucking eating out of his hand right now. He’s just spoon-feeding these people and they are with it.” That’s the best feeling because it’s live. It’s the energy. It’s the people, it’s all the things you love about stand-up comedy, live stand-up comedy. And it’s being in the moment with these people and being in the moment with you.
But I just … I don’t have a lot of favorites outside of … I got asked this one time, who was my favorite if I had to put them on Mount Rushmore and that kind of stuff. But I truly only talk about the people … I talk about people who I love, all my stand-up comedian friends, but I also talk about the people who inspire me.
Of course, Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx, Franklyn Ajaye was one of my favorites. I just love style. And George Carlin was one of my all-time favorites. I think George Carlin … I used to play Richard Pryor albums when my mom went to work. I would get those albums out when she went to work and I would play that Richard Pryor. Man, I learned so many cuss words from Richard Pryor.
Watson: Wait, wait. Now, Paul Mooney, did you ever meet him?
Smoove: Sure, sure. I met Paul Mooney plenty of times. Amazing. Now, people love Paul Mooney. Paul Mooney is very outspoken in his comedy and he’s amazing, man. I’m a big fan of Paul Mooney’s also, and when you watch Paul Mooney, you can hear … Sometimes you can hear the writing. If he wrote for Richard Pryor and that kind of thing, you can hear it, because you just know nuances and rhythms, and content. Content also is another big thing you got to listen for in stand-up. I used to love Dick Gregory. Dick Gregory is fricking amazing.
Oh, man. He’s hilarious, but also conscious and also he puts something in your ear and lets you take some shit home with you. “Think about that when you get in the car and you go home, talk about that shit on the way home.” That kind of stuff.