The actor, TV host, writer, and stand-up comedian is a busy man. “I’ve been lucky enough to throw a bunch of things against the wall,” Smoove says. And over the past few years, a lot of those things have stuck.
Smoove is probably best known for his role as Leon Black on the HBO comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm. He is the unexpected best friend/uninvited house guest/outlandish life coach to Larry David. It is an unusual pairing, but Smoove and David have an amazing comedic relationship that results in some of TV's most profane and hilarious moments.
Smoove is currently on his Lollygagging Comedy Tour. We spoke to him ahead of his gig at the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center on Friday, October 11.
The New York native is no stranger to South Florida. He visits occasionally to see friends and family, and recently he was the embodiment of how Hollywood portrays Miami in the movies.
“Last time I was there, I was with a friend, she had a birthday party on a boat. Maybe eight or ten of us rode out to South Beach [and] ran around. We had jet skis on the beach, rode around the water on the Jet Skis, came back, had lunch with a private chef — great birthday celebration.”
But it isn’t all Pitbull and Will Smith music videos for Smoove. In addition to touring and his commercial work — highlighted by a TV spot for Crown Royal Vanilla, another a McDonald's ad with Ken Jeong featured during the Super Bowl — Smoove finds time for charity work with the Boys and Girls Club.
“I grew up in the Boys and Girls Club. I’ve been going since I was 10 or 11 years old. For me, this is a lifelong commitment,” Smoove says. He speaks to us from Washington, D.C. where he is preparing to host a fundraising gala for the organization that also features actress Taraji Henson and NFL cornerback Josh Norman. “It’s a fundraiser, but also at the same time, it’s honoring the Youth of the Year.”
Smoove may be a Boys and Girls Club hall-of-famer in real life, but he’s also guiding the youth of America on film, albeit in an alternate universe. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, that is.
Smoove was one of the two teachers that led a school field trip through Europe in Spider-Man: Far From Home.
“Being in it was just an amazing thing to be a part of. The Marvel Universe is just amazing. I got to do two different things for them.”
The first of those projects was an Audi commercial Smoove filmed with Spider-Man himself, Tom Holland. In it, he played a driving instructor who administers Peter Parker’s driving exam. The spot actually led to Smoove appearing in Homecoming as science teacher Mr. Dell.
“I kind of wished it on myself. I was watching the Avengers movies and I thought, I gotta get in one of these movies. Then I got a phone call to be in Spider-Man: Far From Home. I guess it does work, throwing things out into the universe and seeing what comes back to you.”
Whether it’s car commercials or big studio tentpoles, Smoove has been catching the eye of plenty of casting directors since his turn on the less-than-family friendly Curb Your Enthusiasm. It’s the R-rated version of Seinfeld and in so many ways a better show, thanks in large part to the improv nature of how it’s filmed. Although a general outline is provided for each episode, nearly all the lines are unscripted.
Did Smoove come up with any great lines they couldn’t use?
“Oh plenty of times,” he says with a laugh. “When you start improving, it requires just as much listening as it does speaking. We do a few takes, and it’s kind of like putting a puzzle together for Larry since there is no script. So, in his mind, while he’s in the scene with me, we gotta tiptoe through it, but we go as hard as possible... and then we pull back.”
The very nature of this process means the actors themselves are creating the larger narrative of the show.
“Sometimes you come up with a line within that scene that ends up being a callback later or a part of another episode,” he explains. “You said something that stitches it together.”
Sometimes, something Smoove said would leave David in stitches.
“Larry is the worst," Smoove says. "I hold mine in."
Smoove says he tries not to break. "I gotta go at it like a standup — we hear people laughing all the time, but that doesn’t mean we laugh because the audience is laughing. If you did that every time, it would seem like, OK, he’s laughing too much at himself.”
On the set of Curb, Smoove explains, there's a plan for overcoming the breaks — they do what’s called cross-shooting. Individual cameras are focused on both actors, so if one of them breaks up and the other doesn’t, they won't lose the entire scene. Smoove, it seems, is better at keeping his composure. From there, he also knows he's got Larry David where he wants him.
“In my mind, I’m trying to do my delivery," he says, "just giving it everything I got." But he's also thinking – the gears turning, turning.
And then he's got it, Smoove says. "I’ma make a snot bubble come out of Larry’s nose.”
JB Smoove. 8 p.m. Friday, October 11, at Lauderhill Performing Arts Center, 3800 NW 11th Pl., Lauderhill; 954-777-2055. Tickets range from $25 to $45 via lpacfl.com.