JB Smoove is responsible for some of the most hilarious lines on television as Larry David's fast-talking, frequently misbehaving housemate Leon Black on HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm. But Smoove's glib appeal isn't courtesy of a script. The 46-year-old actor/writer/comedian has the profanity-laced, verbal stamina of a man half his age, readily producing unexpected metaphors to illuminate particularly important points.
Forgive us for giving into the waiting pun, but, yes, JB is a smooth talker. Which may be why director David Gordon Green saw him fit to play Julio, the loyal sidekick to a flamboyant drug dealer (played by Sam Rockwell) who terrorizes Jonah Hill in the new R-rated comedy The Sitter. And, according to Smoove, that's the same reason why acclaimed director Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire) choose him to play a charmingly compassionate realtor alongside alongside Matt Damon in the family flick We Bought A Zoo (in theaters December 23rd).
Complex caught up with the animated entertainer to chat about the perils of babysitting, the visceral reaction he craves from audiences during stand-up performances, and what it truly means to "bring the ruckus." Though we still have no idea what it means; like we said, the man is a fast-talker.
Interview by Shanté Cosme (@ShanteCosme)
The Sitter centers around a babysitter who isn't equipped for the task. Have you ever looked after someone else's children?
Babysitting is a challenge. That's some horrible shit right there. When you're babysitting a kid, all you're seeing is a version of them, a small dosage. All you're doing is getting a glimpse of a little asshole before they become an adult asshole. You're seeing pre-asshole, before they become a full-, sized, functioning asshole in life. They're a little kid, so you don't want to call them an asshole, but they are out there! They're bred early.
What was it like working with Jonah Hill? Did you have to show him the comedic ropes?
That dude is off the hook. I learned from him. The man is fucking good. He was born to do this shit. He's super professional and surprisingly physical. He's a great physical comic.
And, have you seen that guy lately? That dude looks amazing right now, like Jake Gyllenhaal. I like that it was a gradual thing. It's kind of like the guy at the office who had grey hair for years and he starts using that Grecian foam and gradually goes from grey to charcoal to black again, and no one really notices it. You know why? It's a slow burn. You don't want to lose "I'm on crack" weight. You want a gradual, slow, healthy burn.
It was your first time playing a villain. Was it a nice change of pace to play the bad guy rather than the funny guy?
I like being a bad guy! I'm a damn good bad guy. I like chasing people. When I did We Bought A Zoo with Matt Damon, I said we should do an action movie together because I want to chop somebody in the throat. I want to kick ass in a movie. I'm putting it out there right now! I like threatening people and stopping them and saying, "Imma kill your ass!" That right there, that echoes!
We Bought A Zoo is a big, dramatic production that was a major shift for you in terms of what you normally do. Was the material more demanding than what you're used to?
It's great when a director like Cameron Crowe can take what you do and fit it into what he's doing. If someone's a fan of you already, they can take what you do and make it work for what they're doing. You don't know their vision, and you're thinking, how is this guy going to take what I do and make it work in this movie? But It takes a great director to see the pieces of the puzzle.
It's a major movie, and I'm just happy that he saw something in what I'm doing that could add some levels to his movie. Because there are so many levels in the movie, and no matter how serious it is or how it looks, you still need levels.
Will we see more of your dramatic side in the future?
Some of the best dramatic actors have started in comedy. A lot of comics take tragedy and pain and turn it into funny. There are always levels to a comic. You have to be able to turn that switch on and off when you need it. It's like when you're growing up and you get immunized to protect you from bullshit diseases. When you're a comic and you're on stage, you can feel terrible, you could have been through a whole lot of shit just before you went up on that stage, but somehow you have to gather yourself and you have to turn that energy into something different.
Your stand-up routines are certainly different. What inspires your act?
Comics acquire pieces throughout their life and experiences that we apply to our material. There are comics that do jokes and comics that use experiences. Anybody can tell a joke. It's how you apply that joke to your life and your style. To be a true comic you have to have a signature move. You ever watch wrestling? And your favorite wrestler has the one move that he always does to finish his opponent off, right? Like when he climbs on the rope and he always jumps off the top rope and finishes off his opponent—that's what a comic has. Every comic should have a signature move that people recognize that's always there.
So what's your signature move?
I'm a physical comic, so my finishing move is I never have a finishing move. My thing is, you'll never know. You have no idea what I'm going to say. And you can apply that to your life. Never let anyone known when you're finished doing what the fuck your doing. Then when you leave they'll be like, "Oh, shit, I had no idea she was finished." That's how you do it. No matter what you're doing—I don't give a damn if you're making love, I don't give a damn if you're buying a car, talking shit, or playing. Whatever you're doing in your life, you never let them know when you're finished!
What kind of reaction do you hope to get while performing?
You're trying to make someone vomit. You're trying to make somebody spit their drink on somebody in front of them. You're trying to make someone wet their pants and you're trying to make somebody crap in their pants. That's the motivation of a comic. Who else has that power?
Funny people aren't going to make you swoon or throw your panties on the stage. If you find a comic who's done that, he's broken a new level in stand-up. Laughter generally does not make you take your panties off.