Once he realized he was meant to be a performer, J.B. Smoove moved to Los Angeles and landed a recurring role on MTV’s “The Lyricist Lounge Show,” as well as featured guest spots on “The Chris Rock Show” and “Premium Blend.”
But today, the comedian, actor, writer, producer and director might well be best known as Leon Black, the foul-mouthed, rambunctious, freeloading roommate of Larry David on the HBO hit sitcom, “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
“There’s definitely some Leon in JB, but there’s no J.B. in Leon,” says Smoove, preparing for his stand-up gig at the Parx Casino on July 20. “There’s certain things Leon is good for, such as bringing him along to fight a ticket. Or a guy to help you breakup with a girl. I think everybody needs a friend like that.”
And even though they may be nothing alike, Smoove managed to write a book about his alter-ego: “The Book of Leon — Philosophy of a Fool.” Smoove originally intended to write a book about himself, until one day David suggested a book about Leon might be well worth the trouble.
“And so I thought about it, got permission to do it, and began writing the book,” Smoove explains. “And you know what? It turned out to be a lot of fun. I can say whatever I want to say and just blame it on Leon. I did the book in Leon’s voice, in first person as Leon, and talked about all kinds of things that were important to him.”
And then, in the sitcom itself, there was the whole process of adding a Black family to the story line.
Smoove says he believes it helped move the show along as well as adding to the demographics.
“I think it made the show more real,” Smoove insists. “Like when you watch ‘Friends’ and realize there’s no Black friends on the show or on many other shows. I think it pulls our show together and allows the real world to be represented. I also think it gives us more longevity because we’re connecting with all kinds of people now.”
Born in Plymouth, North Carolina, but raised in Mount Vernon, New York, Smoove eventually ended up living in the Levister Towers Housing Project, along with his mother and his siblings.
“Growing up I was inspired by everything — comedy, music, it’s all part of my stand-up routine. I was always the cut-up guy in high school, always joking around between classes and at parties. I loved to hear people laughing.
“But the hardest part for me was walking out on stage,” he continues.”They say if you can walk on stage you’re halfway there. And I do believe that’s true.”
And now, aside from all his triumphs with his comedy, Smoove says he looks forward to working behind the camera and directing.
“Stand-up can be fun but it’s also hard. There’s a lot of traveling, and lots of shows to do. It can take a lot out of you. Right now I’m in talks about a development deal with Fox. I’m writing my own show,” he says. “We’re going to do a pilot and that’s the fun part of all this. It’s getting to do your own show.”
Smoove is all about expanding his horizons.
“And that goes for making movies too. So who knows? Maybe someday I might even become a big movie star,” he says. “But as far as stand-up goes, I want it to be something I want to do as opposed to something I have to do. And as long as that’s the case I will keep going up to that mike in hopes of making people laugh.”