Q&A: Comedian and Actor J.B. Smoove

Would you give your spouse a week off from the marriage? A couple of wives with zero faith in their husbands’ ability to attract women offer them seven days of freedom in the new Farrelly brothers comedy Hall Pass. “Women put guys through tests all the time,” says J.B. Smoove, who plays Flats, “the funny best friend” who hopes to live vicariously through his buddies (Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis) on their quest. “Those ladies know what they have in these two guys. Of course they’re not going to get any women. They’re past their prime. But the guys have to prove it to themselves that they still got it.”
Married for three-and-a-half years to a woman he’s been with for eight, Smoove says all men fantasize about a hall pass, “but it doesn’t mean you’re out there approaching women.” Smoove says if he had a week off from his wife he would "lay around in my bathrobe with my feet up, playing John Madden, eating what I want to eat, staying up as late as I want, getting up when I want, and taking a bath only on certain days.”

Making Hall Pass reunited him with Sudeikis, whom he worked with at Saturday Night Live when they were both writers. “I was at SNL in '04, '05 and ’06. I stayed a writer and he went on to be a cast member.” When his contract there wasn’t renewed, he went on the road doing standup comedy, detouring to L.A. to attend the funeral of a friend, music producer Oji Pierce. Meeting with his agents while there, he was sent on an audition for Curb Your Enthusiasm and aced it. He has been on the HBO comedy ever since, playing Leon Black. He’ll be back for his third season, the show’s eighth, which will split its time between New York and Los Angeles. “We shot five in New York and five in L.A.,” notes Smoove.
A big fan of Curb before he was a part of it, he says that the improv classes he took before he launched his standup career really helped him, as scenes are often done on the fly. “They do send out outlines, but I prefer to come to the set and do it on the spot. I don’t want to think about it.” Standup, on the other hand, “is all about developing your act and who you want to be on stage. Once you present your brand of humor you work it until you get it right,” he says, remembering times when he got booed off stage, including once at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater. He had a hunch things wouldn’t go well when Cab Calloway introduced him as "J.B. Slick."

Born Jerry Brooks, the comedian acquired his stage name when he was part of a hip-hop dance group in New York. “I was J. Smoove and my partner was J. Groove. I added the B,” he explains. Taking a cue from comedy idols Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Redd Foxx, and Peter Sellers, Smoove set his sights on standup and acting. These days he’s doing both, making comedy-club appearances and appearing in movies. In this August's The Sitter, with Jonah Hill and Sam Rockwell, he plays “a funny bad guy. You don’t know if I’m playin’ or not, whether I’ll kill somebody or laugh," he says. Smoove also plays a newbie realtor in December’s We Bought a Zoo with Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson, and voices a “pirate boar, the complainer of the crew” in the fourth Ice Age flick, due in July 2012.
All of the above are comedies, but Smoove looks forward to trying his hand at a dramatic role. “I think I’ll be amazing at changing that gear,” he says. “I’m really confident that I can do both and I look forward to the opportunity.”


Image:  James Dimmock/FOX

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