By Becca Scheuer
Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s favorite neighbor, comedian JB Smoove, has teamed up with Russell Simmons to host Stand Up at the El Rey, a diverse and updated Def Jam-esque series for Comedy Central.
Ever since his first performance as a contestant on The Dating Show, JB Smoove has loved bringing energy to an audience. His crowd-pleasing antics — this is a guy who boasts the phrase “Laughter, by any means necessary” on his official site — have gained him national success with his role as Leon, Larry David’s neighbor on Curb Your Enthusiasm.
He’s also written for Saturday Night Live and has been featured on the shows Everybody Hates Chris and Til Death and Louis C.K.’s 2001 cult hit Pootie Tang.
But the stand-up stage is where Smoove feels most at home. And now, he’s bringing us into his home—in the form of Comedy Central’s new series, Russell Simmons Presents Stand Up at the El Rey, a show that the veteran comic hosts using a healthy dose of the ruckus. Not totally familiar with the ruckus?
Read on. JB’s your new life coach; he’ll explain everything.
Your new show premieres Sunday. How excited are you for that?
You know, the 4th of July is a week earlier, and you know what— it’s gonna carry over to a new celebration, like stand-up fireworks. I believe in carrying over my holidays, so all my holidays go an extra week. Birthdays are an extra week, Christmas is an extra week, New Years is an extra week; somehow they’ve gotta stretch out. So we’re going to stretch out the 4th of July into July 11th. I want everyone to realize that it’s still a celebration of independence— of comedy independence. Maybe on the night when the show comes on, I’ll light some fireworks.
How did you land this gig?
It’s just building relationships. I’ve known Russell Simmons and [producer] Stan Lathan for years, and I’ve done stand-up specials for years, so it’s natural that they all kind of merged together. And when the opportunity came up, they thought about me, and it worked out great. I was free, and this was a great opportunity to become a host of not only the Def Jam kind of family, but also the Comedy Central family.
So did you watch the Def Jam comedy series as a youth?
I’ve been on the show, and I’m also a big fan of the show. So to be a host of this particular show is amazing. You know, I’m looking at guys who hosted Def Jam over the years and now I’m a part of that family; I’m a part of that whole loop. Add my name to the list.
What do you think of the term “urban comics” and how that applies to the show?
In the world of comedy, we’ve come so far. We’re so close right now. A comic can go on stage, and the world is close as far as what you can talk about on stage, or what you can talk about on TV, or what you can do on TV. Reality shows, stand-up shows, movies, TV— all of these things have pulled everyone a lot closer. Everybody kind of gets each other now. The world is in a different place right now. I’m not just saying that because Barack Obama’s the president, I’m saying it because the world is in a different place.
You’ve got white rappers; you’ve got a whole lot of stuff going on. You’ve got reality shows, like everyone can watch the Jersey Shore and get it. You know, people watch the Flavor of Love, everyone can get it across the board. There is no specific audience for anyone anymore. Everyone watches everything now. The world is closer now, and therefore the material we cover is closer. We can walk into a movie or a video store and rent anything and enjoy it, because now we all get each other. So with this stand-up show, we all get each other. There’s a diverse array of comics on stage, and everybody got laughs; everybody destroyed.
And you know why? Because the world is a lot closer. Not only was the show diverse, but the audience was diverse. Everybody had a great time. The world is in another place right now. Everybody gets everybody. I don’t believe in the word ‘urban’ anymore. I believe in diverse and well-rounded audiences and comics who can make anybody laugh.
|JB Smoove – Crime on Every Page|
After doing so much television the last few years, was it difficult to return to a high profile stand-up project?
You know, stand up’s still my bread and butter. Stand-up’s something I still do on the regular. The most I’ve ever had off in the last two years is probably one month off here and there. Stand-up’s still my thing. It’s still the best way to get your voice across. It’s that immediate response from the audience that you get— most comics can’t get enough of it. TV’s cool, but you’re kind of ‘bam,’ in and out. TV goes here and there during the week, but stand-up’s still your better place, where you roll, get the fans, so that’s still a staple.
It sounds like you like stand-up better.
I love them both, it’s just that in one, you get an immediate response. It’s two different worlds. Stand-up is in front of an audience, it’s kind of like doing a play, and you get that immediate satisfaction from an audience when a joke is funny. For TV, you’ve got to wait to edit it and then air. Even with Curb Your Enthusiasm we’d tape this year and it won’t come on until next year, so no one knows what you did until the following year. So stand-up is still the best way to get your views across, to get your jokes across, to get your performance across immediately.
You’ve worked with amazingly seasoned comedians throughout your career. On El Rey, though, you’re in a position to expose some up and coming talent. It’s a big responsibility.
It’s amazing. It’s kind of like being the captain of a ship. I’ve always been a comic that believes that comedy shows are about the entire show being great. And that’s where the host comes in; the host keeps the energy flowing onstage. It’s great to be a part of these comedians’ journeys. A lot of these people on the show are brand new comics, so for them it’s a great opportunity [for exposure]. For me it’s an opportunity to be a part of what they’re trying to get to.
I’ve done plenty of stand-up shows, but for me this is my first time hosting a stand-up show— so it’s a lot of cool first times. I’ve hosted regular comedy shows, but televised shows, me being a ringmaster is a little different. So for everybody it’s a journey. It’s part of my journey being a first time host, and it’s part of their journey being on a show like this. So for everybody it’s a great experience. As opposed to being a part of a show like Curb, where I’m just one person among a bunch of great actors and great comedians.
Because you’re more experience, do you find yourself giving younger comics advice? [ed note: check out Mike Vecchione on the show below.]
Oh yeah, of course. A lot of times when they’re kicking it with me backstage, I tell them to have a good time. If you have a good time, the audience will have a good time with you; that’s always been my rule. Just go on stage, and give your best performance and give your best energy. If the comic before you does well, just carry on the energy. Keep the energy going and have a good time.
At this point in your life, where do you get inspiration for your stand-up?
I pull from everywhere now. A lot of my stand-up is physical. I like to paint pictures on stage. I guess with my improv background, I can pick up on almost everything— that’s kind of been my thing since I’ve been doing stand up. I do a little bit of improv, a little bit of current events, a little bit of everything. I don’t have a plan when I go on stage; I kind of go off the energy of the audience. I’m the kind of comedian that if you give me a lot of energy I’ll give you a lot of energy back.
|Mike Vecchione – Crazy and Compassionate|
As much as it is about giving the audience your all, it’s also about entertaining yourself and giving off the impression that you’re having a great time on stage. If you’re having a great time then you can laugh at yourself sometimes. There’s nothing better than saying something for the first time on stage. You have to be in the moment; when you’re in the moment the audience can say, ‘He just made that up,’ or ‘That was really funny, he did that just for us.’ A lot of times, things like that happen organically and you can’t really repeat it.
On Curb and in interviews you talk about the ‘ruckus.’ What is the ruckus?
The ruckus is sort of simple. The ruckus is building blocks in your life that make you who you are. It’s also a lot of stuff in your life that makes you thick skinned. Have you ever touched a rhinoceros?
No, I haven’t, actually.
A rhinoceros has thick skin because he can take a beating. He can ram into you. He can defend himself against other animals in the jungle. If you see a tiger attack a rhinoceros, the rhinoceros is going to fight it off because it’s very hard to sink your teeth into a thick skin. The ruckus is nothing but phases that you go through in your life that make you who you are. The more you go through, the more you can handle different situations. You can handle almost any situation thrown at you. That’s the ruckus. You’ve got a swagger to yourself.
Even females, women got sort of a ruckus. Now, different people have different levels of the ruckus, but they have experiences in their lives that make them who they are and make you well rounded and give you an edge on the competition.
That’s all it is. When a man has a large level of ruckus in his body, he can approach women that are out of his league. He has so much confidence about what he’s going to say to her because his ruckus level is high. If the ruckus level is low, you don’t even bother trying to approach a woman who’s out of your league. Same thing goes for a job. If you’re going to a new job, you better bring the ruckus to that job. You go in with the purpose of being the best in that job. You don’t walk into a job half-ass, do you? You don’t want to get fired in the first week, so you go ahead and put foot to ass. You bring the ruckus. You do double the work, right? That means you’re going to move up fast in the company. The ruckus is bringing it every time, every single time, no matter what you do, bringing it.
So you’ve been using the ruckus to get up in your career?
Damn right you have to use the ruckus in your career! The ruckus moves forward, the ruckus never moves back. If the ruckus moves backward, you have to find a way of using that experience to redeem the ruckusness.
|JB Smoove – Exclusive – Meditation Lesson|
Okay, so now that I understand the ruckus, what is it going to help you do next?
The ruckus is just going to keep on moving! I’m going to attack anything that comes my way, anything that’s on the table. Stand Up at the El Rey is one thing I attacked with the ruckus. I applied myself, I dedicated my time to it, I made sure the show was going to be great, I made sure I had a good time, I made sure the audience had a good time, I made sure Comedy Central was satisfied with my performance. I made sure I brought the ruckus.
Whatever is on the list next, I’m going to attack it in the same way. Whatever goes on in your life, you attack it, you bring the ruckus. It applies to movies, it applies to TV, it applies to radio, it applies to stand-up, it applies all across the board. The ruckus applies.
Have you been working on anything?
Oh, sure. With this El Rey thing, that’s done. I just finished a movie with Owen Wilson called Hall Pass, and I brought the ruckus. That’s all done. I’m working on a TV show right now that I’m building on. I have a few movie offers on the table right now. The ruckus is a virus!