It’s been a week since “Curb Your Enthusiasm” ended its eighth season on HBO – the third season in which star Larry David had a sidekick of sorts, the irrepressible Leon Black.
Leon, played by comedian JB Smoove (yes, it’s a stage name – his given name is Jerry Brooks), had another big season as the seemingly rootless and free-loading Leon, who nevertheless has ingratiated himself so completely into Larry’s life on “Curb” that he even followed Larry to New York this past season to live with him – rent-free, naturally – as he did in past seasons in L.A.
In a phone interview, Smoove, 46, let us in on how things work behind the scenes at “Curb,” the unlikely chain of events that led to his landing the Leon role, his favorite Larry-and-Leon scenes, and what he – JB – watches on TV.
Here’s what he had to say:
How did JB Smoove become Leon? As happens often in show business, his casting sprang from an unlikely twist of fate – the death of a friend whose memorial was to be held in L.A. in August 2006. So Smoove went there for a quick, two-day stay – learned of “Curb” auditions happening at just that time, went in at the last minute and bowled over Larry David.
Smoove: I went in there and I said, ‘Larry, let’s do it, baby!’ [before the two improv’d on a few speculative scenes]. Larry [later] told me on our first day working together that he didn’t know who Leon was until I walked in the room.
So who is Leon?
I know guys like Leon, guys that kind of live in the moment. They take advantage of you, but they give you so much that you don’t feel like they’re taking advantage of you because they’re so cool to be around. [Larry] puts up with him. The thing about our relationship that makes it work on camera is that, you know, Leon is like a condom in your wallet – you don’t know you need it until you meet that dirty girl. Or [to put it another way], you gotta go in and fight a ticket and you want somebody to go with you to fight a ticket. Leon’s a good ticket-fighting friend.
Who came up with the idea of you addressing Larry as “L.D.” on the show?
You know who did? I can’t take credit for that one. That was actually Vivica Fox [who played Loretta Black three seasons ago]. Vivica came up with calling him L.D.
What are your favorite scenes with Larry?
What happens on the show is I never remember what I did because it is improv and it’s in the moment. So when I watch ‘Curb,’ I don’t even remember saying stuff because it’s so in the moment. Like one of my favorite ones is ‘Somebody gotta get f***** up, Larry,’ when Larry wanted me to snatch a purse and he said I’m just gonna run by and I’m gonna snatch the purse, I’m gonna start runnin’ and Larry’s gonna tackle me and try and get the purse back. So I said, ‘Whoa, wait a minute. You gonna f*** me up?’ I said, ‘Somebody gotta get f***** up’! ‘Gettin’ that a**’ is also a favorite that’s funny to me because Larry [the character] didn’t know what gettin’ that a** meant and I had to explain it to him in the scene.
What do you watch on TV, JB?
What do I watch, man? You know what I like? I like classic stuff. I like ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ – the variety of characters was so amazing to me. Old TV shows – I study this stuff. You know who I love too? Peter Sellers. Peter Sellers is my man. I could watch any ‘Pink Panther’ movie, I could watch any movie he’s ever done. I’ll tell you why. I believe even when I’m doing my standup or my acting or whatever I’m doing, I believe in painting pictures. That’s why, as blunt as the Leon character is, when he’s explaining something to Larry, you see it – it’s verbal, it’s dialogue, it’s improv, but you see what he’s talking about. Peter Sellers painted pictures, man. He took simple things and made them come to life.
What other TV shows?
I love ‘Sanford and Son,’ I love ‘Bewitched,’ I love ‘[I Dream of] Jeannie’ – to me, those shows were great. They made me laugh, man. It was different than it is now – so different – these shows, they were seen as entertainment and no one took ’em seriously, no one took ’em to the point where they take ’em now. Nowadays, they put shows on and you don’t know what they’re trying to do with them. Is it entertainment? Are we supposed to watch them to be entertained and have fun? We can’t decide what’s entertaining anymore. ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ had some of the most vibrant characters I’ve ever seen on a TV show in my life. To me, that show had everything – Floyd the barber, Barney. I met Don Knotts, man, years ago. I met him at The Comedy Store [in L.A.]. He was sitting in the back of the room, man, watching the show. I said, ‘Mr. Knotts, man, I don’t want to bother you. I was and still am a tremendous fan of your work. Man, if they ever do a remake of “Andy Griffith,” I would love to play Barney!’