A Long Convo With… J.B. Smoove

Movies & TV

You may know J.B. Smoove as the loudmouth mooch Leon Black on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. The dude whose family, the Blacks, moved in with Larry David after being displaced by Hurricane Edna. With his sly comebacks and sheer absurdity, the actor/comedian injects life–and some scene-stealing moments–into the already hilarious series starring the Seinfeld creator. Speaking over the phone from L.A., JB let VIBE in on what to expect this season and also talked about his chemistry with LD, getting into character, and the audacity of Leon Black. –Clover Hope

VIBE: The seventh season of Curb Your Enthusiasm premiered on Sunday. How many episodes will you be in?
J.B. Smoove: Oh, I think I’m gon’ be in about five or six out of the 10. We got some good stuff coming up. We got the Seinfeld cast as you know. So everybody’s participating in that. I think this might be one of the most watched seasons since the show been on. People anticipate Curb anyway, but I think Seinfeld adds a whole ‘nother audience to it.

And people love your character a lot.
Yeah. [Laughs] That damn Leon’s a fool, boy.

In the first episode, Larry’s relationship with Loretta seems to be crumbling. Anything you can divulge about what happens between them?
You know what, I think Larry’s getting that buzz for his old girl. I think Larry want his old woman back. He’s trying to seek everything that he’s missing. But you know Loretta’s a certain kind of personality. A White dude can’t handle that kind of Black woman. Vivica Fox’s character is that kind of Black woman. You saw the finale last season right? She cussed Susie ass out so bad, man. It was so real-looking it didn’t even feel like it was a show. It felt like, damn she just cussed her ass out!

How does Leon show up throughout the series? A lot of back and forth with Larry again?
Oh man, I tell everybody Leon is like a condom in a wallet. You need a dude like that around. One of those guys that lives day-to-day all the time ’cause he’s not thinking about tomorrow. He’s barely thinking about today. You need that guy to go with you to fight a ticket. You need that guy to go pick some money up that somebody owes you. You need that dude around to point you in the right direction. And it’s a nice level of Leonisms this season that’s gon’ help navigate Larry through life.

What’s your favorite Leonism? [Soundboard of Leonisms]
“I get in that ass,” “I brings the ruckus,” “That’s how I dos it.” I think that’s gonna be the name of my comedy special. It’s gon’ be called “J.B. Smoove/Leon Black: That’s How I Dos It.”

Long-ball Larry, did you come up with that?
Yeah, yeah. Long-ball Larry. Larry had long balls, you know. Leon’s good for that. Leon will attach a name to you in a heartbeat. Whatever fits the situation.

Are there ever any improvised jokes that are too raunchy to make the air?
Anything I said that didn’t make it?

[Pauses] You know what, no. Hell no. It’s HBO. We say whatever the hell we wanna say. You know, Larry’s like one of those people who goes and buys those thousand-piece puzzles.

I used to have one of those.
You remember that shit? You buy the scenery or the picture you like and you buy a box of that shit. It’s like a thousand pieces in that mug. That’s the same thing that happens on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Before we edit, there’s like 10 different versions of every one of those scenes and Larry takes a scene that he wants to use that makes sense in the story for the whole 10 episodes. He’s that dude putting them damn puzzles together.

Do you even have to get into character when you’re acting as Leon?
Hell no. I come onto the set as Leon. I step out the bed, you know, sometimes I wash my ass–sometimes Leon don’t even wash his ass. Sometimes Leon just get up, he go in the fridge, he ain’t wash his hands. He’s handling your sandwich meat and shit, making sandwiches. Leon is trifling. You gotta get into a right frame of mind to be Leon. A lot of the other cast members know the storyline before they get to the set. Me, I wanna get to the set and find out right then and there what I gotta do. Just tell me what mood am I in? Am I getting in Larry ass? Am I being nice to Larry? So I gotta step out of J.B. Smoove’s character and step into Leon sometimes.

Are you in the episode with the Seinfeld reunion?
Yeah, yeah, I’m definitely gonna be in there somewhere with the Seinfeld reunion. I don’t know how he’s gon’ edit it but I’m definitely in there.

Did you expect to have a long run on the show?
You know what, I think… It was weird. I think [Larry] knew what he wanted to do for the season but I think as we went along we started added things. Me and him hit it off so well–as a matter of fact, my first day on the set he said that it feels as though we’d been working together forever. He said it’s comfortable and we have a good time and I think last season they started adding more scenes for me and Larry to do.

What’s your favorite episode?
I think my favorite episode from last season, the scene where Larry wanted me to snatch a purse from a doctor.

Do people come up to you and quote Leon all the time?
Oh, all the time. The range of people who get Leon is amazing. Anyone from skateboarders to brothers to sisters to damn businessmen, Black, White, Asian, fat, skinny–anybody you can think of, they get him. And all walks of life, from policemen who pull you over for a speeding ticket to doctors, dentists… My damn dentist didn’t recognize me until I opened my goddamn mouth! I’m in there with my mouth open, he’s like, “Are you Leon from Curb Your Enthusiasm?” He had me all exposed. I’m telling you, there’s two places where you are the most exposed: when you’re sitting on the toilet, a when you in that damn chair with your mouth wide open. You know I’m right.

That’s true. [Laughs] Have you gotten any criticism for your portrayal of Leon?
None yet. Coming from a real place, Leon is an everyman type of dude. Everybody knows a Leon. He comes in all flavors. Hell, I know plenty of them. I knew who Leon was before I walked into the room to audition. I think anyone who’s not afraid to be real and tell it like it is opens themselves up to criticism.

You were on another series, ‘Til Death. Is your character not on the show anymore?
No, I’m not going back to ‘Til Death. I just did that season and that was a lot of fun. I had an overall deal. After Curb Your Enthusiasm last year, I got a Sony deal, which involved a writing deal, an Internet deal, ‘Til Death, and me going into development of my own show if ‘Til Death ever goes away. So right now I’m in the middle of my development with Sony.

So that’s the new thing people should hopefully look out for–your solo show.
Exactly. So once this Curb Your Enthusiasm season is over, hopefully I’ll have my show all done and ready to roll. We gon’ shoot a pilot and roll from there but whatever it is it’s gonna be that flavor, it’s gon’ be coming from a real place, and it’s gonna be catered to my style and what I do. And I would prefer to do HBO or another cable network. I wanna get loose. What I really would love to do is a Leon spinoff. I would really love to know where the hell Leon came from. A prequel, like where the hell did Leon come from before he got in Larry house? I wanna call it Leon Black: How We Dos It.

You should pitch that.
I think a Leon spinoff would be off the chain. I think HBO would love it.