‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Star JB Smoove on Trump’s Reaction to MAGA Hat Scene and His Best SNL Pitches
On this week’s episode of “The Last Laugh” podcast, the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star talks SNL, Kanye and Trump. Plus, an exclusive clip from his new show “Mapleworth Murders.”
Before we even start recording, JB Smoove is off and running.
“I use the word privy a lot, I like privy. You like privy?” he asks me when we connect on Zoom for this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast. “You throw ‘privy’ out once in a while, man, it raises eyebrows. People’s eyebrows go up with the word ‘privy.’ People love the word privy and they love ‘flabbergasted.’ When’s the last time you threw a ‘flabbergasted’ out at someone? ‘Let me get my flabbergasted ass outta here.’”
Smoove—best known for playing Leon Black for the past 13 years on Curb Your Enthusiasm—is always the funniest person in the room. That was certainly true during his three years as a writer for Saturday Night Live in the mid-2000s.
Longtime SNL writer Paula Pell, who created and co-stars with Smoove in the new Quibi series Mapleworth Murders, recently recalled that he was the only person she’d ever seen audition where Lorne Michaels “put his head down on the table he was laughing so hard.”
In the end, Smoove got passed over in favor of Finesse Mitchell and Kenan Thompson, but accepted the consolation prize of a job on the writing staff. “I’m not a writer, but I’m willing to learn,” he thought at the time. “I wanted to learn how that works, how that system works.”
Smoove became legendary at SNL for pitching the most ridiculous sketch ideas to the hosts at the beginning of each week. But even as he made his co-workers laugh as hard as Michaels had during his audition, he almost never got his sketches on the show. “I can count on one hand how many I got on the air, in three seasons,” he reveals. “Maybe two hands, but that still ain’t shit.”
It’s something he has in common with his good friend Larry David, who worked as an SNL writer for one season in the mid-’80s and only managed to get one sketch on the air the whole time he was there.
HBO recently announced that Curb Your Enthusiasm will be returning for an 11th season, but Smoove confirms that so far the pandemic has prevented them from starting production.
“Everything is so all over the place right now,” he says. “So we have not started doing anything yet. I’m looking forward to it though. I don’t know the logistics of everything, of how this is all gonna work as far as the safety precautions and stuff like that. But they’ll figure it out.”
What Smoove does know is that when the time comes, he will have no trouble becoming Leon again.
“When I get on set, I go full Leon,” he says. “There is no JB, to the point where I step out of me and step into his ass. Once I put that robe on, and those stupid-ass socks and that dumb-ass doorag, and I put my little chain on, my ‘Ruckus’ or my ‘Lampin,’’ I’m all Leon for that whole damn day.”
Watch an exclusive clip of JB Smoove in ‘Mapleworth Murders.’
Highlights from our conversation are below and you can listen to the whole thing right now by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
On his legendary sketch pitches to SNL hosts
“You’ve got to remember, I’m going in there as a stand-up. I’m not going in as a writer. So I’ve got a whole different mindset. I always went next to last. It was me and then Kenan [Thompson] would be last. I mean, you’re talking about a crowded room full of people in Lorne’s office, sitting on the floor, sitting on the arm and a chair, sitting on laps, everybody crowded into this room. So he would go around the whole room. Now I would always try to get ‘em, because when you’re a stand-up, we have a different delivery. We can paint pictures really clearly of what we want to write. So I would always play the energy in the room. And I would always stand up, and everybody would start to snicker already. I was gonna hit their ass in the throat with something.”
What Larry David told him during their first ‘Curb’ scene
“He told me ‘Don’t do it sketchy. Do it real.’ I said, ‘Oh, gotcha.’ All he had to do was tell me that one time. And from that day, that first scene we did together, he told me that, I got it. I knew exactly what he meant by doing it sketchy. Sketchy is too character-y, sketchy is a certain projection in your voice. My projection was in a sketch mode. He told me to play it real. That’s where I started playing around with the Leon rhythm and his mannerisms and expressions all the little things that make the character Leon go. I think it's amazing when you can think about something and envision it, how you would do it, and lo and behold, you end up in that position, hitting that ball that's pitched to you. And Larry underhand pitches you all the time. It’s a softball underhand pitch. All you gotta do is hit it.”
On Trump’s reaction to the MAGA hat plot on Curb
“Larry finds a smart way of getting into things without getting into things. You know, he didn't give his political opinion, but instead focused on this red hat. That damn red hat. And he found a way to make the red hat funny, found a way to make the red hat a symbol of, is that what we really want? So that's smart writing, man. He’s just a smart guy. And he finds a way to make everything relatable, which is what I think we gravitate towards as far as what makes us laugh. I wasn’t surprised at all [by Trump’s reaction]. I laughed my ass off. Sometimes you know exactly what the reaction is going to be. You knew somebody was going to say something. You don’t do something like that and nobody says anything.”
On co-starring in the never-aired Kanye West HBO pilot and his 2020 presidential run
“I’ll be honest with you, man, I never saw it. I thought it was so fun. I played his manager Gee. I found it to be fun because it was a slice into Kanye’s world. It was great seeing him in that form of a loosely scripted show. It was only a pilot, so of course it wasn’t a season. I wish it was a season. I wish we could have done something with it. I thought it would have been really fun. I’m not very political, but I just take people for face value. We hit it off and had a really good friendship. I think everybody has something that motivates them and something that drives them. All I know is a reality show dude got into office with no political experience at all. Zero political experience. I don’t know how you can put your trust in someone who has never even held a political office. How do you let that guy run everything with no experience at all? You know how many jobs you can get that are important with no experience? There are so many things wrong in this country that you really don’t know where the right is going to come from. But I do say that I trust someone with experience.”