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JB Smoove, comic and torturer

Date January 20, 2012

New York (TheWrap.com) - JB Smoove, whose standup special "That's How I Dooz It" debuts this weekend on Comedy Central, says comedians are like torturers.

"We always have bad intentions for our audience," says the "Curb Your Enthusiasm" star. "We want you to laugh, but we also want you to piss in your pants, we want you to shit on yourself, we want you to have a good-bad experience. You paid 10 dollars for that drink but we want you to spit it out. We want you to spill it on the table. We want you to leave with soiled pants and hurt cheeks. We want to hurt you with laughter.

"It's like I'm a torturer in medieval times," he adds. "I want to torture you until I get out of you what I want to get out of you."

Even Larry David isn't safe in his scenes with Smoove. The 47-year-old, born Jerry Brooks, has played Larry's houseguest and consigliere, Leon Black, for the last three seasons of "Curb."

"If you ever notice, sometimes Larry smirks a little bit?" he says. "That's because I'm trying to kill him. I'm trying to verbally kill you."

Improvisation is the key to Smoove's comedy, not just on "Curb," but also in standup sets he tries to personalize for every audience. "Curb" famously gives actors only an outline of each episode, so they have to fill in the dialogue themselves. But even an outline can be too much preparation for Smoove, who thrives on not knowing what he'll do next.

That means coming up with lines like "That's how I dooz it, Larry" -- which inspired the title of his special -- off the top of his head.

Smoove, who also appears in the movie "We Bought a Zoo" and the upcoming NBC sitcom "Bent," talked to TheWrap about improvising with David, audiences, and just two guys standing on a corner.

TheWrap: Larry David was asked last week what makes him laugh, and he said, "JB Smoove... He got the part just by looking at me." Is that true? And who makes you laugh?

Smoove: "That's very true. Because when I walked into the room to audition ... I gave him exactly who I thought Leon was. I gave him the look I thought a guy like that would give him. A guy that's jumping in feet first to a different world. I'm a brother who's staying with an older Jewish guy. I just gave him this funny look and we both started smiling a little bit. I think we felt something. ... Larry told me after our first day it felt like we'd been working together for years. Sometimes you get that. You get lucky sometimes.

"What makes me laugh? Larry makes me laugh. I was a big fan of the show before I was on it. ... I used to laugh my ass off at Larry David's TV show."

The Wrap: Do you find that the things that make you laugh in your everyday life are the same things that make your audiences laugh?

Smoove: "I do. I think what I do in my acting world and what I do in my standup world is bring up a brand that I want to bring across. Once you figure out your brand and what you do, it's kind of easy at that. You end up getting your audience.

"Which is what happened with Larry ... I just gave Larry a look. Which is funny to me. I'm big on facial expressions and I'm big on mannerisms, which I find to be hilarious. I'll drive down the street and I'll practice improv. I will sit there at a red light and see two guys talking to each other, and I will just start playing both characters. I can't hear them, but I can see their mouths moving, so I'll just put words in their mouths. I'll see two white guys and I'll give them both brother voices, like, "Hey man, what's goin' on with you, playboy?" It's just a way to keep you on your toes."

TheWrap: How do you come up with the great Leon lines, like "I bring the ruckus to the ladies" and "That's how I dooz it"?

Smoove: "Everything you hear me say on the show, unless Larry needs some specifics as far the direction of the episode, everything you hear as far as Leonisms are straight off my head. Those are me just channeling Leon.

"When I get to the set and I put my Leon outfit on, I become Leon. Everything you hear from "get in that ass," "I dooz it," "I bring the ruckus" -- those are all things that I feel are things Leon would say. When I'm in Leon mode I'm in full Leon mode.

"All these are powerful statements that motivate. A guy like Leon has very little. But he has a lot of pride. He can inspire you. ... When he tells you something, you get it, but you don't get it. You get him in a way because you understand where he's coming from. He's trying to help you in the only way he knows how to help you. A Leonism that fits the situation.

"I don't like to telegraph anything with Leon. I like to come into the set kind of fresh. I don't want my outline emailed to me the night before. Because I'll start thinking about it too much. It's a high I get from just jumping into something without knowing what I'm going to do yet. I get the best, most spontaneous reaction I can give you Larry because I'm trying to make myself laugh also. I don't like to come onstage so prepared that I'm unprepared."

TheWrap: Where does your drive come from? You started in comedy clubs - is there a sense of, 'You're not going to beat me'? Or is it just that that's who you are?

Smoove: "That's just who I am. But I also feel like, you're not going to beat me at anything. It's not that you can't beat me -- it's just that what I do is so unique that I do what I do well. I tell people all the time: Do you. Do you (know yourself) so well that no one else can do you like you do you.

"I've had jokes stolen a thousand times. But if you can do it better than me, you can have it. I've had jokes stolen from me in the club when I'm next on stage. And my brain will start to turn and the gears will start turning and I'll go onstage and create a whole new bit.

"You will never see the exact same show. Because I work off what I hear from the audience, I work off the energy from the audience, instead of working off my memory and my jokes.

"It's kind of like a race car driver. They never run the same race twice. You have to change lanes. You have to cut somebody off once in a while. You don't want to. But you have to cut somebody's ass off. 'Cause you either drive through their ass or go around them. And sometimes you have to drive through people.

"That's How I Dooz It" premieres Saturday at 10/9c on Comedy Central.

(Editing by Chris Michaud)

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