‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Star J.B. Smoove Reflects on Landing the Role of Leon, Shares Advice to Larry David About Ending the HBO Comedy

The actor, comedian and writer credits his wife, Shahidah Omar, for manifesting the opportunity before he joined in Season 6

JB Smoove and Larry David in Season 12 of Curb Your Enthusiasm
JB Smoove and Larry David in Season 12 of "Curb Your Enthusiasm"

Long before landing the role of Leon Black on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” J.B. Smoove was a massive fan of the HBO comedy. He credited his wife, Shahidah Omar, for manifesting the opportunity years ago.

“I believe we were watching the Krazee-Eyez Killa Wanda Sykes season. I was in tears,” he told TheWrap. “Being someone who loves improv, I said this s–t is crazy that they’re able to do this. But never in my greatest dreams did I think I would be on probably the greatest improvised show ever. And I’m sitting there like, this s–t is so goddamn funny, I’d love to be on that show one day. My wife said, ‘You’re going to be on that show one day, I see you and Larry together. You do that kind of stuff all the time, you always say crazy stuff. I think you guys would be funny together’ and put that into the universe.”

While the character has become one of Smoove’s most iconic roles, the comedian, actor and writer opened up about the series of unfortunate events that took place on the journey to achieving his dream of getting on the show. 

JB Smoove and Larry David in Season 12 of Curb Your Enthusiasm
Curb Your Enthusiasm, Season 12 (CREDIT: Max)

In 2003, Smoove became a staff writer for “Saturday Night Live.” He would work on “SNL” for three seasons, occasionally delivering the show’s monologue or appearing in a sketch, while also pulling double duty appearing on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.” But when his contract at “SNL” came up for renewal, he was let go, prompting him to fire his agent and push the reset button on his career. He would go on to get a new agent and, while visiting Los Angeles to attend a friend’s funeral, opportunity came knocking. 

“I met them in L.A. and I walk in talk to them, I said, ‘I’m ready to get back in front of the camera again from being a writer.’ One guy comes in and says, ‘Hey man, I’ve got an audition here.’ I say, ‘What’s it for?’ He said, ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm.’ I said, ‘Get the f–k out of here, I love ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ that’s crazy,’” Smoove recalled. “He said, ‘How long are you in town?’ I said, ‘I’m leaving town tomorrow.’ He said, ‘Can you go right now?’ I said, ‘I can go right now.’”

He proceeded to go audition for Larry David and the show’s creative team — fully in character. 

“I already had in my mind who this dude was. I walked in as the character, I shook the whole f–king room up, went in there talking s–t to Larry. I was talking major s–t, too. You would think I wouldn’t get the role the kind of s–t I was talking to him. I came in with the mannerisms, everything and they just started laughing immediately,” Smoove said. “Me and Larry were laughing through every frickin’ scene that we did. We did two or three and we laughed our asses off.”

After the audition, Smoove went straight from L.A. to Pittsburgh to perform standup at a local comedy club two hours away. But those plans quickly changed. 

“The club owner and I got into an argument and I said, ‘You know what man, I can’t do this weekend. Why don’t you find somebody else?’ He found somebody else in Pittsburgh to take my place. I did one show out of five, it just didn’t work out,” he said. “I started driving back to Pittsburgh, it started f–king snowing like I had never seen before. I’m an East Coast guy, it was a f–king blizzard. I’m driving slow, my face pushed against the windshield, I couldn’t f–king see.”

“Then my agent calls me and says, ‘Hey man, where you at?’ I said, ‘Hey man, I just left that terrible f–king comedy club that you booked me at. Me and the guy got in an argument so I’m driving back to Pittsburgh, getting a safe ass room and getting on a plane in the morning,’” Smoove added. “He said, ‘Slow down, you’re doing 15 miles an hour, do 10 miles an hour. Get back to the hotel safely because I need you to come straight back to L.A. because you booked ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm.’”

Curb Your Enthusiasm JB Smoove Larry David
HBO

After joining in Season 6, Smoove became a breakout star in the supporting role of Leon Black and would eventually be upped to a member of the main cast. 

“I do believe that you wait for your opportunities and when they come you just swing hard. It’s easy to turn down, it’s hard to turn up. So I always go in high and if they like it, they’ll say, ‘Hey, we love that. Can you pull back a little bit?’” he said. “Everybody knows how to pull back a little bit. Nobody knows how to turn the f–k up. No one ever says, turn that s–t up. When someone tells you turn that s–t up, you turn it up so f–king high that they get shocked … so I just swung for the fences.”

With the exception of the final season of “Curb,” Smoove revealed that he’s never watched episodes of the show ahead of time in order to continue enjoying them as a fan. 

“I want to sit down on my goddamn couch in my f—ing boxers again, even though I’m on the show, and watch that s–t with my friends and have a viewing party and see it for the first time,” he said. “This is the first season I’ve actually watched every episode before it came out, only because it’s the last season and I want to watch it with my with my costars. But other than that, I remember I didn’t want to hang around and see who the guest stars were. I would do my scenes and get the f–k out of there because I didn’t want to spoil it.”

He also purposely skipped reading outlines for the episodes while filming. 

“I would just get what the scene was when I got there. I didn’t want to read it. I would talk to the writers and say, ‘OK, what’s happening here?’ and for some reason I got it better when they told me in the moment and I would process that s–t as quick as hell,” he said. “When you’re in a scene with someone like Larry or anybody on the show, I’m performing right there in the moment. In my brain, I’m on stage trying to make this guy laugh. If you notice, Leon kind of has a standup pace when he’s in the scenes. He’s painting pictures, he’s always explaining s–t to Larry. He can say some s–t directly to Larry or he can go all the way around and give Larry a whole song and dance.”

When asked how he feels about Season 12 being the HBO comedy’s last, Smoove said he personally doesn’t trust that David is done for good. But he admitted that he gave Larry some advice about bringing the show to an end back when Leon was first introduced. 

“Even after six seasons, it’s hard to find shows that go that long and it made it 12 seasons. But when I got on the show originally, we didn’t have streaming services, it was a box set of DVDs. I said, ‘Think about how your box set is going to look. What’s your favorite number? Maybe it’s seven, maybe it’s eight’,” Smoove recalled. “This is even before I knew I was going to even be a part of future seasons. I didn’t know what purpose Leon was serving in Season 6 because sometimes these seasons are one-offs and Larry moves on to a completely different storyline the next season. This is just me speaking as a fan and I’m just curious to know how long he was going to be doing the show.”

“He said, ‘I don’t know, I’m getting older’ and I said, ‘Think about how it’s going to look on a shelf. Box six, whatever your number is. Pick a good number that means something,’” Smoove continued. “And look at us now, we’re at Season 12.”  

He also credits David for the show’s longevity and long-lasting impact on the comedy TV genre. 

“There’s a need for Larry’s brilliant mind to take the intricacies of life, real s–t, the cringe-worthy moments in life man, make them relevant and make them funny. How do you do that s–t man? And ‘Curb’ has not wavered in that style even in the PC world we live in,” Smoove said. “This f–king genius Larry David has found a way to make this s–t funny, build an audience of people who are free minded and be real about how people react to other people. That’s a gift to be able to do something like that and put together amazing people around him.”

In addition to Smoove and David, the Season 12 cast of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” includes Jeff Garlin (“The Goldbergs”), Susie Essman (“Broad City”), Cheryl Hines (“Suburgatory”), Richard Lewis (“Anything But Love”), Ted Danson (“The Good Place”), Vince Vaughn (“Wedding Crashers”) and Tracey Ullman (“Tracey Ullman’s Show”). The show is executive produced by David, Garlin and Jeff Schaffer, with Laura Streicher and Jennifer Corey serving as co-executive producers.

New episodes air Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on HBO and stream on Max.

Comments

One response to “‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Star J.B. Smoove Reflects on Landing the Role of Leon, Shares Advice to Larry David About Ending the HBO Comedy”

  1. David Perry Avatar
    David Perry

    The greatest show in history Larry is brilliant we all mourn The loss of Richard and the end of pure genius Curb Your Enthusiasm

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