If you’re unfamiliar with the name JB Smoove, then you obviously don’t care about comedy, laughter or America. The actor, who plays Larry David’s freeloading bi-coastal roommate Leon Black on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, is one of the most consistently hilarious parts of one of the most consistently hilarious shows on television. And remarkably, despite having a comic persona that begs for imitation, he has yet to become the next Sacha Baron Cohen, his best lines rendered impotent and unfunny by sloppy emulation. It might be because Leon Black is so dangerously close to being a racial caricature, and it’s impossible to do his act, especially for white people — and let’s be honest, most Curb Your Enthusiasm fans are white people — without sounding a teensy bit racist. Even Tim Meadow got confused in one episode, assuming that Leon was doing a “black guy” character. (“That’s not cool, man,” he scolded Leon. “It’s actually kind of offensive.”) But that’s the subtle brilliance of JB Smoove. You can’t tell if he’s poking fun at Larry David’s (i.e. the Curb audience’s) nervous hand-wringing about race, or if Leon Black is Jar Jar Binks with better jokes and timing.
I called Smoove to talk about the upcoming season finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm, which happens this Sunday, September 11th at 10pm. At least I think it was Smoove. There were moments when I could’ve sworn I was talking to Leon Black. And by “moments” I mean the entire interview. I hate writing something like that, because it’s lazy journalism. “JB Smoove is just like his character!” No, he’s probably not. But at least for the half-an-hour I talked to him, he really was.
Eric Spitznagel: You’ve had some great quotes on this season of Curb, but you’ve also left us guessing. Help me out with this; where exactly in New York does somebody get a croissant filled with “motherfucking champagne”?
JB Smoove: You can have anything you want put in that shit if you have the right amount of money and friends like Larry David. When you hang around with people like Larry David, you can get a croissant filled with anything you want. You can get a croissant filled with ladies, a croissant filled with champagne, anything you want or desire. Your hopes and dreams can be in that goddamn croissant. You just have to ask for it. “Hey, I need some hopes and dreams put inside this goddamn croissant.” They’ll say, “You know what? I can do that for you.” You know what I mean?
I need an address. Or at least a restaurant name.
It’s every restaurant in New York City. Every restaurant in the world. You just have to say, “I’m friends with Larry David.” How about a croissant filled with ass? You can get that! You know, the French are very open people. You know that a croissant was created by the French, right?
I am aware of that. But I’m not sure they’d like to take credit for these croissants filled with ass.
We all have different kinds of tongues. Different things taste different depending on where you’re from and your background. A black person has a different type of tongue than a white person. You might have taste buds that like frog legs or caviar. I have a friend chicken taste bud. I have a potato salad and corn bread taste bud. You understand? We all have different kinds of taste buds.
Let’s talk about your new website, the Ruckus.
Yeah, man! I love it!
The name comes from one of your most oft-quoted lines on Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Yeah, yeah. “Bring the ruckus!” You’ve got to bring the ruckus, you know what I’m saying?
Are you sure it’s the best idea to tie yourself to a comedy catch phrase? It’d be like Robin Williams opening a nightclub called “The Nanu Nanu.”
See, here’s the thing about the ruckus. The ruckus changes so much. “Nanu nanu” is just nanu nanu. Nanu nanu can only just be one specific thing. The ruckus can be attached to anything at all! You determine your level of ruckusness, you understand what I’m trying to tell you?
I’m going to be honest here, I really don’t.
You can’t control Nanu nanu. Nanu nanu is something that an alien might say. The ruckus is from the earth. Nanu nanu came from someplace else and it hit earth. Ruckus is from here, but it can launch from here and go anyplace you want to go. You get enough ruckusness, you can walk your ass on the sun. The ruckus is that powerful. Have you seen the movie Limitless? That’s what the ruckus is! It’s limitless! No one knows exactly how much ruckus you can get because nobody has ever crossed that frontier yet. You develop your level of ruckusness by the bullshit you’ve been through in life. It makes you confident and strong. It’s like a kid who got beaten by his mean daddy or his mean step daddy. It made him tough, and now he’s a UFC fighter or some shit like that. He learned how to take pain and shit. You could twist his middle finger backwards and he wouldn’t budge, cause his step daddy used to bend his finger back all the time. “I told you don’t drink my beer!” “Oh, daddy, no, daddy!” Snap!
I was watching the original ruckus scene on Curb, and if I’m not mistaken, you told Larry that you “bring the ruckus to the ladies” as a way of explaining why a semen stain didn’t belong to you.
That’s right, that’s right.
So a “ruckus” is ejaculating inside somebody?
No, no, no! When I said I bring the ruckus to the ladies, I meant to the ladies. You feel what I’m saying? Not necessarily on them, but in their general vicinity. I gets mine. Why would I ejaculate on a damn blanket when I could ejaculate all over a lady’s face? That’s all Leon was saying. He said he brings the ruckus to the ladies. And some ladies just love the ruckus all over their face. You feel me?
I feel you. So one possible definition of your website’s title, and help me out if I’m not translating this correctly, is that the Ruckus, as in the comedy website “the Ruckus,” promises to ejaculate on or in its audience?
But not in an insulting way. I’m not going to insult you as a person. I’m going to motivate you as a person.
By ejaculating on us?
Exactly! It’s not a degrading facial at all. It’s going to be amazing. This is like suntan lotion or some shit like that. You’re going to be saying, “Wow, this is wonderful! This is like Neosporin. This is going to cure some shit.” That’s what the ruckus really is. It’s medicine. I’m going to cure your ass of something. You know what I mean? I’m going to allow you to come into this world. Some things are surrounded by a moat with fucking alligators and shit. They’re not very welcoming. This site is very welcoming.
Wait, is this still an ejaculation metaphor? Or have we moved on?
Forget the ejaculate. I’m talking moats! The ruckus has a drawbridge and that drawbridge stays open. You can cross this drawbridge and knock on the fucking ruckus door anytime you feel like it, and I will open the door. A lot of people have big ass houses surrounded by gates and shit, and you knock on the door and some tall white man answers. “Helloooooo.” You know what I’m saying? You knock on my goddamn door, on the Ruckus.com door, guess who answers? My ass answers the goddamn door! I say, “What up, fool?” That’s my greeting. I’ve got a doorbell that says “What up, fool?” Bring your ass up in here and get comfortable.
I feel like the rest of this interview should just be an over-analysis of Leon Black quotes.
Yeah, yeah, I like it. Let’s do that!
There’s that great scene where Leon advises Larry to retaliate against an anti-Semite by getting into his asshole. “You pull the asshole open, step into the asshole, close the door behind you.” You could teach a comedy class based on that line alone.
Because it’s true to life!
Well, I don’t know about that.
You must distinguish yourself as a grown-ass man. Why would you allow another man to degrade you, to degrade your culture, to degrade your personality, to degrade your presence on this planet? When I first said that to Larry David on the set, he thought I really wanted him to go down there, pull some man’s pants down, open his asshole up, get inside and spray paint “Larry was here” all over his insides. But that’s not what I meant.
For one thing, it’s not physically possible.
It’s not! He’ll beat your ass before you even get his pants unbuckled! You would have to put him in a headlock and knock his ass out or some shit before you could get his pants down.
Well yeah, that. But I also don’t think Larry David or anybody else could climb inside another person’s anal cavity.
That’s why you have to get into his ass verbally. You have to give his ass a verbal ass-whupping. You got to physically defend yourself with words. Words! Make him think you’re going to fuck him up. Let him go home thinking, “Wow, that was a close call. That guy with the bald head nearly fucked me up.” You’ve got to get in that ass. You have to! The ass is a very important part of your body. The ass is the most vulnerable part of your body. People think that the brain or the heart run the body. No! It’s your ass. When you were at the sickest point in your life, where does it come out? It comes out your ass. You get the diarrhea and your ass explodes. Everything shoots out your ass because that’s where you’re most vulnerable. Nobody ever says, “I’m going to kick your heart!” Right?
That’s true. “I’m going to punch you right in the brain.” It just sounds stupid.
Who punches somebody in the brain? What a stupid fucking thing to do. But when they say “I’m going to kick your ass,” you know they mean business. Because your ass is vulnerable. Your heart has a chest cavity and shit. It has bones and muscles that protect your heart. The brain has a fucking skull. But your gluteus maximus ain’t got shit. It’s just sitting there, wide-ass open. If you lubricate it the right way, with the right amount of pressure and shit. a person could put his foot in your ass. But they can’t put a foot in your heart.
In almost every interview you’ve done, somebody invariably asks about the differences between you and Leon Black. It’s a terrible question and I apologize on behalf of journalism. But every time you answer, you usually sound like you’re answering as Leon Black, with the same cadence and timbre to your voice and the same crazy nonsensical trains of thought. Are you being meta-meta something? Is it a post-modern inside joke where you’re pointing out that you’re not your character as your character?
Look, man, here’s how it is. Leon is Leon, and I am Leon, and Leon is JB Smoove. We have to connect on some level, and we do share some DNA. But who could actually live like that? I’m sure we all know a Leon or we’ve met people who remind us of Leon. I know Leon Black exists in the world somewhere. That dude is out there, and when I get to the Curb Your Enthusiasm set and put my Leon wardrobe on, I channel him. He just comes into me and says what he wants to say. I don’t control any of it. I’m his vehicle. I’m his fucking vehicle of transportation. It’s up to me to spread the word of these Leonisms, to get these gems of wisdom out there for the betterment of mankind. I’m a motivational speaker every fucking week! Guys sit down to watch the show with notebooks and pads and shit. They learn from motherfucking Leon.
How much longer does Leon have? Will he disappear when Curb Your Enthusiasm stops making new episodes, or is he going to live on somewhere?
You know how when you watch a TV show and there’s one character that you want to see more of? You want to cut this guy open and see what his inner workings are, open him up like an autopsy. I want to do a spin-off called The Autopsy of Leon Black. You know what I mean? Somehow we need to open this guy’s ass up and see what he’s made of. What are his mechanisms? Because life is all about mechanisms, you know what I’m saying?
I’m not sure I do. How is life all about mechanisms?
There are simple mechanisms and then there are complicated mechanisms that fucking run the world. It’s kind of like when your toilet is running. You ever have a toilet that keeps running?
You mean like overflowing?
No, you have to keep jiggling the handle because the tank won’t fill up. Every day you’re jiggling the handle to make it stop running and shit. It becomes a way of life. Your wife can’t sleep, your kids can’t sleep. “Honey, go in and jiggle it.” You have become responsible for the fucking jiggle. But then one day the jiggle stops working. You can’t jiggle that shit no more. So you open the back of that motherfucker to see what the fuck is going on back there, to get a look at the mechanisms of that motherfucker, right? And it’s complicated. It’s a pulley, it’s a goddamn stopper, it’s a fucking floater in that bitch. And it’s all attached to that fucking jiggle handle. Then you start fucking around with that goddamn mechanism inside there. You put your hand in there, you fuck around with it, you get some tools and start loosening and tightening shit, “maybe it’s this, maybe it’s that,” you go to the store and buy another goddamn floater, you put the floater on there and shit, “maybe this is the problem,” but your wife told you, “Don’t fuck around with that goddamn mechanism.” She wants you to call a professional, a professional who knows how to fix the goddamn jiggle. A plumber or jiggler-fixer, whatever, I don’t know what they call it in the goddamn phone book. All he does is fix the jiggle in your goddamn toilet bowl. That’s his whole job. But you don’t call him. You’re back there fucking around with that goddamn bowl, and now you’re responsible. You’re responsible for that fucking mechanism in the back of that toilet bowl because your ass decided to do it yourself. The shit is still fucking running, and now you can’t jiggle it no more, the jiggle don’t work no more because you fucked around with that mechanism.
Are we still talking about Leon?
That’s all I’ve been talking about! Somebody needs to open his ass up and see what his fucking mechanisms is. How he runs, what kinds of nooks and crannies does this man have, what kind of screws does he need to run? We don’t need to call in no plumber. Just peek in there and take a look. If we end up breaking him and the jiggle don’t work no more, it doesn’t matter. He wasn’t even real! Who cares if we broke him?
Trust me on this, JB. If you pitch your idea to HBO exactly like that, using that entire “jiggle the toilet handle” analogy, there is no way they won’t make your show.
I may just do that. The world needs to know about the inner mechanisms of Leon Black. We need to do more than jiggle his handle. It needs to be a TV show! That’s all I’m saying.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in VICE magazine.)