Top Five Interview: J.B. Smoove

Actor/Comedian Chris Rock has taken to the internet and print media recently, to discuss the issues of black fame, the inclusion of black females in film/T.V., and even political events plaguing the news. His new film, Top Five, was written and directed by himself and reflects his own life in the sense that he’s a comedian wanting to do some serious work. Many big name comedians are involved and the film has been receiving large praise after the Toronto International Film Festival. Co-starring in the film is J.B. Smoove, Actor/Comedian and lifelong friend of Rock.

J.B. Smoove enjoying a nice drink.

J.B. Smoove enjoying a nice drink.

Origins of the Film

I think it makes sense because you know when you – this goes back to the thing about writing what you know about and you know I definitely, definitely see how this movie parallels you know his life, because you know you can’t help as an actor, as a comedic actor to actually think about you know what it would be like to go to the next level.

And the next level is being in a you know going into this acting mode where you feel like you’re – you would think you’d be more respected as an artist by changing your style, by going you know by doing a dramatic role.

Now, in a way it makes sense because it’s stand – in comedy, they say comedy is drama and drama is comedy.  They mirror each other because they have to.  Think about a comedian on stage you know let’s just think about this, think about the too soon phrase, right, people always throw that too soon phrase out there, right.

Well, the only people who (inaudible) too soon out there are people who are trying to make a joke you know what I mean?  No one never uses too soon in a dramatic role.  Too soon is only related to you know something funny, but no one ever says you know too soon when it’s a news story you know what I mean?

Too soon only works when – while it’s preceded by a joke you know what I mean?  So, in that sense you have to – he has to you know as an actor, or as just a person you know you like what you know about.  And I think he had to take elements how he really thinks and put in his movie.  Andre Allen is Chris Rock in this movie you know it is Chris Rock basically you know.

And anyone who knows Chris knows you know that’s kind of the situation he’s in.  Now it might be a situation where he’s going back a few years you know who knows how far he went back but how knows how long he could be working on the movie because this could have been written five years ago, who knows.

But you know it still – it still holds its weight because he is still Chris Rock, he is still a comedian, he’s still an actor.  And I can see – because I’ve been through that you know I’ve been through that as a comedian, as an actor where I wanted to do something different, but you’ve also seen Jim Carey portray serious roles, Steve Carell portray serious roles, these are all comedians you know.

They can – we can go there because in our head – in our head it’s drama, in our head.  How we project it to you is comedy.  So, in our heads – when people talk about how (inaudible) comedians talk about, yes, my dad you know they talk about their family or whatever.  When someone talks about their dad running out on their mom and they make a joke out of it.  Deep down their dad really left their mom you know what I mean?

So they have to find a way to deal with it in that manner.  Now, you can probably pick out 20 different parts of this movie and say, damn, I wonder if that really happened to Chris.  I’m sure, I’m sure a lot of it did you know what I mean?  And that, it’s probably easier for him to write it too.  It’s probably a lot easier to write it when it really happened or you really have those feelings you know.  A lot easier to write like that as opposed to you just generically starting over in writing something you know you can pull from the real of it you know.  I’m sure a lot of that stuff in that move is probably mirrored off of his life.

Smoove with Curb Your Enthusiasm co-star, Larry David.

Smoove with Curb Your Enthusiasm co-star, Larry David.

Change as a Comedian and an Actor

You know I think what it is, is in the case of Andre Allen you know this is something I always bring up that you can change your jokes, you can change a lot of things about yourself, but you keep your character.  It doesn’t matter what role you play as long as your character shines through.

And that’s one thing I think Andre Allen, in the movie, Chris Rock’s character, I think he learned that through – you know he didn’t have to change completely to come across as himself.  Do you know what I mean?  Although everyone wanted to see this character that he played all these years, other funny characters that he played – the (bad) character, I think what happens is you know not only did he slowly get away from that, he felt like he needed to do something more serious.

But, all people want to see is you.  Do you know what I mean?  It doesn’t really matter you know – it doesn’t really matter – the format.  You know we are salesmen.  You know we, as comics, are also salesmen.  We have to sell ourselves first, then, we sell our product to you.  Do you know what I mean?

So, that’s – I think, that’s one thing I think the movie kind of focused on is you know you have to sell yourself first.  And then, whatever your product is, it’s easier to sell your product because I will always know who you are already.  You know I’ll find out what you’re selling later you know?

And that’s kind of like those guys that used to sell those – sell things door-to-door.  They had to sell themselves first before they pulled their product out you know and I think that’s for anything.  So, I think those reality character and you know – and I think comedians, in general, when we’re on stage, we have to sell ourselves first.  Then, we’ll show you our goods you know – what’s my personality you know what am I attaching my personality to, what style of comedy am I attaching this personality to.

Because, I always say, anyone can tell a joke, but what happens is everyone can really tell the same joke, but how you said, tell that joke, and how I tell that joke is two different worlds you know?  It’s how we do it that makes it our signature move.  That makes it our own signature on that particular joke.  So…

Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, and J.B. Smoove at an event for Top Five.

Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, and J.B. Smoove at an event for Top Five.

 Working with Chris Rock, the Director

They are one and the same, because as a comedian who’s turned director you know they flip back and forth you know?  You have – it’s almost like they have to mirror each other.  He has to not only be in the scene, but when he’s not in the scene, he has to picture himself in the scene.  So you know for him, he has to remember his energy.  He has to remember – he has to use his eye, his ear – his ears and his vision all at the same time.

You know he has to use all these things – all these different instincts at the same time.  He has to listen very intently because you know as a director who’s in the scene, you have to be able to go back to that camera and look at the take you just shot and say, “OK.  What am I seeing here?  What am I hearing here?  You know what am I – what’s my energy like here?”

You know these are all things that he has to do double-work.  But at the same time, he has to (inaudible) hold it all in because he has two different things to care about – his own performance and he has to watch your performance.  So you know that – the difference between those two people has to remain the same because he has to keep the energy up for the scene, but he has to also motivate you to keep – he can remind himself with his own energy.  But he has to also remind you that you have to match his energy because he knows what he sees through the lens you know?

And once he steps out from – behind that camera or that monitor where he just watched the scene, he has to step back in front of that camera and be able to project it the right way, and also give you notes and tell you how he wants it.  And Chris wrote the movie.  So, that’s another level.

He wrote the movie, right?  He directed the movie and he’s in the movie.  So, even as a writer, those words have to jump off that page and come to life.  So, he has three things to do there, which is even harder to do.  You know and I truly respect Chris for being able to do all three.

You know he has to be able to get the dialogue out that he needs to explain the story.  The story must be told you know?  And then, the story must be told.  The story must be visualized and the story must be acted out.

Well you know for him, that’s an amazing accomplishment you know?  It’s great to do all three.

And that becomes your baby you know?  That’s your baby.

The cast of Top Five is all smiles.

The cast of Top Five is all smiles.


J.B. Smoove:I think he has to allow you to do that.  He has allowed you to do that as a good director and as a good – great comic.  He has to allow you to do that.  When you pick pieces like that, I means all the names of all the comedians who are in this movie, when you have people like that there’s no way you can have them come on there.  You can’t handcuff them.

You picked them for a reason, because what they gives you is amazing.  And that you know the script is bonded you know what I mean, that’s bonded.  That’s what you have to work from.  Everything else in the improv world is just the gravy you know what I mean?

There’s mashed potatoes and then, the gravy on top is you never take a gravy through Tracy Morgan you know or you know Sandler, Seinfeld, Whoopi Goldberg you know and allow them to do what they do.

There’s no way in hell you’re going to have them – on this movie and not allow them to do what they do.  You have to have some level of improve.  You know we take the scripts, it’s an amazing script that Chris wrote and we are allowed to go in on it and to make it your own you know which is what any actor would love it.

They love to have those words uttered to them.  Allow it, allow that moment because a lot of time you don’t what you’re going to get, until you get it on its feet – paper, I mean to write it out as a script and get it – get it on its feet.  Yes, there’s a lot of things go into getting that one scene on its feet.  You got to have makeup on, the right makeup, your hair has to be the right way, that the director sees it.  You know your wardrobe has got to be right wardrobe.  You know everything has got to fit and make sense and the only way to see all that is we have to see everything on its feet.

By being on its feet, I mean, we have to line the shot up and rehearse it.  You have to see what’s going to get out of this scene before you say action you know.  And I think that’s what really, really makes the scene come to life.

And Chris is smart to – Chris is smart to allow you to elaborate on the script and make it your own, you have to.  It’s like we’re getting Jordan, if you bring Jordan to your team, Michael Jordan and you tell him just pass the ball the whole game, that doesn’t sound right (inaudible) Michael Jordan, you got to let him shoot a few times you know.

More Curb Your Enthusiasm!

More Curb Your Enthusiasm!

 Comedian Origins

Oh man, I think – I think you know I was one of those kids that used to listen to you know comedy albums when my parents weren’t home you know so Richard Pryor and Red Fox and all those guys.  And I think what happened to me was I was always the funny guy amongst my friends.

You know I think what happened to me was I was almost – I don’t know about being pushed into it but it felt like you know sometimes you get this thing in your life where you kind of feel like you know where you’re supposed to be going at.  You could try a few things, here and there, but once you land on your feet and you realize what you – what you really are destined to do, I think you make it happen you know.

Even – even through the ups and downs – I think even through ups and downs you know what you want to do and you have to make it happen, you have to just do it.  You know I realized in high school that you know it wasn’t just that I was funny, it wasn’t just that you know I thought I could be a comedian.  I also thought that I could make people feel good you know.

And I think you got to have some level of that in what we do.  And I tell people all the time that the comedians we’re not just people just to give you laughs you know we’re also therapists, we are a lot of things.  We make the world manageable you know what I mean, we take things that are going on in the world, we put it in a different voice so you don’t have to say and we make it manageable.

I mean we – no one has to take the sting off of life you know I think comedians, we do that.  You know I talk to people all the time we – although we get paid to do what we do, we actually give it away for free you know because we don’t get residuals on you retelling that joke at work or you retelling that joke on the way home from the comedy club.

We don’t give residuals every time you mention that joke or you take that joke and make it your own, we don’t get paid for that you know.  So, we’re actually giving you – we get paid for that night but we’re giving you what we just said tonight on the stage, that’s for you take home with you, that’s free, that’s a free gift you know.

You know and I think you know that’s the one thing I think you do have to have some level of heart, some level of caring about people, to actually go on that stage and make them laugh you know.  I mean there are comics who really don’t give a damn about the audience, they don’t really care, they just wanted to get paid or do what they do, but you have to have some level of caring about people.

You know plenty of times I’ll come off stage or (inaudible) someone will come up to me and say, thank you, I needed that you know and I think you have to have that bone in your body where you actually care about people you know I care about you know folks you know I’ll spend half an hour talking to someone after the show you know because I want to hear their story you know.  And I think that’s what we do, we’re storytellers but we also have to have an ear to listen to stories too.

Mr. Smoove is all smiles!

Mr. Smoove is all smiles!

 Comedic Journey

You know what?  I think what really helped me out in my journey is you know I – you know I put 200 percent into it one thing at a time you know?  It may seem like I’m everywhere, but what happens is when you go from project to project you know what happens is things just happen to follow each other.

So, it seems like I’m doing everything at once, but actually, I’m putting 200 percent into one thing at a time you know I’m being smart about things that I take you know roles that I take you know because you know I’m not Shakespeare.  I’d be the first to tell you I’m not Shakespeare, but when you put me in the right situation, I’m as comfortable as a cucumber.  Do you know what I mean?

You know I think that’s what – that’s part of your journey.  You know and even when I started doing standup you know whether I did good or I did bad that night, I learned something every time I got on that stage.

I learned either what to do, what works for me, or I learned what didn’t work for me.  So, we all have to allow ourselves that little threshold of failure in order to see what works for you and what’s not going to work for you.  And we got to also remember that you know you can’t take yourself at face value.  There’s a million audiences out there.

Whether you’re you know working at corporate, whether you’re on stage, whether you’re behind the camera, whether you’re in front of the camera, your stage is limitless.  You have potential to hit so many different stages in life that you just really have to take that, understand that.  It is not over because you had one failure you know?

And I’ve got failures, of course.  I’ve had shows cancelled.  I’ve been on shows – I’ve been fired before.  But I think we have to take all of those experiences and we have to make it this one whole person you know?  And I think, in my case, that helped me a lot.  It helped me a lot by being on time.

Like, some things you just can’t – you can’t cheat.  You know being on time, being personable you know being open to change, be willing to grow, those are things you cannot – you know that you have to stick to.  That’s your core.  You stick to that core right there, your journey continues every time because you know – I’m getting a phone call from people I met 10 years ago.

You know when I did the movie Pootie Tang – remember Pootie Tang?  I did Pootie Tang and you know what?  And he was an intern on Pootie Tang who I would eat lunch with because I saw that he didn’t have anyone to eat lunch with.  Hey you know what?  That guy ends up being working in a big studio now.

And that the kind of stuff.  The phone keeps ringing because you kept your phone on, number one; and number two, you never changed your number, and that doesn’t mean a physical number.  You didn’t change.  Your number represents you as a person.  Do you know what I mean?  You haven’t changed your number, so people can always find you.  Do you know what I mean?

Smoove and Rock go all the way back to Pootie Tang.

Smoove and Rock go all the way back to Pootie Tang.

Getting Out of a Rut

You get your funny back by surrounding yourself – surrounding yourself with people who honestly care about what you do.  You know surround yourself with the laughter, surround yourself with you know this – it’s just one of those things that you do lose it.  It’s kind of like a writer gets writer’s block you know.

Writers will get out of writer’s block is he has to visual, see things, he has to go for a long walk, he has to sit in the coffee shop, just listen to people talk you know he needs activity around him to get his brain generated again, he has to hang around with people who are not like him, hang around with children you know what I mean.

Hang around – if you’re not married, hang around with a married couple.  You know there’s different things that we have to do to expand your mind.  You know we all go through a rut you know but the thing – the thing that I was talking about earlier was as long as you don’t lose your character, you can get out of that rut.

You know I’m telling you the jokes are always secondary, always.  People think that jokes come first, they really do, really, really don’t.  And anybody who’s trying to get into it, I’m telling you, the jokes are not the forefront of your success, and who you are as a person.

You can tell the best jokes in the world but if you are an a-hole, guess what, no one wants to hear your jokes you know what I mean?  It’s always joke about – jokes will take only so far, at some point that phone is going to stop ringing because people don’t want to be around you.

They’ll say he’s funny but I don’t like being around him because he’s negative, he doesn’t have a good attitude about anything, he’s putting down other comedians, all he does is compare himself, his jokes is to somebody else’s jokes you know and that right there is not going to get you but so far.

Believe me, I know a lot of – a lot of comedians who hit a dead-end you know they hit dead ends because you know not because they you know because they just don’t have the right character but in order to keep your mojo and stay motivated in what you do you know we all get writer’s block you know you’ll certainly get personality block or character block  You know you have to remain yourself throughout everything because you know once you – it’s like playing golf, that swing, right?

All you got to do is once you get that swing you know what I tell you about golf?  It’s – once you get that swing, all you got to do is remember what you just did, that’s all golf is, it’s remembering what the hell you just did to make that ball go straight and that’s what we do you know that’s what you have to do and that’s what you do.  The personality has got to shine through the jokes, so.

Smoove on set with Rock and Dawson.

Smoove on set with Rock and Dawson.

 Most Proud Experience

You know what?  I think this movie Top Five.  You know here’s what I love about Top Five.  I worked with Chris on several projects, from the Chris Rock Show, the Pootie Tang to – you know we’ve done some great things together.  I think this movie right here is great because you know when I’ve been previously casted in different movies, I played the crazy, over the top J.B.  you know?  And you know which is great.  People love my physicality.  They love my boldness, my directness.  You know that’s one element of what I do.

And people – and sometimes they forget that you are not just a comedian, but also an actor.  So, the good thing about this film is Chris cast me in this movie not as the over the top J.B.  In this movie, I’m actually really, really acting more like as an actor as opposed to the over the top J.B.

There are moments of funny J.B.  in there, over the top J.B., but in this particular movie, I think he cast me in this movie because it allowed him to be the comedian in this movie.  It allowed him to be Andre Allen.  You can’t higher – you can’t let Andre Allen be Andre Allen, but have another guy and J.B. Smoove next to him doing J.B. Smoove.

So, you can’t – do you know what I mean?  They will cancel each other out.  Do you know what I mean?

So, when he casted this movie you know he said, “J.B., this movie is going to go through you.  It’s Andre Allen, but it’s going to go through you because you’re the motivator.  You’re the guy who has the main guy’s back.”

So, I get a chance to play not just as his manager or his road manager or his assistant, I get a chance to play his friend, which is what the Andre Allen character really (beated).  So, I can’t play the traditional you know J.B. in this movie which is major for me because they allows me to move you know to move another – another level up as an actor.

Because I’m playing – I’m playing – I’m playing straight different roles and I’m playing each character with heart because I have to have a commitment to this character, to Andre Allen’s character, to Chris Rock’s character, because I had to come across like I cared about to do, making sure that we get things done, making sure about his help, his well-being, his love, his life, everything about him I have to care about in the movie and it comes across.

And I think this movie, this movie is going to open a lot of eyes to different things that I can do and I think it was great – I think it was great for me to be able to do this, to do this film.  I think this film is going to help me a lot, get it  to open other doors for me you know as an actor, as opposed to just a comedian actor.

Smoove and Rock in an interview.

Smoove and Rock in an interview.

 Working with the Best in the Business

Oh, it’s so fun.  So, the good thing about Chris Rock is he loves working with his friends.  So, this is just like a reunion of some sort you know?  You’re talking about Cedric The Entertainer and myself, Chris, Jerry Seinfeld.  You’re talking about Adam Sandler.  You’re talking about Whoopi Goldberg.

You know these are all comics, man.  These are all – Leslie Jones, Michael Che you know these are all stand-ups you know Tracy Morgan.  And what Chris loves to do is he loves to be around his friends.  And you know I think that’s with anybody.  They hate to – they hate work to be work sometimes you know?

It’s always refreshing to come to a set you know they’re familiar faces.  You have fun.  You joke around.  I mean, me and Chris just joked around you know in-between to every scene.  We just you know – we reminded ourselves of old jokes that we used to tell and we’ll be in the moment and joke around with the scene.  And you know it makes the scene easy to translate also because you know when you’re playing a character opposite Chris and he knows you already and you’re playing his friend in the movie, and you’re his friend for real, it comes off real.

The moment comes off better as opposed to actual actor actors just trying to get through a scene.  And that’s what he loves to do.  Even when he was on the Chris Rock Show, he did an article.  He talked about how he loves going to work around his friends.  And if that ended you know I guess that’s when the show would end because it wouldn’t be as fun.  It’ll be like going to a real job.

Smoove with Kevin Hart and Nick Cannon.

Smoove with Kevin Hart and Nick Cannon.

 Comedian Advice

Do you know what I think?  One of the things that I did you know – everyone has their own journey, their own process, but one of the things I felt to be helpful was the first thing I ever did when I started doing standup and also when I wanted to be a writer was I took an improv class, because one thing that improv does, it prepares you for anything and everything whether you are going to be in the business or whether you’re going to be on public speaking, or whether – whatever you did.

But, I found that to be so helpful because it put me – it gave me these skills that I can adjust myself in the moment as opposed to losing my mind you know and panicking in moments of – you know bumps in the road.  I think that’s always a great thing to do.

You know improv class is an amazing thing to do.  I think anyone who wants to be a writer, anyone who wants to be in front of the camera, behind the camera, it helps you communicate with people better.  It helps you know how manage things before you say it.  It helps you to adjust your dialogue, adjust yourself you know be in the moment, a lot freer – you know a lot freer when you know you’re in control of things.

I found that to be so helpful.  I also found out that you know networking became a major, major part and improv allows you to be able – a lot of people don’t have that ability to walk up to someone and start a conversation because they just don’t – you know they just – you know they’re gun shy you know?  And that taking an improv class definitely opens you up a little bit.

It gives you more confidence in yourself.  And I think you need that in this business to be able to network.  Also, stay creative you know?  Stay creative by only speaking or writing, or you know about things you really know about you know?  Like myself, I love physical comedy.  I love that kind of stuff.  I love being – you know I like that sort of style of comedy.

But, I wouldn’t go on stage and try to do political humor because that’s not my thing.  Now, if I had studied political humor, then, I could go on stage you know and do political humor.  But I think it’s best to speak about what you know about and you’ll be so comfortable and you can expand your writing.  You can expand – your delivery is better.

When you speak and you know what you’re talking about, it works so much better.  And it comes across when you’re talking to people – especially when you’re having a conversation with people.  They’ll say (inaudible) when they’re talking to you all the time.


What’s Next

You know I think for what I want to end up doing is, I think it’s going to be mixture of different categories of things that I want to try to do.  I definitely love being in front of the camera.  I definitely love producing and writing projects.

This movie, what Chris has done with this movie, it’s kind of inspired me to actually you know – and I know eventually I’ll get tired of travelling, doing standup and get tired of you know being in front of that camera.  I think at some point, I’ll be producing and I’ll be directing.

No time soon, but I think that’s one of my dreams is to do that.  Also, we have a company that we started called Converge where I get a chance to mold and shape some young artists.  And also, I get a chance to put on my business hat a little bit you know?  I have a chance to produce some things under our company.

And I think that’s what we all end up at some point.  When we are kind of done with performance, we have to be able to pass the baton to the next generation.  And I think not just pass the baton, but do it the right way you know to motivate people and to you know inspire creativity.

You know I think when you show a different way of doing things – because you know it’s a great business, but it can be cutthroat.  So you know I just want to inspire people and also you know pick a page out of Chris’ book you know be able to direct and write and produce you know and do some amazing projects you know that inspire people and touch people.

I think it’s all lined up for you.  You know I think I’ve built enough of a foundation that I can walk into any meeting and speak for myself.  I think you work also speaks for itself, your character.  This can always carry over, and I think I’ll be good.  I think I’m motivated to continue to do some amazing things.


Top Five Trailer

Top Five opens nationwide Dec. 12

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