J.B. Smoove Reflects on Favorite ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Moments, Previews Season 11

·6-min read

Fourteen years ago, J.B. Smoove’s Leon moved in with Larry David on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and never looked back. Now, it’s hard to fathom that there was ever a season of that HBO comedy without him.

Throughout the six seasons he has been on the show, Smoove brought his swagger and signature splash of improv comedy to David’s unscripted sitcom, returning for Season 11 on Oct. 24. His character, Leon, has coined some of the series’ most iconic phrases, from “lampin’” to “get in that ass,” and his on-screen relationship with Larry has kindled some of “Curb’s” most absurdly hilarious storylines.

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This year, the actor-comedian also won his first Emmy — for acting in a short form comedy or drama in Quibi’s “Mapleworth Murders” — and will grace the big screen this December in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

Here, Smoove talks to Variety about the upcoming Season 11, how stand-up shaped him and his favorite moments throughout “Curb Your Enthusiasm” so far.

Congrats on your Emmy win! Coming up as a stand-up comedian, did you ever think you would win such a prestigious award for acting?

Oh man, I appreciate that, and no, I did not. I presented the first award of the night with a short monologue. That was my responsibility, so I wasn’t thinking about the award I was up for. About halfway through the show, my writing partner came up to me and said, “Do you have a speech, in case you win?” I said, “No”; I didn’t expect to win, and it was just an honor to be there and to be nominated.

You said on the Whiskey Ginger podcast recently that you used to watch “Curb Your Enthusiasm” with your wife and talk about how you should be on it. What about the show made you think that you would be a perfect addition to the cast?

I used to say, “I would love to be on that show one day,” and my wife said, “You’re going to be on that show one day.” I would put myself in those scenes with the cast and Larry. I definitely didn’t know the possibility of it, but when it finally happened, it felt like I was supposed to be there already. The process and how the show is built fits me perfectly. Even when I started doing stand-up, the first thing I did was take an improv class because I wanted to figure out who I was on stage and to add that tool to my toolbox. Being a fan of the show, when I heard it was all improvised, I went into the audition with guns blazing. On the show, I like to “drive the car” as far as possible, and the cast will have to reel me back in.

You’ve mentioned getting on stage at comedy clubs with nothing prepared and just playing off the audience. Is it uncomfortable or is there a sort of freedom in improvising stand-up sets?

I like taking people somewhere they didn’t expect to go. It’s like walking a tightrope. I get a tremendous high out of it. I feel the audience on me, on my skin, and the more I get back from them, the more my gears start to turn and it becomes a challenge. I’m almost performing for myself, in some sense.

Do you have a favorite improvised moment in “Curb”?

I always try to give Larry something new — something he didn’t know about. There was one scene where a girl had constipation, and I gave Larry information about some things that I’ve done: Leon shot a porno constipated, he ran a 5K constipated and he was even in a hot dog eating contest constipated and still won. These are now three things that I can draw from — I planted those seeds, and now I can go back to that any time.

Favorite “Curb” episode?

I love “The Therapists.” That was Leon in his most honest place.

Scene that broke you the hardest?

Leon doesn’t break. If I do, it’s very minimal. But Larry breaks so much. I treat it like stand-up — I’m performing for Larry, so I gotta deliver the line, deliver the joke, execute it the right way. If I laugh too much, I lose my rhythm and focus, so I try to stay composed to give Larry exactly what he needs for the scene.

Describe Season 11 in three words.

I’ll give you three different ones: We are back. Nothing has changed. You’re wrong, Larry.

Favorite Leon-ism?

I like “touché, motherfucka.”

When you get recognized in public, do people yell certain lines at you?

A lot of them will say “lampin’ baby,” but the crowd favorite is “get in that ass!”

Favorite “Curb” guest star?

My favorite season of “Curb” is the “Seinfeld” season because I didn’t know any of the people from “Seinfeld.” So how I played it was that Leon had never even heard of “Seinfeld.” I wasn’t a huge fan of “Seinfeld,” but I watched it and I enjoyed Jerry’s stand-up. But I was also a huge fan of Michael Richards, and this is post-Laugh Factory incident. I watched him on a show called “Fridays” that Larry was also on, and that show was hilarious. I was a big fan of Michael Richards because he was tall and lanky, and I was tall and lanky, and I just loved watching him. So I loved getting the chance to hang out with those guys.

In Season 7, you play a role in poking fun at Michael Richards’ Laugh Factory incident.

That’s what I love about Larry. He finds a way to incorporate the beat of whatever’s going on in our world, and he can have his take on it in a humorous way, which can be hilarious or cringeworthy, or whatever. He finds a way to make light of it, and I think people like his version because it comes from a real place.

What was the energy like shooting during the pandemic? Does it seem like Larry has more stories in him, or will Season 11 be the last?

When you add certain things to the show, like more guest stars and cast members — myself included — it’s like getting a new car with a bigger windshield, which allows you to see ahead. I think Larry can see more seasons, more episodes, more storylines, based on what he has at his disposal. The more the world changes, the more toys he has to play with. He’s excited right now — his energy is great. I would be surprised [if this was the last season]. I don’t know when Larry’s gonna stop.

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