You may know him from playing Leon on Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" or as Will Arnett's cameraman on the CBS sitcom "The Millers," but J.B. Smoove (born Jerry Brooks) was a veteran of the New York comedy scene for years before breaking into television and film. That's where he met Chris Rock, appearing with him in the 2001 comedy "Pootie Tang" and on Rock's semiautobiographical show "Everybody Hates Chris."
In Rock's latest movie "Top Five," Smoove plays Silk, childhood friend and ersatz publicist to Rock's megastar comedian Andre Allen. Over the course of a day, Allen visits his old New York stomping grounds while being interviewed by Rosario Dawson's reporter with Silk close behind.
"He is one of my favorite comics because of his pace, his style, his edginess -- I love what he does," Smoove said about his longtime friend. "He always likes to work with his friends. People underestimate the feeling you have when you're off camera and you're just hanging out."
Because of this, Smoove thought it impossible for them to do scenes like Allen visiting his family, as played by Sherri Shepherd, Tracy Morgan, Leslie Jones and others, exactly as written. "People should feel like they're in the movie, on the sideline watching what's going on," Smoove said. "When I'm watching a movie and I hear people go crazy, that means they're paying attention."
Although he's been spending a lot of time in Hollywood, Smoove still considers himself a true New Yorker. "This is the city where everything happens and the perfect place to shoot this movie, because this is where comics get their reps."
"Doing a show like 'The Millers' was great," he said about the short-lived sitcom, which took him out of his improvisational comfort zone. "It gave me a chance to work on my chops and work with some amazing people. Our show felt like a real family, because everybody got along, and we had a really good group of people."
Written and directed by Louis C.K., "Pootie Tang" bombed after being trashed by critics, yet years later, it's considered a minor cult classic. Feeling it was ahead of its time, Smoove compares it to the "Saturday Night Live" spinoff comedies. "When people bring it up, they either love it to death or can't stand it. You can't take a comedy seriously. It's made to entertain you; it's not meant to solve a world's problems."
Smoove's dream project is to break into the late night talk show circuit. "I think J.B. Smoove can shake it up a little bit. I would ask things that the common person would ask. 'I know what you do but who the hell are you?' That's what I want to know."