Improvisation wizard J.B. Smoove forges his own path

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

In his own words, there are no rules when it comes to J.B. Smoove.

The comedian, actor, author and car enthusiast is flexible, familiar, improvisational and quick. Since his start in the mid-1990s he’s popped up seemingly everywhere — stand-up shows, sitcoms, reality television, voice-overs, music videos, films and commercials.

JB Smoove, 52, will perform at the Sound Board at MotorCity Casino Hotel on April 12.

Seen regularly on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Smoove, 52, will perform at the Sound Board at MotorCity Casino Hotel on April 12.

He attributes his success partly to being self-sufficient and taking people off guard.

“I don’t want to rely on anybody, I have to create my own path, my own little journey” he said in an interview with The Detroit News this week. “I use this thing called ‘plan your destination, improvise your journey.’ That means I’m in the moment. I deal with it as it comes.”

“How somebody else succeeded is not necessary going to work for you,” he said. “This worked for me. That would be the title of my seminar: ‘I don’t know about you, but this (stuff) worked for me.’ ”

Smoove — born Jerry Angelo Brooks in Plymouth, North Carolina — may be best known for his role as Leon Black on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” starring Larry David, which returned after a hiatus for a ninth season in the fall. At the same time, Smoove released a book in the voice of his blunt and promiscuous character Leon titled “The Book of Leon: Philosophy of a Fool.”

He says the book’s positive reception has him thinking of a follow-up.

“I think I’m going to do one more Leon book because I have to answer a lot of questions from the answers I gave ... so my next book is going to be called ‘Allow Me to Elaborate,’ ” he joked.

Those that don’t know Smoove from “Curb,” or his many recent appearances in films and television shows like “The Polka King,” “The Millers,” “Real Husbands of Hollywood” or a flurry of late-night talk shows have probably seen Smoove on a commercial.

He’s represented Crown Royal, Amazon’s Alexa, McDonald’s and more, but he says he wouldn’t endorse anything he didn’t enjoy, and he’s a natural salesman.

“Commercials are fun to do, but I like to be a spokesperson, I like to be the ultimate salesperson. I think that’s a lane that I do very well and I have fun doing it,” he said. “I don’t do a lot of things for a check. I believe in doing it for legitimate reasons and that way the money feels good.”

While commercials and films call for scripts, re-writes and a lag time between filming and release date, Smoove says he likes performing stand-up because of the immediate interaction with the audience and his ability to improvise.

He says when he gets on stage he doesn’t have a plan, and the audience won’t know what hit them.

“Detroit is going to get punched (below the belt),” he said of his show next month at MotorCity. “That’s just how I do. I don’t plan a show, I just go by what’s given to me.”

He says playing to the moment is what makes each show unique. He can’t be “a robot” and recite jokes. He’d rather create material as it happens by way of his surroundings.

“I have to dive into things that are visible that everybody can see, the obvious, (and also) the elephants in the room,” he said. “It’s like there’s one elephant sometimes, and sometimes there’s 20 elephants in that room. There’s whole herd of them! And elephants walk and they crap at the same time so I have to focus on the elephant in the room, the elephants that are crapping in the room ... there’s so many things!”

When he’s not working, Smoove enjoys his vehicle collection. Among his fleet is a 1968 Lincoln Continental, a souped-up Dodge Ram, a 38-foot Damon Outlaw RV and a 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT-8 with a personalized plate that reads “PUUUUNE.”

“‘Puuuune!’ is the fastest word in the world,” he explains. “No one every uses the word ‘puuuune’ enough.”

Smoove was recently on an episode of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” with Jerry Seinfield, who picked him up in a 1964 Studebaker Avanti.

“I just love old vehicles ... I’m not into the exotic cars, I’m into American muscle,” he said, with a caveat. “Unless someone wants to give me a ride ... I’ll take it.”


Twitter: @melodybaetens

J.B. Smoove

8 p.m. April 12

Sound Board at

MotorCity Casino Hotel

2901 Grand River, Detroit


(313) 309-4700

or 313presents.com

‘The Book of Leon: Philosophy of a Fool’

Simon & Schuster

"The Book of Leon: Philosophy of a Fool" by Leon Black, JB Smoove and Iris Bahron Black.

Spring comedy preview

Spring into laughter with these comedians coming to Metro Detroit in the next three months:

Tracy Morgan at MGM Grand Detroit: This “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live” star comes through town for a nearly-sold-out stand-up performance at MGM. 8 p.m. Sat. $62.50 and up. 1777 Third, Detroit. (877) 888-2121.

Mike Epps at Fox Theatre: Comic Mike Epps headlines the Platinum Comedy Tour with Don “DC” Curry, Rickey Smiley and Michael Blackson. Saturday nights shows are nearly sold out, but tickets are available for Sunday. 7 and 10:30 p.m. Sat. and 7 p.m. Sun. $56-$129. 2211 Woodward, Detroit. (313) 471-6611.

Lewis Black at Fillmore Detroit: Spastic Black hits the road in support of his new comedy album and DVD “Black to the Future,” which was released last year. He’s also cast in the upcoming Netflix movie “The Last Laugh” with Richard Dreyfuss and Chevy Chase. 8 p.m. April 7. $35.50 and up. 2115 Woodward, Detroit. (313) 961-5451.

Jo Koy at Royal Oak Music Theatre: High energy and a little goofy, Koy has been selling out clubs across the country. He’s been seen on “Chelsea Lately” and heard on the “Adam Carolla Show” podcast. His early show is sold out. 6:30 and 10 p.m. April 12. $37-$112. 318 W. Fourth, Royal Oak. (248) 399-2980.

Alonzo Bodden at Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle: You’ve seen New York comedian Bodden on most of the late night talk shows, and is a regular on NPR’s “Wait, Wait ... Don’t Tell Me.” Pay attention to the opening act, Detroit-based comic Josh Adams. 7:30 p.m. April 12, 7:15 and 9:45 p.m. April 13 and 7 and 9:30 p.m. April 14. $15-$20. 310 S. Troy, Royal Oak. (248) 542-9900.

Mike Stanley at Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase and Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle: This sardonic and witty up-and-coming comic has been named one of the best, not only in Detroit, but also Chicago. He has Detroit roots, but performs across the country regularly. 8 p.m. April 12 and 8 and 10:30 p.m. April 13-14 ($10-$15) at Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase, 212 S. Fourth, Ann Arbor. (734) 996-9080. Also 7:30 p.m. June. 7, 7:15 p.m. June 8 and 7 and 9:30 p.m. June 9 ($10-$18) at Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle, 310 S. Troy, Royal Oak. (248) 542-9900.

David Sedaris at Michigan Theater: More of a humorist and less of traditional stand-up comedian, Sedaris is considered a master of satire. 7:30 p.m. April 18. $52 and up. 603 E. Liberty, Ann Arbor. (734) 668-8397.

Dave Attell at Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle: Consistently funny and consistently cynical, this road dog comic returns to Mark Ridley’s for five sets. Detroit native Nicole Aimée Schreiber who is on “Funny Girls” on the Oxygen network will open and Tonya Murray emcees. 7:30 p.m. April 19, 7:15 and 9:45 p.m. April 20 and 7 and 9:30 p.m. April 21. $30-$35. 310 S. Troy, Royal Oak. (248) 542-9900.

Lisa Lampanelli at Sound Board at MotorCity Casino Hotel: The Queen of Mean returns with cutting insults and self-depreciating humor. 8 p.m. April 19. $32-$47. 2901 Grand River, Detroit. (313) 309-4700.

Howie Mandel at Sound Board at MotorCity Casino Hotel: Stand-up comic and game show host Mandel performs at MotorCity. He recently agreed to return to hosting “Deal or No Deal” which will air on CNBC later this year. 8 p.m. May 4. $45-$57. 2901 Grand River, Detroit. (313) 309-4700.

Sommore at Fox Theatre: This actress and stand-up queen — she was even in the 2001 comedy film “The Queens of Comedy” — is one of the top-grossing women comics touring today. She comes to the Fox Theatre with “Festival of Laughs,” which also features Bruce Bruce, Arnez J and George Wallace. 7 p.m. May 5. $56.50-$129. 2211 Woodward, Detroit. (313) 471-6611.

Kathleen Madigan at Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle: Known for her cutting humor about growing up Irish Catholic, relationships, politics and other observations, Madigan is a favorite at the Comedy Castle. 7:30 p.m. May 10, 7:15 and 9:45 p.m. May 11 and 7 and 9:30 p.m. May 12. $30-$35. 310 S. Troy, Royal Oak. (248) 542-9900.

Maria Bamford at Royal Oak Music Theatre: A unique comic voice, not just in material and style, but as in her actual voice, which is naturally high, but gets lower when impersonating her mother. 7 p.m. May 25. $29.50 and up. 318 W. Fourth, Royal Oak. (248) 399-2980.

Melody Baetens