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Entertainment Music & Nightlife Midnight Sun

J.B. Smoove brings the ruckus on stage and on camera

"The Best of Leon," "My Favorite Leon Part," "Leon Awesomeness" — these are all YouTube titles. The clips are taken from Larry David's long-running HBO sitcom, "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

In the videos, David, the show's neurotic protagonist, is a mere foil. That's because the real star is 47-year-old comedian J.B. Smoove, aka Leon Black and the outspoken half of one of TV's funniest — and unlikeliest — odd couples.

Smoove, a former "Saturday Night Live" writer, has been featured on TV (Fox's "'Til Death") and on film (most recently "Hall Pass" and "We Bought a Zoo"), but it's safe to say his role as David's well-meaning braggart buddy remains Smoove's greatest achievement. Smoove, who performs his stand-up act at D.C.'s 9:30 Club on Saturday, spoke recently about his relationship with David, if there will be a ninth season of "Curb" and more.

For fans who only know you from "Curb," what would surprise them about your live show?

People might be surprised how physical I am. I like to paint pictures on stage. I like to improv. I like to make every show a little different. I don't like to dabble in anything I don't do well. I don't talk politics. What I do know is to bring the ruckus. I like to take control.

You played Trucky in "Pootie Tang." What surprises you more: The fact that the film was panned when it came out, or that it became such a cult hit afterward?

That always happens — I love that "Pootie Tang" has become a cult classic. In film, you don't know what's going to hit. It's not even race; it's a certain type of person that gets "Pootie Tang." Depending on [whom] you talk to, it's either crazy, dumb or the greatest movie ever made. I know people that force people to watch "Pootie Tang" to prove [it's funny].

How long did it take for you and Larry to really find your groove together on camera?

I'll tell you something: We got our groove at the audition. I knew who Leon was, the type of character he was going to be. He either makes a situation better or worse, but he always has your back. I came in the room as Leon, not J.B. Smoove. I came in there with my hand on my stomach and with my head tilted. I heard from a friend that Larry didn't know who Leon was until I walked in the room. We both met this character at the same time.

Our first day working together, Larry told me, "It feels like we've been working for years." That's a compliment from a genius.

What would surprise people about the off-camera Larry?

You'd find Larry is a generous, compassionate, quiet, kind of laid-back type of guy, who is not as opinionated as his character on the show. Larry is Larry, don't get me wrong. He drives a hybrid. All the things he does on the show, he does. But he can take those moments and really relate to people. Most of the topics on the show are things he really went through. It's an honest look at things, but he phrases it hilariously.

What do you know about the next season of "Curb"?

I don't, man. I've been trying to figure out what's going on. My suggestion was for Larry to do 100 episodes. Eighty doesn't look as good as 100. Larry likes to keep people wondering if he's coming back. It gives him a gauge of the climate. I anticipate him coming back. I'm looking forward to doing some more Leon. It's a blessing to be a part of this show. It's an improv show, so it really works for me.

What else do you have going on?

Right now, "We Bought a Zoo" is in theaters. The cool thing about that is it shows my acting chops. I have theruckus.com, a "Funny or Die" kind of website. It's my outlet. I have a special coming out ["J.B. Smoove: That's How I Dooz It" Jan. 21 on Comedy Central]. I have a show with Russell Simmons on Comedy Central soon, [Jan. 26's] "Russell Simmons Presents the Ruckus." It's 2012, I'm trying to push everything. I've got my hands in a lot of cool stuff. I've got a daughter in college, so I'm trying to pay that tuition. Gotta keep the lights on.

If you go

J.B. Smoove performs Saturday at the 9:30 Club, 815 V. St. N.W., Washington. Doors open at 7 p.m. $35. Call 877-435-9849 or go to 930.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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