Smoove had not skied in 10 years but figured he could get away with starting halfway down the slope in Park City, Utah, with his skis tilted together like a slice of pizza to carefully go downhill. David wasn’t having it, insisting he would start from the top of the steep hill for the charity fundraiser hosted by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. What unfolded next, Smoove said, could only be described as “a ‘Curb’ moment” — inevitably, something bad happened to David in real life as it regularly does on the show.
“Larry proceeded to fall four times before he got to the bottom of the hill,” Smoove told The Washington Post, adding that he was making snow angels while he waited for David to mercifully complete his skiing struggle. “You know how cartoon characters fall and roll and become a big-a-- snowball? I thought Larry was going to become a snowball himself; that’s how many times he was rolling down that damn hill.”
Luckily, Smoove has largely avoided “Curb” moments worthy of the show’s unmistakable tuba-heavy theme in the 14 years since he joined the HBO series. Instead, the fast-talking New Yorker with high-end fashion sense to match his loquaciousness, has reached new heights thanks to his role as Leon Black on “Curb,” where he’s formed a celebrated and often-quoted comedic duo with David, the show’s creator.
Smoove, 55, is seemingly everywhere these days, in part because of his role as spokesman for Caesars Sportsbook, a gambling and fantasy sports app whose aggressive marketing campaign has made the comedian an inescapable presence on TV and Twitter. And his stardom has soared even more after he recently won his first Emmy for his role in Quibi’s “Mapleworth Murders” — which is both great for his career and more complicated for his home life.
“All my shelves in the house are more narrow than the Emmy. The Emmy is sticking out over the edge!” he said of his trophy for outstanding actor in a short form comedy or drama series. “I don’t want the Emmy to feel like it’s on the edge of a cliff, you know what I mean?”
Now, Smoove will step back into the role that made him a household name when “Curb Your Enthusiasm” returns to HBO for its 11th season on Sunday. The show, which last aired toward the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, jokingly acknowledges in its trailer that while the world has changed much amid a tumultuous time, David’s character — awkward, idiosyncratic and repugnant — has not. Neither has Smoove’s character, even if the comedian’s profile is climbing.
“Every day with J.B. on set is Christmas because we get to sit there and unwrap all of these presents that he gives us,” said Jeff Schaffer, the show’s executive producer. “He deserves all the success he has because he’s earned it.”
Smoove, whose real name is Jerry Angelo Brooks, recognized early in life that being offbeat and unconventional, and telling stories injected with humor and profanity, allowed him to connect with people in a lasting way.
“If you can laugh at it, then you can remember it. If you overthink it, you can’t remember it,” Smoove said. “You’ll be like, ‘What did that guy say?’ You can’t remember anything they said because it’s too deep. But if it’s related to a joke? You can retell a joke any time.”
Years before he found stardom, Smoove was not unlike the character he’d eventually play: unemployed and directionless. He had recurring roles on “Cedric The Entertainer Presents” and “Everybody Hates Chris” until the shows were canceled, and he found parts in early 2000s films like “Pootie Tang” and “Mr. Deeds.” His contract at “Saturday Night Live,” where he was a writer for three years, was not renewed after the 2006 season. He ended up firing his agents, wondering whether he was meant to catch a big break. Then, while in Los Angeles for a friend’s funeral, Smoove got an unexpected call for an audition for “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” a show that his wife, Shahidah Omar, had predicted he’d be on one day.
When Schaffer developed the Blacks, a displaced New Orleans family that David’s character takes in following a hurricane, he had no intention of casting someone for the long term. That changed the moment Smoove entered the room.
“He walked in as Leon, sat in a chair, sort of reclined and looked at Larry, and had the part before he opened his mouth,” Schaffer told The Post. “The way he just looked at Larry, we were laughing.”
What made Smoove an easy fit in a show of comedic workhorses, Schaffer said, was the instant chemistry he had with David, another former SNL writer. Smoove attributed their bond to a Jedi-like ability for improv and riffing.
“I knew I belonged there,” Smoove said. “Even after our first day together working on the show, we were in-between scenes and Larry said, ‘It feels as though we’ve been working together for years.’ I said, ‘You know what, Larry? We have. Somehow, our spirits have met somewhere before, and somehow we have met in this time period.’”
His presence was noticed immediately in the show’s sixth season, when David’s character recounted to Black how he had slunk out of a doctor’s office after a white supremacist called him antisemitic and homophobic slurs without pushback. Black did not console David’s character or ask him how he was feeling, but instead demanded in a rant that his neurotic friend tear that bigot’s life to shreds the next time he sees him.
“Get in that a--, Larry!” Black repeatedly exclaims.
Smoove would take improv with David to a higher level, often dropping in nuggets about Black’s unknown origin story in the process. In the ninth season, for instance, Black mentions to a baffled David the many things he’s done while constipated, including running a 5K race, winning a hot dog-eating contest and shooting an adult film. Moments like these are why Conan O’Brien, Smoove’s friend, said on his podcast that the Black character is Smoove with extra layers of BS. Co-star Richard Lewis, a comedy legend, touted the “Curb” star to the Ringer as “one of the funniest comedians and comedic actors of my lifetime” and a “genius.”
At the heart of his rise, one that includes a recurring role in Marvel’s latest Spider-Man movie saga, is his relationship with David. And although Smoove’s dance card is full nowadays, he maintains he wants to keep playing Black for as long as his friend wants to continue the show.
“Part of me can’t help but think that Larry is [keeping ‘Curb’ going] as a grudge or something ‘cause I told Larry when he took five years off, ‘Larry, if your a-- don’t come back, spin me off! Spin Leon’s a-- off!” Smoove said, joking that his character would do quite well with his own show if and when David decides to call it quits. “Every time I say it, Larry laughs, telling me he was gonna hold off. … The people have spoken, Larry! The people have spoken!’”