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Comedian JB Smoove Provides Life Advice To Students In Penn State Lecture

Actor and comedian JB Smoove entertained a crowd of Penn State students in the Freeman Auditorium on Monday night as part of the Smeal College of Business’ Diversity Enhancement Programs Speaker Series. 

Jamie Campbell, Smeal’s assistant dean for diversity enhancement programs, moderated the conversation between Smoove and the audience. 

Smoove started off by talking about how he values connections with his coworkers on set. He said that the most important thing to him in his field is to understand what writers, directors, camera operators, and other staff aspire to do in hopes that he never gets in the way of their dreams.

Smoove made it clear that he aims to respect those that he comes into contact with and never wants to be regarded as a “diva.”

Campbell then moved on to asking if Smoove believes he has lived up to who he was meant to be. While the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star knew he always wanted to be someone who was funny, he realized that once he gathered the courage to grab a microphone and get on stage, the other effort was hard work and drive.

The comic also touched on how he longed to be a substitute teacher so that he could “move around more” and “meet different personalities,” but he is glad that he became a comedian. 

Smoove went on to tell a story about his time on the “Pootie Tang” set, where he would sit and eat lunch with the interns of the film. He “planted the seed” for future relationships with these hard-working kids by “being nice, which doesn’t cost you a damn thing.” Smoove has since reconnected with these former interns, who are now producers and directors at various big-name production companies, and emphasized the importance of building relationships over time through networking and not “burning bridges to get somewhere faster.”

The main piece of advice Smoove gave the attentive audience during the course of the evening was to take an improv class. No matter what line of work someone is in, the comedian insisted that an improv class will help someone be in control and “drive their own vehicle” wherever they want to go. 

When asked about diversity, the comic mentioned how one needs to be “deaf, dumb, and blind” to the naysayers so they can push boundaries and be daring. Smoove then went into a story about his time performing at the legendary Comedy Store venue in Los Angeles, and how this push out west, away from the comfort of New York, led to more roles for him. Chris Rock was in the audience when Smoove performed, and two weeks later, the comedian was asked to do stand-up on the “Chris Rock Show.” 

Smoove has been involved in a wide variety of funny projects and said the amazing thing about the field is that “comedy takes the edge off of life.” Regarding his work, the actor doubled back to talking about improv and how he “performs for the moment” by playing off his audience and physical surroundings.

With this skill in his toolkit, he talked about the three things that had to happen for him to stumble upon the role of Leon Black in “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” First, he needed to fire his agent, which made him extremely vulnerable to being released as a writer on “Saturday Night Live.” Next, Smoove was watching “Curb Your Enthusiasm” with his wife, and she gave him the courage that he could be on the show with Larry David. Lastly, Oji Pierce, a music producer and friend to Smoove, needed to pass away.

These three events caused the comedian to be in Los Angeles for one day to attend the memorial service, and while he was there, he met with his newly hired agent who told him about the audition for Leon Black. If any one of these three things did not happen, Leon would have been played by someone other than Smoove.

The rest of Smoove’s time on stage involved him using different analogies such as “swinging the bat” at all the different things students can try to accomplish with their youth, “driving the car” to be in control of their lives, “growing the branches” off of a main interest to expand one’s career, and “the middle of the football field being worn out” for when life pushes someone and they have to push life back.

Jerrica Brooks, Smoove’s daughter and manager, wrapped up the conversation with trivia about Smoove’s career, handing out hats and t-shirts as prizes to those who answered correctly. Campbell closed out the lecture and presented Smoove with a small Nittany Lion Statue to thank the comedian for his time. 

Smoove stuck around to take photos with and personally speak to members of the audience. 

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About the Author

Kyra Cunningham

Kyra Cunningham is a photographer for the blog and a senior at Penn State. She is studying supply chain, hates a laugh track, and loves Taylor Swift. DM her on twitter (@kyracunninghamm) about how great her pictures are and add her on LinkedIn.

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