by John Wenzel on April 16, 2010
Not all comedians are proud of their early work, often preferring to focus on recent roles in order to obscure the older characters and associations that might still be following them around. But not Jon Lovitz. The 52-year-old comedian and character actor is proud of his relatively short but career-defining run on “Saturday Night Live” from 1985 to 1990, where he introduced scores of memorable characters.
We peppered Lovitz with some questions via e-mail in advance of his headlining sets tonight and Saturday (April 16-17) at Comedy Works South about his touring schedule, his own comedy club in Hollywood and his advice for young comics.
(Lovitz returned his answers in all caps, but in the interest of not making it look like he was screaming those answers, we decided to put them in regular upper-lowercase.)
How often do you get out on the road each year? Or does it vary by year?
It varies, but this year I’ve been going out a lot more. I was in Dubai a few months ago, which was very interesting and a lot of fun. It was my first time performing outside of the United States and Canada. I never imagined my stand-up would take me overseas.
You perform regularly at your own club in L.A. Tell me how that got started and what the background on it is. Had you ever owned a business like that before? Is the one in San Diego still open?
The one in San Diego was promoting shows at an existing nightclub. That’s been over for a year and a half. I now have my own club, The Jon Lovitz Comedy Club at Universal City Walk in Los Angeles. My business partner, Frank Kelley, used to manage The Improv in Irvine (Calif.) We became friends and decided to do a club together. Our club is different in that it has a Hawaiian theme to it, complete with a set designed by Bruce Ryan (Bruce is one of the top set designers for television in Los Angeles). It has palm trees and beach huts. There’s a huge back-round painting of Waikiki and Diamond Head Beach. Wyland, the artist, is a friend of mine. He donated us 14 paintings to put up at the club. The idea is you walk in and you go on a mini vacation in Hawaii and then see a funny show and relax and have some laughs.
What’s the best piece of advice you give to young comedians when they ask you about the industry?
You have to work your butt off. Know,, you can always get better. Every show I do, I have a goal. I take what I learned from the last one and apply it to the next one. And never, ever walk through a show. You have a responsibility to the people who bought tickets to see you to do your best every time. You won’t have a perfect show every time, but you go for it… every show.
How would you describe the tone of your stand-up material to someone who’s only familiar with you through TV and films? Do you do characters (new or old) on stage?
I don’t perform any characters from the past. The show is really just me… who I really am. I make fun of myself, religions, celebrities, politics, men, women, sex… anything I think is funny, I put it in the show. And at the end, I play piano and sing funny songs. If you gave my show a rating, it would be “R.” I would describe the tone of the show as smart and silly… but mostly, silly.
Your run on “Saturday Night Live” seems disproportionately short compared with how closely you’re associated with the show. In fact, it was only a relative slice of your career, but that’s where you arguably cemented a chunk of your audience. Do you ever feel like it’s a hindrance or only a help?
Only a gigantic help. I have a career because of “Saturday Night Live.” And that’s where it started. Everything I’ve gotten, from movies, television and stand-up audiences, is because of that show. I feel very lucky and fortunate that I was ever on it. It was a wonderful five years of my life.
What haven’t you done yet — creatively or otherwise — that you’d still like to try?
Well, honestly, stand-up was something I’ve wanted to do since I was 18. I only started it six years ago. I finally the courage to go for it. I felt like Grandma Moses, who started painting when she was 75. I was at least 15 years older than all the comedians at the club. Jamie Masada, the owner of The Laugh Factory in Hollywood, was very generous to let me develop as a comedian. I met Dane Cook there. He was very supportive and encouraging to me, just a great guy and a great stand-up. So that really helped tremendously. And Dana Carvey, one of my best friends, gave me some tips that saved me at least 8 years of developing as a stand-up. You can look me up on MySpace and go to my blog on career advice. I say how to start as a stand-up and list Dana’s tips, amongst others. Other than stand-up, I’ve pretty much done everything in acting… movies, television, Broadway, sketch comedy, sitcoms, dramatic one-hour specials… so to finally become a stand-up was, and continues to be, very satisfying.
Who are some of your favorite young comedians coming up right now?
At my club I see a lot of unknowns, but great comedians… Ian Bagg, Darryl Wright, Quinn Dahle… these are just a few, all hilarious.
What do you think of the state of stand-up comedy as compared when you started out in comedy during the 1980s club boom (and then bust)? How do you think it’s changed, and is it for the better or worse?
I only went to clubs back then. I would get up onstage once in awhile for maybe five minutes and bomb. I had no material. it takes at least ten years to become a stand-up. It feels like it’s been back and getting bigger than ever for awhile now. And as usual, there are just a handful of stand-ups who are truly great. The Internet, of course, has now made the performer, in any genre, accessible to the whole world. So the potential audience is just huge now, to say the least!
What’s up next for you after the Denver gig?
I did a movie in June called “Casino Jack.” It stars Kevin Spacey as the lobbyist Jack Abramoff and comes out in October of this year. I can honestly say, it’s really, really good. We’ve had screenings and people love it. I feel proud just to be in it. After Denver, I’m doing more stand-up… Cleveland, Masschusetts, Chicago… and of course, my own club. It’s going to be a great year!
Jon Lovitz plays Comedy Works South tonight at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. and Saturday at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $32. Visit comedyworks.com for more information.
John Wenzel is the editor Get Real Denver, co-editor of the Reverb music blog and an A&E reporter for The Denver Post. His book “Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny” was recently published by Speck Press. He also maintains a Twitter feed of random song titles.