The usual path: Entertainers use stand-up comedy to vault to television and movie projects.
Jon Lovitz took the road less traveled — the opposite path — and will perform two stand-up comedy shows Saturday, April 2 at Cain’s Ballroom.
Lovitz is a “Saturday Night Live” alum (1985-90) with an extensive list of television and movie credits. He was in his mid-40s when things slowed down. He wasn’t broke, but he figured he was on a pace to run out of money in five years.
Lovitz asked his reps to get him some work. The response: “Why don’t you sell your house?”
“I was so mad,” Lovitz said during a phone interview this week. “I said ‘screw that.’ I always wanted to be a stand-up, but I was too afraid or nervous to try it. It forced me to do it. Otherwise I would’ve just gone back to being broke again, you know, because they just gave up.”
And that’s the story of how Lovitz — approximately 13 years removed from SNL — decided to become a touring stand-up comedian.
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“A lot of guys in my position, they will work on an act for a month or three months and then they’ll just go out and they don’t know what they’re doing and they’ll sell tickets, but they have no act,” he said.
“I said ‘I’m not doing that.’ I took like two years and slowly worked my way up to the full act. Now I know what I’m doing way better than I did in the beginning. It’s night and day, you know. I just did a show with Howie Mandel, who has been doing stand-up since the ‘70s, and we are friends, but he goes ‘oh, my god, you just blew me away, how good you were. I can’t believe it.’ But I have been working on it. I never walk through a show. People are paying money that they earned to see shows. I think you have to put on the best show that you can.
“But it’s fun to do, too. I like making people laugh. It’s weird. Most comedians, you ask them that and it’s never their answer. I don’t know why. Making people laugh, that’s what I like. … It’s the best feeling in the world.”
Lovitz has had the itch to do comedy since he saw the 1969 Woody Allen film “Take the Money and Run” when he was a kid. A few years later, he saw Dustin Hoffman star in “Lenny,” a biographical film about comedian Lenny Bruce.
Lovitz felt compelled to check out the “real” Lenny. He went to a record store to purchase Bruce comedy albums and chanced upon a “Woody Allen Nightclub Years 1964-68” stand-up comedy album. Lovitz listened to the albums and performed material from them for fellow collegians when he was a student at UC-Irvine.
“Without realizing it, I was learning about timing and jokes and how to write them,” he said. “I was learning just by doing their routines. The routines were really funny, so I got a lot of laughs.”
Lovitz gravitated to the Groundlings comedy group and was hired at SNL when Lorne Michaels returned to helm the show following a five-season absence. Despite being a grizzled Groundlings and SNL veteran, Lovitz said he was still scared to death when he began his stand-up comedy career. He went to the Laugh Factory and told owner Jamie Masada he wanted to try stand-up. Masada: “OK, you’re up next. Lovitz: “What?”
Lovitz said his legs felt like lead and his heart was racing as he walked up steps to the stage. “I asked Dana Carvey, who is one of my best friends and is a great stand-up, I said ‘how do you get over that fear of getting up on stage?’ And he said, ‘You don’t. You’ve just got to keep getting up. That’s it. And slowly it will fade away. That’s all you can do.’ And it worked, but it takes a while. You’ve got to know what you are doing. It takes a long time to learn.”
Lovitz, who loves doing stand-up, said he is grateful he is still working and that people remember him and come to see him. Go to Cain’s Ballroom to catch him in action. But…
“If you’re going to go to a comedy show, you need to have the ability to laugh at yourself and, if you don’t have that, just don’t go,” he said. “It’s our job to satirize everything, you know? When people get mad when you are satirizing things, it’s a little ridiculous. It’s like getting mad at an airline pilot for flying the plane. That’s his job.”
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