The face that makes you laugh (The Province)


The face that makes you laugh

Jon Lovitz: Standup comedy saved star after close friend died

The Province, December 21, 2007

Jon Lovitz has a face made for comedy. Which made the former theatre student’s career choice that much easier.

When people ask him if he wants to delve into dramatic roles, Lovitz says he has. The only problem? “They laugh as soon as I come on the screen if they know me,” he said on the phone from his home in Los Angeles. “I don’t even say anything and they’re already laughing. It’s kind of funny. People go, ‘I just look at your face and I start laughing.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, great. Thanks.’ But I know what they mean. It’s a compliment.”

At least he got to play at serious acting during his five seasons on Saturday Night Live. His favourite character, he says, was The Master Thespian, based on cinema greats like John Barrymore (Drew’s grandfather). Lovitz, a fan of early show business, would watch old movies and think, “I wish I could play that part.” So he’d go into work and make up a character based on what he saw.

His Pathological Liar character, whose catchphrase (“Yeah, that’s the ticket!”) was on everyone’s lips a decade ago, was similarly inspired. “I saw part of The Thin Man recently,” he said, “and I forgot how much I was imitating it.

“I like old movies because they had a lot of energy. I like people that tend to be bigger than life. I was just watching this thing with W.C. Fields and he was doing this bit with a pool table. It’s just the funniest thing ever. If you want to know what comedy is, it’s that scene. He does everything. He’s amazing.”

Lovitz teaches an acting class at the Laugh Factory comedy club and says that too many actors and comedians don’t know their history, which he thinks is a shame. “I say, ‘It’s not old school, it’s correct school!’ There are certain basics in everything. Once you know all that, then you can add your own thing on top.”

His own thing these days is standup comedy. Lovitz started out in improv and sketch but turned to standup a few years ago in large part to break out of a funk brought on by the death of former SNL castmate Phil Hartman.

“Phil was like my older brother,” he says. “I idolized him. And he was murdered and it was horrible. Basically I was depressed for five years. I did stuff but I kind of withdrew socially. And then one day I remember standing in front of my garage and I said, ‘I’m still alive.’ That’s when I started doing standup, to be honest.”

Lovitz brings his act back to the River Rock Show Theatre tomorrow. He played there last year and had a ball, even recommending the venue to his good friend Dana Carvey. But above all, he just loves the art form. There are no directors or writers telling him what to do and say.

“I really enjoy it,” he says. “You get to be funny the way you’re funny. All the responsibility of the show is yours. That’s the thing that’s hard about it for me. If it succeeds, it’s you. And if it fails, it’s you. You can’t blame anyone else.”

Not to worry, Lovitz fans, he’s not forsaking acting.

“I still want to do television and movies. But the thing is, you just don’t know when the other stuff is going to come, at least in my case. But the standup is always there so it’s a great thing to have.”