"I know comedy and I know how to tell a joke and timing and all that. But that's far different than, say, putting together a whole act for an hour. Because then you're not just telling one joke or talking on one topic. You've got all different topics and you've got to figure out what order to put the show in and you're going, 'Cut out the fat, cut out the fat.' It's fascinating art."
– Jon Lovitz
Guy MacPherson: I understand that you're fairly new to standup comedy.
Jon Lovitz: Yeah, well I've been concentrating on it the last couple of years. I always wanted to do it for years. I used to do, like, Woody Allen and Lenny Bruce routines in my college dorm. At various times I was going to try it after college. And a guy teaching a workshop at the Comedy Store said they're not hiring standups for sitcoms. And I said, "Really? You think they would. You guys are funny." And he goes, "Ah, you'd think they would, but they're not." Years later I realized they weren't hiring him. I was about to do it when I was in the Groundlings theatre right before I got Saturday Night Live. I started doing it for like five minutes there but then I got the show. Dennis Miller used to say, "You could do it" and he'd bring me to Catch A Rising Star. But I just was too... I'd get up a few times for a minute or five minutes. It's a very frightening thing to do. My heart was just pounding in my chest. Finally a couple of years ago I'd get little jobs hosting. Kevin Nealon and Norm Macdonald and Victoria Jackson, they all were standups and so there'd be like a Saturday Night Live[-themed] and they'd be like, "Do you want to host it?" So I'd just do like five minutes. So I started off like that. And then I slowly worked on an act. And then I went to the Laugh Factory in Hollywood a couple years ago and the owner, Jamie Masada, I said [to him], "Just push me on stage. I gotta do this." Because it was something I just always wanted to do since I was in college, but I just... I don't know. I just didn't have the guts. And they have the Friars Roasts in New York. This is before I was on television. It was a private function. So I would go and they'd go, "Do you want to get up and roast somebody?" I'm like, "No, no, I'm no good." And the first one I went to I saw Milton Berle and he was hosting the roast for Bruce Willis, and he was just amazing, you know? And you see that and you go, "I can't do that." So one time they were roasting Danny Aiello, who I'm good friends with so he asked me to do it. But thing with the roast is you're supposed to be, like, really dirty if you can, but funny. For some reason I go that's a guideline so I was able to think of jokes. And it's hard to think of jokes. You have to learn how to do that. So I went, "Well, I did that. That went funny." So I did it at the Laugh Factory and then I got up to 20 minutes. And then I got to half an hour and I started opening for Norm Macdonald. And then one time they go, "You got an offer but you'd have to do 45 minutes." I just said yes, okay. So then I just did it anyway. I just did everything I had. I was able to do it. So I started doing that. And then I started co-headlining with Norm. But I wasn't working much. I wasn't getting jobs so I left the booking agent I was with. This all happened within the last couple of months. I did a show [at the Laugh Factory] with this comedian Jo Koy. He opens for me now. He's hilarious. He just did The Tonight Show in January. He got a standing ovation.
GM: That's rare.
JL: Yeah, it's very rare. They say there's been like three in the history of the show. It's very rare.
GM: Must be tough having him open for you.
JL: No, it's not, because he's really funny. I don't want someone bad opening for me. Also because people are paying money to see a good show, I want the whole show to be good. I don't want to have someone that's not good. He's hilarious. It's just better for the show. Anyway, the host was a guy named Frazer Smith. Anyway, so what's been happening, Frazer knows a guy named Gary Propper and Gary used to manage Gallagher and Carrot Top and he's going to promote me in Vegas. Anyway, Gary got me this new booking agent, Steve Levine, who's like the top booking agent. He works with Jay Leno and George Carlin and Chris Rock. I mean, everybody. So I said, "Well, you better see my act before you say you want to represent me." So he saw it and he goes, "Yup, you're ready. Let's go." So that was exciting to get that approval because he represents these guys and he said, "Yeah, I want to work with you." So then he got me all these jobs. I started in St. Louis and did great there. I was just, a couple weeks ago, in Regina, Canada, at the casino there. And I just did the Improv at Irvine. Just going all over. Wednesday I go to a theatre in Modesto. And I'm doing a club in San Francisco. And then after that I'm doing [the casino] up there in Vancouver.
GM: And it's been going well?
JL: Yeah, it's been going really well. The funny part, when I started doing it and I would get to 20 minutes, you know... I mean, It's hard just getting to ten minutes. Or five. I mean, it's tough. In fact, I remember one woman said, it was a corporate date, and she said, "You gotta do ten minutes." I'm like, "Oh man." You go, "What's ten minutes?" But it's a lot. And then I got to 20 minutes finally. And then I kept coming up with more jokes but it kept ending up being at 20 minutes. I couldn't get past it no matter how much material I got. But the problem now is I have too much material (laughs).
GM: Meaning what?
JL: Meaning like I'll go over. Like, I start off to do an hour and they go, "You just did an hour and a half." I'm like, "I did?" But it's too long. It's too long for the audience.
GM: There's a limit for the audience, you're saying, no matter how good it is?
JL: Yeah, right. So they'll give me a light at 40 minutes and I'm like, "What?!" It's like the opposite. I thought like 15 minutes went by. It's so weird. It's very difficult because it's hard to get a sense of time up there.
GM: So you've been getting lots of encouragement not just from the industry professionals but also your peers and old standup friends.
JL: Oh yeah. Years ago I got Saturday Night Live and I'd meet everybody. I'd say to Eddie Murphy, "Do you think I could do standup?" and he goes, "Yeah, you should do it." Robin Williams: "Yeah, you should do it." Jay Leno: "Yeah, you should do it." And Dana Carvey and Dennis Miller. So the last couple of years I started doing it. And Dana's one of my best friends and he's one of the best standups I've ever seen. He's been doing it since he was like 18. He really helped me a lot. He's been saying for years, "Jon, you can do it. You already have an act. I'm telling you. You don't even know it." He would give me little tips but that would make a giant difference. And I really think that's what accelerated me forward. He would say stuff like, something simple, like, "The most important thing is to have fun." Just have fun. Two words. And I can't tell you what a giant difference that makes in a show.
GM: Because the audience senses it.
JL: Oh yes. Oh yeah, absolutely. And they just go with you. Like, I notice if I'm just kinda stone-faced, they laugh. But if I'm happy and they sense it, they laugh twice as much. It makes such a huge difference. Like, we saw a tape of a comedian and he goes, "See this guy is making the classic mistake. He's doing a long set-up, like five minutes, and then doing one joke, and then he goes to another topic for five minutes and one joke." Dana said, "See, that's a recipe for exhausting the audience." So he goes, "Just do as short of a set-up as you can and stay on topic and do a lot of jokes." So that, of course, meant a huge difference. The hard part, too, is how do I come up with more material? Because I got like 20 minutes but I'm like, "How do you come up with an hour?" It just seemed impossible. He said, "Look at whatever you have and then just say, 'How can I expand on this?'" I went, oh, okay. I don't think if I'd been doing it forever – I mean comedy and writing – I'd have been able to pick it up so quick. But I knew what he meant. But if he hadn't said that, it would have taken longer to figure out. I'd have had to discover it on my own. Eventually. I guess. I don't know. And another huge thing that helped was when I started doing it, someone said, "Jerry Seinfeld said when you first start doing standup, comedians would learn their material and repeat it like a monologue. And he said, 'It's not a monologue; it's a dialogue between you and the audience.'" When they said you do it like a monologue, in my head I thought, "Yeah, isn't that what you're supposed to do? And then you just act it out like you're doing a speech in a play? Just like one big long thing." And they said "No, he said it's like a dialogue between you and the audience." And I thought, "How could it be a dialogue? I'm the only one talking." I'm thinking it's a play. And then I realize it's conceptual. And then I realize it's exactly the way I'm talking to you. It's like, I'm talking and you're going, "right", and I go, "Do you ever do this?" and you go, "Yeah". It's like that. And then I realized that's what I'm always telling people in acting. People will go, "Do you have any advice about acting?" It's simple things that make a giant difference, you know? After doing it for years you learn these things. Like, if you're seeing a movie that seems like bad acting, it's because the actor's attention is on himself, which I learned in college. It's basically, don't talk at the person, talk to them. Just that concept. It stops you from performing and just makes you real. In film, people have got to really believe it's happening. That's what acting is. Don't talk at them; talk to them. And all of a sudden you become very natural and real and all the stuff that you're trying to do. So that's the same thing. It's not a monologue, it's a dialogue. You're talking to people and they're listening and responding back.
GM: Do you think you've progressed so quickly because it's been ruminating in your mind for so many years that you want to do standup without having done it? Rather than just going up the first time you thought you might like to give it a try?
JL: Yes. Absolutely. Learning those monologues of Woody Allen and Lenny Bruce and then performing them, that, of course, helped tons. Because they're like two of the best ever. So that helped, even though it was years ago. Or at a friend's engagement party, they'd go, "Jon, get up and say something." So I would do that. I just kinda knew how to talk and give a little speech that's funny, you know what I mean? So it's that and also having performed in front of an audience for years, so of course that helped. And I know comedy and I know how to tell a joke and timing and all that. But that's far different than, say, putting together a whole act for an hour. Because then you're not just telling one joke or talking on one topic. You've got all different topics and you've got to figure out what order to put the show in and you're going, "Cut out the fat, cut out the fat." It's fascinating art.
GM: When you go on stage, do you have your order set in stone? Or do you let the audience dictate that?
JL: I know what order I'm going in. Every comedian's like that. Sometimes you forget some bit and you go back to it, you know what I mean? I'm friends with Kevin Pollak and I said, "Do you always know the order you're going to do it?" And he goes, "No, if I have, like, two shows in a row, though, I do because otherwise I'll forget." Or three shows.
GM: Forget what you've done already?
JL: Yeah. I go in order otherwise I can't remember. And there's a certain flow to the show that makes sense. You try it in different orders and go, "Well, that didn't work." It just makes sense, you know? Because I talk about all different things. The one thing I realized I want to do is I don't want to limit myself to a certain style of standup or certain topics. You know, like some comedians will go, "I'm a political comedian", or "I'm observational" or "I talk about myself". I said I'm just going to do everything. Whatever I feel like doing.
GM: Just whatever you think is funny.
JL: Yeah, that's what I'll do.
GM: So we can't pin a style on you.
JL: Well, if there's a style, it's me. You know what I mean? (chuckles) It's me being funny the way I'm funny.
GM: And not doing characters.
JL: No. I'll imitate some people but I'm not doing what I did on Saturday Night Live. I talk about myself, my sex life, women. And I talk about Democrats and Bush and Kerry. And I talk about what's going on in gay marriage and religion, Jewish and Catholics. And I end the show playing funny songs. I'm just trying to be funny, so I end up with a whole thing at the end, a tribute to Bob Saget.
GM: I saw some of that on Youtube.
JL: It makes you laugh. It's like, why would you sing for 20 minutes about Bob Saget? It's ridiculous. And I'm like, yeah, exactly.
GM: Are people always coming up to you doing your characters?
JL: Yeah. Not as much. But yeah, that'll still happen. It's flattering. I mean, people come up and they'll go, "I watch The Critic!" or "I love this or I love that". Even movies that didn't do well: "I love Mom and Dad Save the World. Can you sign this?" That's why I left Saturday Night Live and it was a huge bomb and people come up and say, "Can you sign my DVD? I loved that movie." And now it's kind of like, "Oh, great!"
GM: How many years were you on Saturday Night Live?
GM: And you left to do this movie?
GM: Did you feel like you didn't want to stay too long? Or did you really want to go?
JL: I didn't want to leave. I wanted to do the movie and come back. But Lorne [Michaels] said you can't miss shows. I understand his point now but back then I was, like, mad and I felt like, "Well, I did five years. My contract's up. I really want to do this movie so just let me do it and I'll make up the shows later on in the year." But he said no.
GM: Do you still watch the show?
JL: No, I haven't seen it recently. Sometimes I watch it. Now I'm performing at night.
GM: Your era has to be one of the greatest casts ever.
JL: Oh, well thank you. Me, personally, I think the greatest cast ever was the original cast because that's who created the show and invented it. I know that for four years – not my first year but the next four – it was just eight of us. It wasn't like a huge cast. It was myself and Phil Hartman and Dana Carvey and Dennis Miller and Kevin Nealon. And then the women were Nora Dunn and Jan Hooks and Victoria Jackson. I do know when we were there that we all respected each other's talents. We were all impressed by each other. And I still am. Like Phil, I idolized Phil from the Groundlings theatre. He was like my older brother. He was amazing. And I'd see Dana do stuff and be like, "My God, he's fantastic." And I'd see Dennis do his standup and his [Weekend] Update and think, "Geez, this guy is brilliant." And Victoria was like, "God, you're like this great actress. You're so vulnerable and funny." Jan could do anything and Nora was very funny and clever. Kevin was, like, really funny. Everyone was kind of fans of each other and admired each other's talents a lot. I remember we would do sketches and Phil would go, "God, did you see Jan in that one sketch? My God, she was amazing!" It would be like that. And Dana's Johnny Carson... I remember I was in the make-up room and he was imitating Johnny Carson and it was like spooky. I go, "My God, it's like you're him!"
GM: What a great, supportive atmosphere.
JL: Yeah. It was competitive, too. You had to fight to get stuff on the air.
GM: But you're only fighting among eight of you.
JL: But it's you and the writers who are trying to get stuff on the air. There'd be like 30 to 40 sketches and there ended up being like eight on the air. But I do remember we used to say to each other, we would do the sketches but we'd go let's try to do the acting... like play the people really real and make it really great acting, too. Not cartoonish and caricatures. We were consciously striving for that.
GM: Do you miss it?
JL: Uh, yeah. I do. A lot. It was an amazing time. But honestly, there'd be times when I'd be there and call up my manager and go, "Get me off this fucking show!" Because it was just very cut-throat and brutal. But the last six shows of my last year was great and I really did want to come back. And so that year, if you noticed, I kept coming back. I'd be in New York and they'd call me up and go, "You wanna do this sketch?" And they kept calling me. So I'd do it. I didn't know what to do with my life. I even wrote about it. It was a sketch where they'd show people thinking and they'd go to me and you'd hear me go, "I gotta get a life." I just didn't know what to do. I loved it. I always wanted to put out an ad: Actor, can do a 3-camera live comedy show.
"Not everything is funny to everybody. It's like music, you know? Some people go, 'I love country music' or 'I like rock music' or 'My favourite band is the Beatles' or 'I think it's the Rolling Stones.' Just because you have a favourite doesn't mean the other one's no good. That's the problem: They're always making art compete against itself. And that's not what it is."
– Jon Lovitz
GM: Do you know what you want to do with your life now? Is it the standup?
JL: Well, that's what I'm doing now. I'll tell you another reason I sound enthusiastic about it, which I am, [is] because I get to write my own material and perform it. Because that's what I've always wanted to do. And that's what I was doing on Saturday Night Live. So I haven't done that again in years. It's just really fun to be able to do it again. And the other thing is I know that I've got the job. Like, on Saturday Night Live it was great but you always felt like you were auditioning every year. Or if you do a movie, they're fun but you never know what scenes they're going to leave in and when they're going to cut you. You have no control over your timing. Hopefully the director has good comedic timing and doesn't mess it up. And a lot of them do, but a lot of them don't. I've seen scenes in movies where I'm saying something and I go, "Oh, that was funny but the audience didn't know it because that's the punchline and they cut out the set-up." They have no idea why I'm saying what I'm saying and why I'm dressed the way I'm dressed. If they knew it was a choice that I'm making. They just go, "Oh, there's him on the phone." They don't know that I'm talking to this guy and I'm lying and making everything up because they cut out the scene before which showed what happened.
GM: Ever think of making your own films?
JL: Yeah, I have. I have always wanted to do that, too. You know, Woody Allen, I saw his movie Take the Money and Run when I was 13. And I said, "I want to be like Woody Allen." That's what I've always wanted.
GM: And you finally got to work with him.
JL: Yeah, that was amazing. I couldn't believe it. I had this one scene with him and it was just the two of us. It was so much fun. And it was so weird because he really influenced me and I used to do his routines in my dorm. And when I was doing the scene with him, it felt like I had been working with the guy forever. I never had. I'd met him through a friend of mine, Brian Hamill, who is his still photographer on all his movies. So Brian introduced me to him like five years before I did the movie. He was very nice to me and said I could hang out on his set, which he doesn't let people do. But he let me hang out and watch. And then he cast me in this movie. He kept laughing and I'm thinking, "I'm making him laugh!" And then, like, three days later he said to me, "I've been watching the dailies of our scene and you're really funny. But you could see I kept laughing on the screen." I said, "Yeah, I remember." He goes, "But I just kept laughing at the dailies. It's really funny." I go, "Aw, thanks." He goes, "No, no, no. You don't understand. I never laugh at dailies. And you were making me laugh. I just want you to know that you're really funny in the movie. You're really fantastic." I can't tell you what that meant! I was, like, over the moon. So then I went up to his cameraman, who I know, when I was hanging out on the set. I said, "Is that true, he never laughs at dailies?" He goes, "Hardly ever." I go, "All right, well how many times?" He goes, "Well, in 17 years, like three." You know what I mean? I almost felt like I could quit. When I was 13 years old I wanted to be a comedian. And later my dad would give me a hard time by going, "Who do you think you are, Woody Allen?" And now I'm on a movie with Woody Allen and I was trying out this character. Because all the three guys, Michael Rapaport and Woody Allen and Tony Darrow, in the scene with me, they're all from New York and they have these really thick New York accents. And I'm from Tarzana in California. So I wanted to do a New York accent and I wanted to ask Woody Allen and they go, "No, he doesn't like questions." And I would hear he would fire people if he doesn't like their performance. So I was dreading that. I can't get fired because that'll just kill me. Because the producer said, "Don't ask any questions." I go, "Where is he?" And they go, "He's making a movie." And I go, "Well, I'm in the movie! I can't ask him a question?" I mean, I'd never heard that in my life. Directors, they want you to ask them questions. That's their job is to answer questions. That's all they do. So anyway, I saw him on the set and I said, "Listen, can I just ask you one question?" I was desperate: "Please, can I just ask you one question?" And he was, like, very nice. He was like, "Yeah, sure." So, "They're from New York and can I do this character?" And he goes, "Yeah, as long as it's real. And I'll tell you what I told the other guys. If you want to add anything or change it, go ahead." I'm like, "Really?" Because I thought, "Why would I want to change your script?" Because he's such a great writer. But that is what he tells people. So anyway, I'm finally doing the scene and I'm doing this character and I'm imitating a guy that I met from New York and he has a really distinctive way of talking. "He tawks like dis," you know? "How ya doin'? Nice ta see ya." That's really how this guy talks, which is why I remembered it. So I'm doing that and Woody goes, "Stop." Then he pulls me aside and he goes, "Listen, I think it's better if... It doesn't sound real." And it was real! That's the way this guy talks. If you met the guy, you'd go, "Oh, someone actually talks like that?"
GM: But you didn't argue with him.
JL: No. But he said, "Listen. I think it's better if you just do your stuff." I wasn't sure if I should do a character or just talk the way I'm talking now. He goes, "I think it's better if you just talk the way you talk and be yourself." He goes, "Lookit, I tell people I put Jon Lovitz in the movie. It's going to be me and Jon Lovitz, and they go, 'Oh, that's fantastic. He's so funny.'" Then he goes, "You know, guys like us, we're already funny, so you don't really have to do a voice." And I was relieved because I didn't want to get fired. So I go back to my mark and I started crying. I had tears in my eyes. I was going to lose it because he said "guys like us". And I'm thinking back to when I'm 20 in college and my father screaming, "Who do you think you are, Woody Allen?" And now I got Woody Allen saying "guys like us."
GM: You're in the club!
JL: Yeah. You have to understand, that's my whole life. I said at 13 I'm going to do that. And now I got the guy saying "guys like us", the guy that I aspired to be. It was such a vindication of my life. Not that I needed his approval. I started crying. It's like, "Oh my God. It happened. Twenty-nine years later."
GM: Any other movies with him in the works?
JL: No, I mean, you know, he writes what he writes and then he casts it. I would love to, you know, of course work with him again. But you know, I don't know, whatever happens, happens. The point is I finally got to work with him and it was just... oh, it was so much fun. And making him laugh.
GM: Do you have a myspace account? Is that you?
GM: Oh, that is you. Because you never know.
JL: Yeah, there are a lot of fake ones out there.
GM: It's very helpful.
JL: My blog on career advice?
JL: Yeah, that's me. Yeah.
GM: Are you that helpful in person when someone comes up to you?
JL: I try to be, yes. I'll go on and on, you know? But people helped me so I just feel like, you know, why not? There are no secrets? It's not like, "Why did you tell them? Now they'll take your job." I'm like, "No, they won't."
GM: If people aren't already funny, that advice is not going to help them.
JL: But even if they are, that's just how I am. When I got on the Groundlings, Laraine Newman, who I'd never met, she met me, she saw me there, and she recommended me to Lorne Michaels. Then I got this movie with Charles Grodin, and I didn't know him. And he recommended me to Lorne Michaels. So here are these two people helping me. My God, they're so nice. And my first two weeks on Saturday Night Live, Penny Marshall is hanging out on the show and the next thing you know, she's helping me with advice.
GM: Do you find that it's the biggest talents who are the most generous?
JL: I guess so. They're just super nice. I mean, Charles Grodin helped me a lot and I'd call him up for advice. I thought he was great and hilarious. I know when I was trying to make it in acting and I'd see some actor and go, "Hey, do you have any advice for me?" And some of them would go, "No." And I'd go, "Well, that wasn't very nice." And I always said, "God, if I ever was in that position and somebody asked me, I'd try to help them." But the myspace thing is, first of all, it's free and it's an amazing thing. It helps you and tells people where your shows are and what's going on. So I thought I should do something to give back. So that's what I thought of. It's the one thing I know about and it's fun trying to help people. I don't know. I enjoy it. I've given people advice and they'll come in and go, "I got five jobs! You met me four years ago and I asked you for advice and you talked to me. And now it's four years later and I just want you to know I'm actually doing it and I'm booking jobs." And I go, "Really?!" And I'm like, "Oh, you listened to me?" (laughs) I go, "Oh, good." It makes you feel good, you know what I mean? I don't know, it's like why not? I mean, I can't give people work. I'm not in that position. But I give advice.
GM: That's great. I just know that some people don't know if that's really you on myspace.
JL: It really is me. I know, there's a lot of... There's one I saw on David Spade. So I looked it up and I read it and I go, "Boy, it sounds just like David." Then I saw pictures of me from the set, behind the scenes of The Benchwarmers. And I went, "Oh, well, it's David." Then I had lunch with him about a week later and I said, "Hey, I saw your site on myspace." And he goes, "No, that's not me." I said, "Are you serious?!" I go, "It fooled me! And I know you." There are pictures of me on there. I don't know how anyone else could get these pictures. Dane Cook told me about it. I met him at the Laugh Factory. His album came out and it was huge. I go, "How did you do it?" And he goes, "Well, have you ever heard of myspace?" And I said no. This was like last August. So he told me about it and how he used it to help sell his album. Now I don't know how I didn't hear about it. When I was on it in August, there was like 24 million people on it. Now there's like 80 million. It's just unbelievable.
GM: His success is really dividing people.
JL: Not that I know of.
GM: You get too big then all of a sudden you get the naysayers. At a certain level people go, "This guy's great, you should check him out." And then you get too big and people want to chop him down.
JL: But that's not him. First of all, he's not too big. That's just somebody's opinion. Let's just say that he's successful to the point that people who are insecure are now jealous and want to bring him down. It's just stupid. Somebody gets popular and then the people that cut him down are, you know, like critics in newspapers and nobody knows who they are. And it intimidates them. Then they want to start bringing him down to make them feel better about themselves. It's just low self-esteem. There's no reason to cut... Just because somebody's popular... The guy's very funny. You could say, "Well..." I'm not going to talk about... I like Dane very much and I'm not going to say anything negative about him. At all. The guy's been working on it for years. He works tremendously hard. For fifteen years he's on stage every night. The guy works, works. And he deserves it. And he's built his audience over 16 years. It didn't just happen.
GM: Oh, I know. I saw him before it all happened and I liked him. But what I've heard is not from the critics but from comics talking with other comedians on message boards around the country.
JL: Oh, the other comedians! Yeah, they're just jealous. They're just jealous, period. I mean, I remember in 1979, I met Robin Williams, actually, in my college. In '79 I was doing this thing called Solar Energy Day and I wrote this short story. And they wanted it performed so I did this at UC-Irvine on the library steps. There were about 350 people and I read this story and my friends acted it out. And this guy comes up to me and goes, "I'm next." He goes, "Could you introduce me?" I go, "Yeah, what do you want me to say?" He goes, "Just say, 'And now here's the first standup comedian from Russia, Nikki Lenin.'" So I go, "Okay." So I introduce the guy and then sit down to watch him and the guy does like 45 minutes and he's like brilliant. I went, "God, this guy is so funny." I'm like, "Who is this guy?" Anyway, it was Robin Williams. But this is like before Mork & Mindy. Like in May, and the show came out in September. And he was very nice. And I went, "Do you have any advice?" I didn't know who he was. He hadn't even been on TV but the guy was so great I go, "I gotta ask this guy for advice." He goes, "Yeah, you know, first you imitate other people but then you find your own style." I said, "Okay." And he says, "Do you know where the improv classes are?" And he went to this improv class. My roommate was in the class and did improv with him. And actually I just saw my roommate in Irvine. He came to the show and we were talking about that. And the teacher was saying, "Well, I don't know if we can let outside people come in." But then he said to my friend, "But from one to ten points, you've gotten ten points on every single exercise we've done. So I don't let people in, but if you're saying he's good, okay, he can come in the class." So he came in and my teacher came up to [my friend] and went, "Who is this guy?!" He said, "I told you, he's amazing." But anyway, nine months later Mork & Mindy's on the air. And then I graduate and go into the Comedy Store and Robin Williams was like the biggest comedian in the country. Huge. He's on Mork & Mindy and he's gigantic. And now all the comedians are all bitter and "why him? Why isn't it me?" It's the same old crap. Comedians writing about him on the internet, that's just bullshit. They're just jealous. They're just jealous, period. That's what it is: jealous and low self-esteem. Just sheer, utter jealousy. Period.
GM: Robin Williams films a lot in Vancouver and he always comes down to this small independent room every week almost and puts on, like, a half-hour show and the people just love him.
JL: Listen, you work really hard and stuff and you try to perform and be entertaining and make people laugh, but the audience picks the, quote, stars, you know? The audience makes you popular. You put it out there and if they all want to see it, you're popular.
GM: But are all laughs equal?
GM: So you wouldn't go, "Oh, that's a cheap laugh" or "I don't want to get my laugh that way"?
JL: No. Are all acts equal? Yes. The point is, though, not everything is funny to everybody. It's like music, you know? Some people go, "I love country music" or "I like rock music" or "My favourite band is the Beatles" or "I think it's the Rolling Stones." Just because you have a favourite doesn't mean the other one's no good. That's the problem: They're always making art compete against itself. And that's not what it is.
GM: It's just different.
JL: It's different. Like some people don't think I'm funny. I'm like, all right. So? That's fine. It doesn't bother me. Because enough people do. And they say, "Does it bother you?" And I go, "No, because not everything is funny to everybody. Not everyone has the same sense of humour." You can't appeal to every single person on the earth, you know what I mean? Everyone likes different kinds of stuff.
GM: It's only a problem if nobody thinks you're funny.
JL: If no one thinks you are, yeah, you can't make a living.
GM: Are you a jazz fan?
JL: I don't know. Some stuff I like.
GM: Just because one of your characters, Tommy Flanagan, is the name of a famous jazz pianist and I always wondered if you knew that.
JL: Oh, I've never heard that, but that's very complimentary.
GM: Was the Groundlings sketch or improv?
GM: Do you still do improv at all?
JL: No, I haven't done it in a long time. It's fun to try to do it in your standup act, though. Like, an idea'll pop into your head and then you just say it. "Ah, that worked! I'll keep that for the next show."
GM: Are you a trained singer? I know you sing a bit.
JL: Well, not really. My father was a doctor but he wanted to be an opera singer. So he was always playing opera music and singing all the time. So we all grew up singing. So I was always singing. And then you hit puberty and your voice changes and I couldn't sing at all. So I had to, like, relearn how to sing. I took like ten lessons in college and then after college I had like four lessons with this one woman. But that was it. Not enough to make me a singer but I just like to sing so I'm just always singing and practicing.
GM: And you play the piano?
JL: Yeah. I had lessons from when I was like eight to thirteen. I play okay. Good enough. But I sing in the shower and I go, "Boy, this sounds good to me." But everyone thinks they sound good in the shower. And one day I asked a guy, "Can I sing the national anthem at Dodger Stadium," because I was playing a celebrity game there. "I know it sounds crazy but here, I'll sing for you on the phone just so you can hear." So I did and he goes, "Okay, yeah, that sounds good." And then I never heard anything and the day before the game they called and said, "Okay, you're going to sing the anthem." I said, "I am? I thought..." "Yeah, the girl dropped out." So I got to do it. And the next thing you know I was doing it every year. And then what was fun on July 4th, it wasn't like a Hollywood stars game, it was just like a regular game. They go, "Could you sing the national anthem for July 4th?" I was like, "Oh! Now you like me for my singing!" So that was neat. And then I sang at Carnegie Hall. I did this show in their smaller theatre. It was a musical, Very Warm For May. It was a staged reading. And it was like an old-fashioned play by Jerome Kern and it was a musical family and the daughter runs away to play in a barn theatre. I played the eccentric director in the barn theatre play. And I have to sing. And the guy who was directing it, John McGlinn, he makes a record with opera singers singing Broadway songs. So I go, "Well, I can kinda sing. It's like fake opera, you wanna hear it?" And he goes, "Okay." He was at my house working with me with the music. So I started singing for him and he was like, "Oh my God, you can sing!" And he called up the assistant director and he goes, "Listen to this. Jon Lovitz can actually sing. Listen to this. It's amazing." And so I was singing for him. And this guy's name was Bill Hicks, the assistant director. And Bill Hicks is the guy who taught Pavarotti all the songs, right? So I met him in New York. I was working with him on the music and I said, "Do you think I could actually be an opera singer?" And he goes, "Yes." And I go, "Really?" "Well," he goes, "you'd have to work at it every day like an Olympic athlete, but yeah, you could do it if you wanted." I said, "So how long would it take me? Like five years?" He goes, "No, not that long." But I mean, you know, I'm not saying I'm as good as an opera singer, but I can sing. But those guys are amazing. That's like saying, "You have a nice build. You could be a world-class body-builder but you gotta start working out." You know what I mean?
GM: Is your dad still around?
JL: No, he passed away in like '93.
GM: That would make him proud to know what this guy said.
JL: Yeah, so then they had a thing a couple years later at Carnegie Hall. It was Ira Gershwin's 100th birthday celebration. They asked me to sing in that. And the guy doing that said, "Yeah, I saw you at the other show two years ago at Carnegie Hall so that's why I wanted you in it." And then a friend of mine got me a job singing with Robbie Williams. You know who he is?
JL: So I got to sing on his album, called Swing While You're Winning. He just trusted my friend. She recommended me, which was, like, thrilling. And then I got to perform a show at the Royal Albert Hall. I go, "What do you think?" He goes, "Yeah, you can sing." I go, "Like professional?" He goes, "Yeah." But I don't know. It's exciting to hear, you know what I mean?
GM: What's a typical day for you?
JL: (laughs) Oh, I just get up and putt around the house. I like to play tennis a lot.
GM: That's a nice life.
JL: Yeah, it's nice. And then at night I get to go make people laugh. Yeah, I'm enjoying it very, very much. A lot.
GM: Any plans to release a CD or DVD of your show?
JL: Not right now. Not yet.
GM: You could be the next Dane Cook and sell millions.
JL: I don't know about that. He's got over a million people on his myspace account. It's amazing. Dane's amazing. He told me about myspace. You see his picture up there [on my site]? I go, "Is it okay if I put your picture up?" He goes, "Yes!" But yeah, he was very encouraging to me. It's great, because I'd go back to the Laugh Factory and I'm like 15 years older than all the guys there. I felt kinda strange at first. All the guys were in their late twenties and thirties and I'm 46. I never felt old but then you see these guys. But they're all very nice and supportive and they go, "You know what? You're a name but..." They were very nice. They go, "We respect the fact that you're here and you're not just going on the road right away and just taking the money. You're working on your act."
GM: You're putting in the time. Like an Olympic athlete.
JL: A couple years ago, Bob Saget, who I'm friends with – I got his permission. I go, "Can I just make these songs about you?" They were about my manager, but no one knows who he is, so I said, "Bob, can I make it about you?" He, unfortunately, has had a tough life. He has, like, two sisters who passed away. And one of them passed away from this disease called scleroderma. So he started a charity event every year called Cool Comedy-Hot Cuisine. It's all these chefs making all this great food and then he gets his friends, these comedians, to do a show. So a couple years ago he asked me to do it. And I'd just started at the Laugh Factory. I go, "Bob, I just started!" He goes, "Well, just get up and sing the songs about me." He goes, "It'll be you and Tim Allen and Robin Williams." And me. I'm like, "But Bob, I just started doing this." "Just do the stuff about me." "All right." He goes, "Don't worry, I'll introduce you. You'll go up first. You won't have to follow them." And then he goes, "Oh, listen, right before you Rodney Dangerfield's going to do like three minutes." Oh great! I gotta follow him? He's known as, you know, one of the greatest standups ever. So Rodney does his three jokes and he's very funny. And I did my thing. And then after it, Rodney was like, "Hey, that was really good. Good job." "God, thanks! Coming from you." I do a show at the Laugh Factory on Wednesdays. And after the show they go, "Jon, Robin Williams is here." And I'm like, "He is?" So I saw him and he goes, "Yeah, I saw your name on the marquee and I wanted to come in." And he goes, "You were hilarious. I remember two years ago you said you were doing standup. Now you're really doing it!" He goes, "It's unbelievable." He goes, "It's really something." It's just so encouraging. I've known him and I met him in college and met him on SNL when he hosted, and met him over the years. But it's just so supportive and nice. Seeing this guy perform in my college dorm and doing standup, and now it's like 30 years later and he's coming by to see me. "Hey, you're really funny!" And they go, "Jon, he was laughing at everything, he was laughing hysterically." And he goes, "You're so funny and you do this and that..." And he goes, "But you did it! Remember you told me you were thinking about doing it?" He goes, "And now you're actually doing it." I go, "Yeah, I know." I go, "Remember, you told me to do it years ago."
GM: It's great to have all this support from people you respect and who are successful in the business.
JL: Yeah. It's very encouraging. Now I'm actually doing it. It's just thrilling. And I've got the top booking agent, I got all these jobs.
GM: And travelling around. You're coming up to Canada. Have you been to Vancouver before?
JL: I have, yeah. I think it's a beautiful city.
GM: What were you doing here?
JL: I was doing reshoots on this movie I did. And I was there again for something, I forget what. I remember going there. What was that, Stanley Park?
JL: Yeah, I just thought it was beautiful. I rode my bike. What is that, Third Beach? And I just remember sitting on that going, "Oh my God." I thought it was amazing because behind me was a forest. You never see a forest and then the sand. And then water. So it's like trees, the beach and then you see the city lights across the way, and then there was snow on the mountains. It was like five different things. The environment is all right next to each other.
GM: I look forward to seeing your show.
JL: I will say this: You should say the show is rated R. It's not like the cleanest show. I don't do what I do on Saturday Night Live. It's like you'd be in a club. It's pretty risque. I don't want people to come and be offended, but I'm not going to change my act, either. It's rated R. Stress that. I'm not filthy. It's not G, it's R.