Jon Lovitz sees stand-up comedy as an 'infinite art form'

Contributing Culture WriterMay 27, 2014 

  • Jon Lovitz

    Special guests: Kenny Zimlinghaus and Scott Wilson

    When: 7:15 p.m. May 29; 7:15 and 9:45 p.m. May 30 and 31

    Where: Comedy Off Broadway, The Mall at Lexington Green, 161 Lexington Green Cir.

    Tickets: $20 on May 29, $25 on May 30, $30 on May 31. Available at (859) 271-5653 or Comedyoffbroadway.com.

With a life like Jon Lovitz has had, there's plenty to talk about.

There's the five-year stint on Saturday Night Live from 1985 to 1990, which launched an extensive movie and TV career. There's his distinctive voice, which has been used for laughs for various supporting characters on The Simpsons or as the lead role of bitter movie critic Jay Sherman in the animated series The Critic. He also has starred on Broadway and sung at Carnegie Hall.

But when you get Lovitz talking about stand-up comedy, he speaks with an enthusiasm and passion that makes you think it's the only thing he's ever done.

"It just keeps expanding. It's an infinite art form," said Lovitz, who comes to Comedy Off Broadway this week for a three-night stand. "I just feel like I can always get better."

Lovitz, 56, first used stand-up to break into entertainment and get one of the coveted slots on SNL but says he really started taking it seriously more than a decade ago when the TV and film work became less frequent.

"I said, 'I'm not broke but I'm going to run out of money,'" Lovitz recalls. "Honestly, it was the fear of being broke again."

Because Lovitz regularly developed characters and wrote sketches for SNL (including "Tommy Flanagan, the Pathological Liar" and "Hanukkah Harry"), he says he saw stand-up as a liberating creative avenue. As he worked out the nerves onstage, he had support from former SNL cast members Eddie Murphy and Dana Carvey. He began (nervously) trying out material at Los Angeles' famed Laugh Factory, serving as host for comedians like Kevin Nealon and Norm Macdonald, then hitting the road with other friends as their opening acts.

Lovitz had an inherent sense of comic timing, but he thought he had the capabilities to put together a good set and a unique perspective instead of relying on embodying a character.

Before doing stand-up, "all that time I was really wanting to make it as an actor, but I wasn't paying attention to what was going on around me. I didn't have anything to say," he said. "That's the decision I made. It's going to be me. It's going to be me, what I think and how I feel about stuff."

As he wrote his material, he gravitated toward mixing self-deprecation with topics he had some passion about, such as sex, religion and racism. Nothing is ever too serious, though, which audiences quickly find out the moment he decides to sit down at a piano and play some admittedly silly songs.

"That's one of the parts of the show that works best," Lovitz said. "It's ridiculous, but I just like to make people laugh."

While he easily could pack comedy clubs on name recognition alone, and avoid the possibility of going broke, Lovitz said he's focused on perfecting the craft and being in a world where getting laughs is the only goal.

"There is no 'voice' of stand-up. It's your sense of humor," he said. "I just thought, I'm not going to limit myself to any topics and I'm not going to limit myself to whatever comedian I think I want to be."

Blake Hannon is a Mount Sterling-based writer.

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