PROFILE

Jon has last laugh as he helps budding comedians

BY JASON STEIN

FROM one comedy show to the next, Jon Lovitz has built a reputation as 'that really funny guy' without, perhaps, ever becoming a household name.

But maybe, as Jon himself suggested, that is the charm of his career.

In Seinfeld, he starred as Gary Fogel in season six of the legendary Larry David sitcom.

And he made two cameo appearances in Friends.

And if neither of those are enough, The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live and Two And A Half Men should sate even the most hard-to-please critics.

"I don't think there is one role I enjoyed more than others," he told me from his Los Angeles base.

"I've done a lot of jobs, but what I find flattering is that even if someone hated a particular movie or show, and even if I only played a guest role, they tell me they liked me.

"The key to my performance has always been to constantly make an effort.

"Before each role, I think of everything I have learned before and I just try to improve all the time and make something of each role.

"The support is moving because it means I'm doing something right."

Many people over the years have praised his cameos on Friends.

"The first time I appeared on the show was due to my relationship with Lisa Kudrow (who played Phoebe)," the 56-year-old explained.

"I grew up with her and she is like my little sister. Her brother is also my best friend.

"But you've got to remember that my debut appearance was one of the first episodes they ever filmed.

"It was almost like I was doing them a favour by appearing on it and I hold the tag of being the show's first ever guest star.

"Whereas the second time I appeared (series nine) the show was this giant hit and I had also struck up a friendship with Courteney Cox (Monica). It was flattering to be asked back."

Since his run on Saturday Night Live in the late 80s, Jon has been a prolific comedian in both film and television.

But before he got his break on SNL, he had plenty of help as he tried to forge a career in the industry.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that he is now aiming to reciprocate the helping hand.

Earlier this year, Jon launched a Fund Anything crowd-source campaign to raise money to launch the Jon Lovitz Comedy Network.

With these resources, he plans to give four unsigned talents the opportunity to host their own channel on the network and take part in a DVD filmed at the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club.

The rewards for donating range from a thank you in the credits of the DVD to a personal one-on-one acting class with Jon.

"This is about giving people the chance to get seen because there is so much undiscovered talent out there," he explained.

"Many, many people helped me when I was trying to make my way in the industry and I now want to help others."

Jon, who has starred in countless Hollywood films, grew up in a Reform Jewish household in Los Angeles. His father was a doctor who emigrated to the country via Romania, Hungary and Russia.

And Jon is steadfastly proud of the role Judaism has played in his life.

"I feel I understand the religion much more now than when I was a kid," he told me.

"I don't belong to a shul now because the religion isn't about going to shul every Saturday, but about doing the right things morally.

"I try to live my life in the right spirit and that is what connects us and brings us to closer to God.

"Judaism is about life - l'chaim - that is what it means to me."

He summed it up with an anecdote about two cheques worth 30,000.

"I found these two cheques in my house and it transpired I had been paid twice for the same job," he recounted.

"So I found myself in this situation of wondering what to do. I mean we weren't talking about a small amount."

The deliberation didn't last long and he only cashed one cheque.

He continued: "That is the spirit of the religion - doing the right thing.

"The notion of the Jews being the Chosen People is wrong and I believe that is the cause of antisemitism because people interpret that as us thinking we are better than everybody else."

Jon earned his first big break in 1985 when he was invited to join the cast of SNL.

He remained in situ for five years and during that time he created some of the most memorable and inventive characters in the show's history including Tommy Flanagan the Pathological Liar and mastered impersonations of politicians Michael Dukakis and actor Harvey Fierstein.

Yet Jon never considered a career in comedy until being inspired by Woody Allen.

"I saw Take the Money and Run when I was 13," he recalled. "And that was when I knew I wanted to be a comedian. I absolutely loved Woody Allen.

"I used to memorise his lines and used index cards with little arrows to show pauses, rises in voice volume, speed of delivery."

Yet when it comes to his stand-up routines, he is not as overtly Jewish as some fellow Jewish-American comics.

"I don't really look at it like that," he mused.

"When I'm performing, I make fun of myself and other religions as well as people in politics.

"So I do think I play the Jewish card, but it's not my whole act. Religion is definitely a part of it.

"The job of a comic is to present what is funny to you personally and what appeals to your sense of humour.

"It's something I hope to keep doing because I love stand-up shows."

Despite nearly 30 years in the industry, Jon still retains an incredible passion for his work.

He said: "The main thing is when you get a part, you can't walk through it because if you do, people see that and they think you've lost your talent.

"I can't take anything for granted and I certainly don't do anything by half measure.

"I keep trying to grow and just enjoy the job I'm doing. That's the reward and any job I've had I'm grateful to have it. I feel fortunate."

For more information on the Fund Anything campaign visit: http://tinyurl.com/lhcp2lz

 
© 2013 Jewish Telegraph

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