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INT: Jon Lovitz

04.05.2006
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Jon Lovitz was always one of my favorite cast-members from the halcyon days of late 80s/early 90s "Saturday Night Live". But like so many veterans of the show, he never really did find his niche in the post-SNL world. His greatest triumph was the short-lived animated series "The Critic", which enjoyed some success before Fox pulled the plug and relegated it to cult classic status.

This week he returns to the big screen with THE BENCHWARMERS, the latest wacky offering from the Happy Madison crew. A few weeks ago Lovitz talked about his experience working with fellow SNL alums David Spade and Rob Schneider. Check it out.

Jon Lovitz

So you and baseball movies, huh?

Yeah. Well, I…I like balls.

What was the particular attraction of Benchwarmers for you?

I actually read the script, and when they sent it to me, they said, “Look at the role of Clark .” And then we were negotiating for the part and then my agent said, “All right, so you’ll be playing Mel.” I’m like, “What? That’s not what you said in the letter you sent me.” And I got really angry and I just said, “You tell me to look at the wrong role? I’m negotiating for the wrong part?” And they totally messed up. So then they go, “Read it again and if you want to play Mel, let us know.” So I said yes, but then I think, I don’t know how I’m going to play this guy, cause it’s a very odd character. But I figured it out. I didn’t think the character was particularly - he wasn't outright funny, because he’s kind of the heart of the movie, where I’m doing all this, having a baseball tournament, I’m really doing it all for my son. So he doesn’t have to go through hell like I did. So I think he was the heart of the movie.

Could you relate to this guy? Could you relate to the experiences of this guy?

Could I relate to it? Well no, because he’s a billionaire…and I’m a trillionaire! I had to come down to his level I felt bad for the guy. Well you can’t play a billionaire if you’re a millionaire. You don’t know what it’s like. But you have to at least be there or above. So I had to go, “What was it like five years ago when I was poor?”

Do you collect anything?

Yeah, I like watches and memorabilia and cars. I’m into that. The stupid thing about cars is I started working and I met Eddie Murphy and he had all these cars. Jay Leno had all these cars. So I said, “All right, I’m gonna get cars. That’s what you’re supposed to do.” So then I did and Jay Leno made fun of me. He said, “Yeah, but Jon, I buy old cars. You’re buying new ones. Mine are going up in value. Yours are going down.”

Was it cool to drive K.I.T.T. (the car from "Knight Rider")?

Well that was neat. It was neat meeting George Barris, because he’s the guy who designed that car and the Batmobile. And he’s a really nice man. And you know, he’s like a legendary car designer. He’s been designing cars for movies for, I don’t know, 50 years or more. All the most famous cars you've seen are his.

Was everyone on the set excited to see the Batmobile and K.I.T.T.?

Yeah, I was. I grew up in Encino and Tarzana, and when I was in like fifth and sixth grade, I went to this school, Wilbur Avenue in Tarzana. And Adam West who played Batman, his kids went to that school. So at Halloween we’d have the Batmobile. So I was thrilled. I loved Batman. I had my Bat Ring. (laughs) I was 8 and I go to my mom, “I want the Bat Ring!” You know, with the big bat. So it was fun driving it, to actually get in it. But, they’re just old cars. I mean there wasn’t actually...there was no jet. I couldn’t eject anybody. It’s all fake.

Is your love of baseball why you’ve done a couple of movies about the sport?

No, honestly, it’s not like I say, “What movies are they making this year?” And I’ll pick: “I’ll do this, this and this!” It’s just you get offered stuff and then you go, “Do I like the part? Is it a good script? How much money are they paying me?” Frankly, that’s part of it. Well it really is. And people go, “Why? Is it always about the money?” You go, “Well, most of it.” Because they’re buying a slot of time for three months. So you have that time to do something. And you can’t do anything else while you’re doing that project. So you say, “Well then you gotta pay me what I’m worth.” And the reason why is because they say, “Well we can’t pay you. We don’t have the money. You know, you’re only playing a small role.” And then the press junket comes around and they go, “Can you do the publicity? You’re a big star!” That’s happened to me a lot. And I finally said, “Okay, sure, I’ll do it for no money and I won’t do any press. It’s up to you.” You know, you can’t have it both ways.

Is it fun for you to reunite with guys like Rob Schneider and David Spade from the SNL days?

Oh yeah. Well I was never on the show with them, but Rob I knew. And then David Spade I was in Lost & Found and Dickie Roberts, so you know, I’m friends with David. But Rob I know and I’m friendly with. And I knew Dennis Dugan. Adam Sandler’s the one who produced the movie and he’s hired me a lot of times. We all say thank god for Adam. He hires his friends and keeps us working. He’s very generous that way. But then he’ll go, “Well, I don’t just do it because you’re my friend. I think you’re great.” I say, “I know. I just wanted to say that to make you feel good.”

You’re doing standup every week. Is that where you feel most comfortable?

Well, no. I only started doing it the last two years. Yeah, I do a show at the Laugh Factory on Wednesdays at 8 in Hollywood. I really started doing it because, well, I’ll just be honest with you. I wasn’t working as much and one of my other ex-agents says…I say, “I gotta make money.” And he says, “Well, sell your house.” And I go, “Oh, I’ll sell my house. In the meantime, you just bought a new mansion above me! Okay, that’s a good idea. How about getting me work, not sell what I own?” He says, “Sell some of your cars.” And I go, “No. Eat me! Get me a job!” So I needed the money. I always wanted to do it, but I was too afraid to do it. And also, even if you’re not afraid to do it, you still have to know how to do it.

You have to know how to construct jokes and come up with material. And I never really felt ready. And then for some reason I finally felt ready. And then Dana Carvey is one of my best friends and he’s been doing it for years, so he gave me some great tips. And so somehow I was able to pick it up quickly. I did like my fifth show and I was doing maybe 20 minutes at the Laugh Factory. And the owner there is named Jamie Masada. He’s been really generous to me and gave me the night at the Laugh Factory. I just thought, well I’m just starting. So he said a friend of his said, “How long’s he been doing it? 20 years?” He goes, “No, this is his fifth show.” He’s like, “What?” I go, “Jimmy…” He goes, “No, Jon, you’re that good!” I go, “Well that’s impossible! This is like my fifth time doing it.”

Do you write new stuff every week or does some of it carry over?

No, it’s like an act. Because then you get hired out to do your show. I love it because, well first of all, it’s another source of income. Which, you know, I need. It’s just great. You can say anything. It’s like a total expression of who you are. No one’s giving you notes, no one’s editing you. You can just totally be funny the way you’re funny. If you think of something on the spot, you can say it.

What kinds of things do you talk about?

God, everything. Well, politics….I’m not astute, but it’s just my opinion. Women. I have a lot of opinions on that. Sex. Like premature ejaculation, I do stuff about that. I say, “That’s just a disease that women made up.” Which it is.

So it’s all the truth.

Yeah, it’s basically all true. The way I come up with material is I’ll see something and if it makes me in my head go, “What?!” Like that kind of reaction or makes my mind go, “That’s ridiculous!” Or, “What did he just say? That doesn’t make any sense.” Then that makes me think of stuff and then Dana taught me that then you have an idea like that and you try to expand it. That’s how you come up with more material. Just little stuff. That’s what I think helped me do it well...it’s very exciting. It’s like a whole new career.

It’s nice of Adam Sandler to put you in the supporting roles in the movies.

It’s unbelievably nice. I always say, “Thank you!” And this time he goes, “Look, look, look. You’re my friend, but I’m not just doing it because I like you. I think you’re great.”

But when is Sandler giving you your own Happy Madison project?

I know, right?! That’s what I keep saying. I said, “I think it’s time!” But you know, it’s business… I think it would be good business for him! He said, “It’s none of my business.”

Do you still develop characters for yourself?

No, you still think of stuff, but there’s nowhere to do them. Actually though, now there is. The standup. So that’s what’s fun. Although I don’t really do characters in my standup. I mean I’ll imitate some people, but it’s more of just me expressing myself. I mean you can do whatever you want. You know, I talk about politics, I talk about women, I make fun of myself. I sing songs. I used to sing all these songs about my manager being gay. Just to bug him. And then I started doing them in my act and I realized nobody knew who he was. So Bob Saget’s there, and I say, “Bob, can I make it up about you? Because no one knows who Mark Gerbitz is.” He goes, “Yeah, go ahead.” So now it’s like 20 minutes of these songs about Bob Saget.

What role do you play in Southland Tales?

I play this psycho cop. Richard Kelly who wrote and directed Donnie Darko, this is his next movie. So he cast a lot of comedians in the roles because he said, “If you can do Saturday Night Live and different comedy, I know you can do drama.” He goes, “I think comedic actors can do anything.” So he cast me, Cheri O’Teri, Nora Dunn, people like that. The main people in the movie are The Rock, you know, Dwayne Johnson, and Sarah Michelle Gellar and Seann William Scott. But then all these other roles… Kevin Smith is in it. I saw a picture of him and he’s unrecognizable. He plays this old man. Justin Timberlake is in it. It’s the strangest cast.

Who do you interact with in the film?

Oh, with Cheri O’Teri. But I play just this psycho cop. I look different. I saw some of the movie and I go, “Well, that’s my walk.” I can’t get rid of that. I look different, I talk different.

Was it fun to do?

Yeah it was. He said, “You always have the same hair.” And I said, “Well yeah, I can’t grow it out any differently.” So he goes, “Well I want your hair to be different.” So I had to dye it like platinum. So then I said, well if I’m gonna look different, I’m gonna act different, I’m gonna talk different. And so that’s what I did. And then, I play this cop, and I’m supposed to intimidate The Rock. Well he’s huge! So I had to figure out how am I gonna intimidate him? The only way you can intimidate someone who’s bigger then you is if they think you’re insane. And then they’re like, “That guy’s crazy! Who knows what he’ll do!” So I tried to do that. He’s a good actor, so it looks like I intimidate him, but I don’t think he was at all. He’s the nicest guy, I’ll tell you that. He’s such a nice guy.

Do you think they’ll ever resurrect The Critic?

No, The Critic, they’re not gonna do it again. That was disappointing. First it was on ABC. And ABC goes, “We love it! It’s the best! We love it! we love it!” And then seven shows later it’s gone. They cancelled it. And then Fox picked it up, and it aired after The Simpsons. This was, I don’t know, ten years ago. And it held 90% of The Simpsons audience, which is huge. And then they cancelled it anyway.

And Jim Brooks went to the head of the network and he goes, “What are you doing? The show is a hit, and you’re canceling it.” And they couldn’t figure out why they cancelled it. And then they said, well, the only reason maybe, is because we had a show where we made fun of short, bald gay men and the guy running the network is a short, bald gay man. I mean, that’s really all we could figure. I go, “Jim, why would they cancel it if it’s a hit?” He goes, “I don’t know, I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s insane.”

Are you doing any more animated voices?

Well I’ve gone back and done some Simpsons. I like doing it. I mean, let’s be honest, when I did The Simpsons, it’s me going, “Hello, I’m Artie Ziff!” I’m The Critic, Jay Sherman. “Hello, I’m Jay Sherman!” It’s the same guy. I know that. But Al Jean and Mike Reiss wrote The Critic and they were running The Simpsons. And originally it was going to be a live show, and I said, “Well, is there a script?” And then Jim Brooks says, “Well we’re not gonna audition for you.” I go, “Well I know, but I don’t know what it is. You’re describing it to me. It sounds funny. Can I read it?” So I left and then Jim said, “You better write a script.” So they did and then I read it. And usually you don’t laugh out loud at comedy scripts, but this thing was hilarious. I laughed out loud ten times, like really hard. I was just dying. And then they said, “We’re gonna make it animated now.” So I said all right.

Questions? Comments? Manifestos? Send them to me at thomasleupp@joblo.com.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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12:44PM on 04/05/2006
What read 'cetainly' in that last post was meant to say 'certainly'. Just thought I'd clear that up.
What read 'cetainly' in that last post was meant to say 'certainly'. Just thought I'd clear that up.
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12:42PM on 04/05/2006
Hachie machie! Everything Lovitz touches turns to gold. I'll cetainly be checking out the Benchwarmers.
Hachie machie! Everything Lovitz touches turns to gold. I'll cetainly be checking out the Benchwarmers.
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