Jon Lovitz on Obama, The Simpsons and playing likable jerks
A wild-mannered legend of comedy history, Jon Lovitz has created a mid-tempo career with roles on The Simpsons and in movies like Casino Jack and Woody Allen's Small Time Crooks since his unforgettable years as a pathological liar and Jewish Santa on Saturday Night Live. Rarely a leading man and at times embroiling himself in controversial feuds (such as his bust-up with Kevin Smith last summer, when Lovitz spewed a divisive rant against Obama), this character actor has delivered some of the most beloved jerks in comedy cinema.
Jon Lovitz will perform four shows at Comedy Works South this weekend.
Starting tonight, Lovitz will perform four shows of standup comedy at Comedy Works South. In anticipation of these shows, we touched base with Lovitz to chat about playing the villain, why The Critic was cancelled, and what he really thinks of Barack Obama.
Westword: Straight off, I want to say that I was a huge fan of The Critic in the early '90s. I really wish it had been given more of a chance. Do you think it was cancelled because audiences couldn't sympathize with a film critic?
Jon Lovitz: Thanks. The thing is, the show was actually making fun of critics, and at the time the show was a hit with audiences. But for whatever reason, the network didn't like it. Jim Brooks was like, "They're canceling a hit, what are they doing?" Al Jean and Mike Reiss didn't have a clue. It was disappointing. It held 90 percent of The Simpsons audience at the time, which was at its peak.
I really loved that Simpsons crossover episode. When Jay Sherman and Homer Simpson's bellies were growling at each other under the table, I don't know when I've laughed so hard.
Oh, thank you. Yeah, Al Jean and Mike Reiss wrote the part for me, so I got lucky there. Al's still running The Simpsons.
You had a whole host of Simpsons characters you played: Artie Ziff, the Llewellyn Sinclair crazy theater director, Ms. Sinclair. Similar to your film roles, you seem to be attracted to arrogant, emotionally broken characters. What is the appeal for you in playing villainous characters?
With someone like Artie Ziff, it was kind of an arrogant idiot who was unaware of it. There's something about that that's inherently funny to me. I don't know if I'd say Artie Ziff was a villain; he's just someone who's still in love with his girlfriend from high school. I would say that most of my characters are likable jerks. But I never saw them as villains. They're usually pretty harmless.
With the pathological liar character...you know, I hate lying. So I created that character based on that. I think lying is deplorable, and I wanted to make fun of that. I really like old movies, and there was a character in The Thin Man that would say, "Yeah, that's the ticket." And I thought, "Oh, that would be a fun part to play." And then I thought of AA -- which isn't very funny -- but I thought what if a guy did like an AA kind of stand- up, tell your story, but said he was a pathological liar, and when he told his story he was just lying. But he thinks he's getting away with it. That made me laugh. I wanted to make him likable; he's a good person, but he has this flaw.
I've been curious to ask someone who's appeared on the Comedy Central roasts about the overwhelming amount of "You're gay!" jokes that run on the show. I know you had a song about Bob Saget along those lines, and the recent James Franco roast was almost nothing but jokes like that. It's not that they're offensive, it's just that it doesn't seem like an insult to be thought of as gay in the 21st century.