You probably think of Jon Lovitz as the sketch comedian from “Saturday Night Live,” the show that introduced him to the American public. He spent six years on SNL, and created such characters as The Annoying Man and The Master Thespian.
Or you may think of him as an actor, from guest roles on “Friends” and “NewsRadio” (for which he eventually became a regular), or from such iconic movies as “A League of Their Own” and “Big.”
But for the past dozen years or so, Lovitz has been concentrating on stand-up comedy. And that’s what he’ll be doing when he comes to Tampa this weekend for show at the Improv in Ybor City. He’ll do single shows on Thursday and Friday, and a double-header on Saturday.
“I started in stand-up 12 years ago,” he said in a phone interview from his California home. “It took me two years to learn it, and then I’ve actually been performing stand-up for 10 years.”
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His TV shows and movies still show up on TV with some regularity, so a lot of people may not realize that he’s been doing very little of that kind of work in the past decade.
I started in stand-up 12 years ago. It took me two years to learn it, and then I’ve actually been performing stand-up for 10 years.
“For 11 years I was getting work all over,” he said. “Then it just stopped.”
He told his agents that he was going to need to get some income before too long.
“They told me to sell my house,” he said. “That was their answer. ‘Sell your house.’ They were both building mansions and they wanted me to sell my house. So I learned to do stand-up and I fired them.
Even though he became a star through sketch comedy and acting, Lovitz said stand-up was what he had first set out to do.
“I saw ‘Take the Money and Run,’ the first Woody Allen movie,” he said. “And I saw ‘Lenny,’ with Dustin Hoffman, the movie about Lenny Bruce. I had never heard of Lenny Bruce. I went to buy some Lenny Bruce albums and I saw there were some records of Woody Allen doing stand-up. I had no idea he had ever done stand up. So I bought the albums and I would do the routines.”
Stand-up comedy can be anything. You can do anything you want to do. There’s only one rule, and that’s to make people laugh. And I love to make people laugh.
But a teacher told him it would be easier to build a career as a comic actor, so Lovitz took a detour of several decades before he got around to getting serious about stand-up.
Even for an experienced sketch comic who was used to performing live in front of television audiences of millions, Lovitz initially found stand-up terrifying. That’s partly why it took him two years to learn how to do it. When you have to do a 75-minute show and nobody’s laughing, “You’re all alone,” he said. “You look around and think ‘Who’s the comedian?’ and then you realize ‘Oh, it’s me.’”
Eventually, though, Lovitz came to find stand-up comedy liberating. He likened it to a painter who starts each morning with a blank canvas.
“Stand-up comedy can be anything,” he said. “You can do anything you want to do. There’s only one rule, and that’s to make people laugh. And I love to make people laugh.”