Lov Actually

Lov Actually

Jon Lovitz spills the beans on an unhappy experience on the set of Friends, being typecast and the secret anger of a comedian

By Adam Zacharias

Published: Thu 14 Jan 2010, 8:59 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 12:32 PM

When Jon Lovitz appeared on the first season of Friends, playing a stoned restaurateur let loose in Monica’s apartment, it was intended as little more than a goodwill gesture to childhood pal Lisa Kudrow.

“Lisa’s brother is one of my best friends,” says the Californian funnyman, performing tonight in Dubai for the first time. “I grew up with her family, and I thought it would be fun for her parents to see us together [on television], because they’re like my parents too.”

Jon was also well acquainted with Courtney Cox, after the pair worked together on comedy film Mr. Destiny several years previously.

“The producers acted like I was doing them a big favour,” he adds. “It was a new show and it hadn’t been a hit yet.”

By the time the episode had aired in early 1995, the fledgling sitcom about six twentysomethings in New York had already become a ratings juggernaut. “I guess they did me a favour,” he says in hindsight.

Years later, Jon contacted the producers of Friends enquiring if he could return for another episode, only to find the tables had turned.

“I had to beg them,” he recalls, “I was pretty ****ed because it took me months.”

Though he was finally allowed to return in the ninth season, this time as a hellish blind date for Rachel, the entire experience left a bitter taste in Jon’s mouth.

“At first I was like, ‘Are they mad at me?’ Like okay, you want to do the show, fine we’ll just make you a complete loser idiot,” he says.

To make matters worse, the cast barely acknowledgedJon as they were locked in contract negotiations, and the producers didn’t show up to meet him until the day of the taping.

“Nobody talked to me all week,” he says. “I was mad, I just thought it was so rude. The cast would say hi and that was all they’d say. They just wouldn’t speak to me. I had a feeling someone had told them not to say anything to me because it could get out in the press.

“I don’t know what they were thinking. It was very awkward all week. I wasn’t treated as a guest on the show, I was shunned. They really treated me like ****.”

Jon’s status as an American comedy heavyweight long precede the days of Ross and Rachel.

The nasal-voiced comic was a regular cast member of Saturday Night Live from 1985 to 1990, playing characters like pathological liar Tommy Flanagan and a pretentious thespian.

After leaving SNL, Jon was recruited to provide voice work for The Simpsons in its second and third seasons – most famously as Marge’s prom date Artie Ziff and the acid-tongued theatre director of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Plus, of course, Jon returned in the sixth season to play diminutive blowhard Jay Sherman in a crossover with his own animated show The Critic.

Despite Simpsons creator Matt Groening’s public concerns over the collaboration, the episode in which Springfield hosts its own film festival is one of the all-time classics - as Jon trades barbs with Homer Simpson and leads the family in a singalong tribute to hot dogs.

“It’s very weird seeing this cartoon with your voice coming out of it,” he says. “Sometimes they’ll film you recording your part, then the artist will look at it and put certain mannerisms in the character. I was honoured, it’s a great show and I was thrilled to do it.”

Although Jon’s characters tend towards the sleazy, flamboyant and unhinged, in person he’s a different proposition. Sterner and more polite than one may imagine, he’s also battling jetlag after a punishing flight from Los Angeles.

“That’s the problem,” he comments. “When you’re on stage performing people think you’re always ‘on’. If you’re not doing that, they say, ‘What’s wrong, are you depressed? Why aren’t you laughing?’ I’m just sitting here, I’m fine.

“I used to be like that all the time – when I wasn’t working, I had no place to do it. But once I got on Saturday Night Live, it was so much that in my regular life I calmed down and got it all out of me. I could just relax.”

I ask whether or not he feels typecast. Flummoxed for a minute, Jon replies, “Yeah, I get cast a lot as sleazy people. But I’m not – I don’t like people like that, so I guess I’m good at making fun of them. I don’t know if I’m typecast…it’s funny you say that because I was watching a thing on YouTube about Humphrey Bogart.

“I’m not comparing myself to him, but they asked him about being typecast and how he felt about it. He said ‘I think it’s kind of a good thing, because people get to know you’”.

Sitting outside the Mina A’Salam, Jon is keen to talk about his relatively recent transition to stand-up.

“The movie roles kind of dried up about six years ago,” Jon admits, “and stand-up was something I always wanted to do. But every time I’d get up on stage my heart would be pounding through my chest – I’d be so nervous. It just seemed like an overwhelming task.”

Jon turned to close friend and fellow SNL alumnus Dana Carvey, who encouraged him to expand on his material. “That helped a lot,” he says. “There were things which would normally take years to learn, but he saved me a lot of time.” He stifles a laugh. “I didn’t know it would work this well. If you had told me then I would not only have an act, but I’d be going all over the world…I never imagined this in a million years. It’s exciting.”

Jon also opened his own stand-up comedy club in Los Angeles, where he performs every Wednesday night.

“I make fun of myself, men and women, politics…” he says of his act. “I play the piano and sing funny songs, I put in whatever I think is funny. It’s very silly, it’s Rated R I’d say. It’s pretty risqué.”

Jon has also returned to the big screen with upcoming movie Casino Jack, based on a famous American political scandal and starring Kevin Spacey, who personally recommended he join the cast.

Though the performing bug bit Jon at an early age, after receiving a warm response in a high school play and subsequently finding out the prettiest girl in school had a crush on him, he insists it’s a complex craft.

“After a while, you have to learn how to do it,” says Jon, who studied theatre in the late 70s at the University of California in Irvine. “If you’re not really into the intricacies of the job it’s no good.

“But I’d say it was like anything. My father was a doctor – anyone doing that wants to help people who are sick and make them better. That’s great but it’ll only carry you so far. You’ve got to learn how to do it, it’s a tremendous amount of work, and you have to be into it. It’s the same thing with acting.”

Speaking of dads, Jon also believes the common trait among the professionally funny is a lack of parental attention growing up.

“They’re very smart and they’re very angry – usually at their fathers,” Jon claims. “I think any performer would say that basically at home the message they got was they didn’t count. Then you get on stage and people tell you you’re funny and you count – there’s a feeling of warmth you get.”


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