‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Most Important Character Also Became Its Best


The Big Picture

  • Leon Black became Larry David’s permanent houseguest in
    Curb Your Enthusiam
    Season 6, bringing laughs and wisdom to the iconic sitcom.
  • J.B. Smoove’s electrifying performance as Leon elevated
    , establishing him as an essential right-hand companion to Larry.
  • Smoove’s improvisational genius kept his co-stars on their toes, showcasing his comedic prowess and Smoove has offered potential for a Leon-centric spin-off.

Before the premiere of Season 6, Curb Your Enthusiasm had already established itself as a groundbreaking sitcom and one of the best shows of the Golden Age of cable television in the 2000s. With this new season, Larry David‘s worthy follow-up to Seinfeld was elevated to new heights with the arrival of the Blacks, a New Orleans family affected by Hurricane Katrina whom Larry and Cheryl Hines shelter in their home. In Episode 2, “The Anonymous Donor,” Loretta (Vivica A. Fox) invites her brother, who already lives in Los Angeles, to the David house. Her brother, Leon Black (J.B. Smoove), began as a visitor, then situated himself as a temporary resident, and then, six seasons later, became Larry’s permanent houseguest and closest confidant. Most importantly to the show’s success, no co-star of David’s was as consistently funny as Leon throughout his duration on Curb.

Curb Your Enthusiasm

The life and times of Larry David and the predicaments he gets himself into with his friends and complete strangers.

Release Date
October 15, 2000

Larry David



J.B. Smoove Was a Breakthrough Discovery in ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’

Paralleling Leon’s sudden appearance in Larry David’s world in Curb Your Enthusiasm, J.B. Smoove became an overnight sensation thanks to his breakthrough performance as the fast-talking, promiscuous roommate of Larry’s who is never shy to offer his advice on romantic endeavors. From his first episode in Season 6 to the show’s recent series finale, Leon was a fan-favorite, whose comedic escapades and words of wisdom raised the absurdity of the hit sitcom. When David discovered him, Smoove was a relative unknown, playing minor recurring roles in Everybody Hates Chris and Saturday Night Live, where he also served as a writer. Smoove’s background as a stand-up, where he performed for Def Comedy Jam, suited him for a role in Curb Your Enthusiasm, a heavily improvised series. However, Smoove’s opportunity to star in Curb was fortuitous, as while he was on a road trip, he stopped in Los Angeles for a friend’s funeral. When meeting with his agents, they encouraged him to audition for David’s show.

Characters on television are written off in the blink of an eye. For actors, it’s an understood plight of the medium. After the Black family moved out of Larry’s home at the beginning of Season 7, Leon’s tenure on the show was in jeopardy. Why would Leon continue to live with Larry? Well, since this is ultimately a sitcom, logic is flexible. In hindsight, now that the series has wrapped up, Leon’s narrative purpose was an enigma. Did Leon have a job? Where did he live before moving in with Larry? Would Larry accept him permanently moving in? It didn’t matter, as the two becoming roommates is an amusing story beat. Furthermore, David and his Curb writers would be foolish to write off the goldmine of comedic ingeniousness of J.B. Smoove.

Leon Served As Larry David’s Right-Hand Companion in the Back Half of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’

During his first three seasons, Leon brought uproarious laughs at a rate unmatched by any of his co-stars, thanks to his hysterical anecdotes about his sexual exploits, motivational speeches imparted to Larry, and vulgar slang and idioms. While always humorous, there is a world where Leon could have devolved into a one-note character — the manic, wacky friend akin to Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards) in Seinfeld. Upon returning from a six-year hiatus in 2017, Curb Your Enthusiasm firmly established Leon as a main character. Not only was he Larry’s de facto roommate, but he became his right-hand man. A companion that Larry can bounce off of is vital to Curb‘s creative prosperity.

During the back quarter of the show’s duration, as Cheryl, Jeff Garlin, and Susie Essman were eased out of Larry’s day-to-day life and the late Richard Lewis aged, someone needed to step in and take the reins as the engine of the series. Leon, who stood by Larry as he committed his most outlandish faux pas from Seasons 9-12, brilliantly carried the role of Larry’s conscience, confronting him for his cringe-inducing tendencies. Due to his race and their cultural discrepancies, he was a natural juxtaposition to Larry’s Boomer sentiments. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Smoove confirmed the importance of the contrast between Larry and Leon, stating, “You have two personalities that are yin and yang to each other. It works for these two characters to be friends, even if it feels like Leon is bogarting his way into Larry’s house.”

Unlike traditional sitcoms, Curb Your Enthusiasm deviates from the basic setup-punchline formula accompanied by a laugh track. The show takes its time formulating jokes, and it is never desperate to make you laugh. The improvised structure of Curb allows creative freedom for its actors, but the lack of rigid direction can also overwhelm a performer. Nonetheless, David and his writers understood that the art of improvisation provides humor on its own. Even when a joke doesn’t land or has any relevance to the main action in the scene, watching David, Garlin, Essman, and the rest of the cast riff is a thing of beauty. The show was comfortable creeping along the border of the fourth wall, as viewers can sense the delight that actors share in ad-libbing on the spot.


How ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Fixes ‘Seinfeld’s Finale

Larry David has some things to say.

J.B. Smoove As Leon Kept His Co-Stars on the Ropes In ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’

Among the entire Curb cast, no one’s quick wit is on par with J.B. Smoove. His timing and rhythm were so agile that you’d think his improvised lines were scripted and rehearsed. When performing a scene, Smoove told Rolling Stone that one question leaped into his mind before filming, “Do I go with Larry in this scene, or against him?” With each character, you have an inkling about how they are going to react to Larry’s shenanigans — Susie will be belligerent and Cheryl will be mystified. Leon, on the other hand, was unpredictable. He could enable or ridicule Larry at any given moment. Whenever Leon strolled into Larry’s living room or interrupted a conversation, audiences braced themselves for an outrageous remark or monologue — and so did Larry. Smoove consistently kept David, an improv master, on the ropes. David can be seen cracking a smile and restraining himself from releasing a belly laugh when Leon got rolling.

From the get-go, J.B. Smoove meshed with the cast and tenor of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Yet, throughout his tenure as Leon, he maintained a level of autonomy that separated him from his co-stars, including the show’s creator. As a comedic force, he marched to the beat of his own drum. He would commit to bits that would fly past the other performers on screen. While he routinely made his co-stars laugh on screen, Smoove never broke. The comic was like a metronome, always moving at the same rhythm without missing a beat. Leon’s seamless ability to remain unbothered in the face of Larry’s antics or Susie’s rants made him a priceless asset in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Of all the dearly missed aspects of the show, watching Leon impart wisdom to Larry will be cherished forever. Luckily, Smoove has stated that he’d be interested in a spin-off focused on the origins of Leon’s character, sparking hope that fans could see Leon back on their screens.

Curb Your Enthusiasm is available to stream on Max in the U.S.

Watch on Max


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