Top Five: J.B. Smoove on the Drama of Comedy


Top Five, written, directed by and starring Chris Rock, opened this weekend, after a fierce bidding war at the Toronto Film Festival. Rock plays comedian Andre Allen who tried to make a serious movie about the Haitian Revolution. On the day his film opens, he gives a day-long interview with a New York Times reporter (Rosario Dawson). J.B. Smoove plays Silk, Andre’s personal assistant and bodyguard, and longtime friend. Silk protects Andre on the streets of New York. Last week we got to speak with Smoove about Top Five, and he projected energy through the phones with his enthusiasm and extensive analysis of the film’s themes.


CraveOnline: It’s clear that Top Five was a very personal film for Chris Rock. Could you relate to the themes he was exploring?

J.B. Smoove: Oh, yeah. I think he has to draw from somewhere. Since he is a comedian, I think you have to draw from something in your world. They say you only write and only talk about what you know about. I think this movie does that, man. I think he has definitely applied that with this film and he did a great job, man. 

Hell, I don’t know what mirrors his real life as far as this movie is concerned, but I’ll just tell you we as comedians – there’s a lot of comics in this movie – we as comedians have been through probably everything his character’s going through. I think it definitely is Chris Rock. Whether his name’s Andre Allen or Chris Rock in the movie, it’s still one of those things. It’s one of those things where you don’t have to know the character’s name. All you know is what he’s going through.

He’s playing a comedian trying to do a serious drama. I always wonder why people are surprised whenever this happens. How many Robin Williamses, Tom Hankses or Bill Murrays does it take for people to realize comedians can do both?

We can do both, man. We do this amazing thing on stage where we can do both. Like they say, comedy is drama and drama is comedy. We have to be able to take that spin. All we’re doing is we’re processing what you’re hearing and how to get to you. Whether we give it to you as a premise on stage as a comedian does, or we give it to you as a premise with a punchline attached to it. 

Sometimes I’ll be on stage and I’ve heard people laugh at a premise, but they only laugh at the premise because they know who you are as a comedian. Once they know who you are, they’re going to laugh at a premise before you even say a punchline. That’s truly engaged to what you’re talking about. As a comedian you have to have that tool. You have to be able to almost pull people into your world before you give them who you are. I think you can’t help but want to change. 


“Your jokes will only take you so far. Your personality is what’s going to get you movies.”


I’ll tell you one thing, as a comedian or as anyone. We talk about this as comics, you don’t want people to think you’re a fraud. As confident as you are on that stage and as confident as you are giving information away, giving this thing to people, giving a slice of your life away, giving a piece of who you are, you’re just as vulnerable to say the wrong things at the wrong time. You’re just as vulnerable to slip and not know if what you’re saying is funny. It’s always the personality that comes before the jokes. Anyone can tell a joke, but your personality and who you are on that stage is what comes across. 

Your jokes will only take you so far. Your personality is what’s going to get you movies. Your ability gets you movies, not the jokes because more than likely, no one’s going to cast you and use all your jokes in a movie. Those are just jokes that can be rewritten and thrown away after a while. It’s what you bring to that character that can go drama or can go comedy. I think that’s what determines it, not your jokes. 

Plenty of times I’ve sat there like, “Am I going down the right road?” and you overthink it. We can go both ways because we do that naturally. You don’t see it as a viewer, but when we’re on stage doing our material, I use this all the time but when someone’s on stage saying how terrible their father was growing up, more than likely it’s coming out of their mouth funny. But it’s been filtered through a filter in their brain. In all honesty, their father was terrible. So we process it and give it to you funny so we can deal with it.