That honk of a voice. That pitch-perfect sarcasm. That mischievous twinkle of an overgrown schoolboy who can get away with anything with a hastily concocted -- hmmm, yeah, that's the ticket! -- lie.
The man's just so ... how to put this? ... Jon Lovitz-y.
We'll presume that the comedian/actor/singer (yes, singer), who's brought his stand-up act to Excalibur's Thunder From Down Under Showroom through Oct. 1, left his Pathological Liar character from "Saturday Night Live" behind for this interview.
Review-Journal: You didn't start doing stand-up until 2005, reportedly because you had to overcome stage fright. Isn't that odd, given that you performed every week for millions of viewers on live television?
Jon Lovitz: You're up there completely by yourself, though. There's no character, no scene, just you and them. Everyone's waiting for you to make them laugh. I'd get onstage and my heart would be pounding in my chest. Try it -- it's like, "Oh my God!"
R-J: Is it fair to say that you've conquered that fear, having opened your own comedy club on the Universal CityWalk in Los Angeles?
JL: Yeah. I'm there every Wednesday now when I'm in town. "The Tonight Show" is on the same lot with Conan O'Brien, who I've known since he was a writer on "Saturday Night Live" and we're like the club they go to when they look at new talent.
R-J: You worked with Mel Brooks in the movie version of "The Producers" musical, with Woody Allen in "Small Time Crooks" and with Neil Simon in "The Dinner Party" on Broadway. What's it like to work for a kind of holy trinity of comedy?
JL: I'd never thought of it that way but yes, and they all worked as writers on Sid Caesar's show, so I felt very fortunate to work with them. On "The Dinner Party" I worked in rehearsals with Neil Simon a lot. It was fun, but it was hard because I'm reading aloud a play to the guy that wrote it. But when I did the show, he came backstage and hugged me -- "Jon, that was great" and I'm like, "Phew!"
Woody Allen inspired me to be a comedian. I saw "Take the Money and Run" when I was 13. I was acting opposite him in one scene and it felt so perfect, so much in rhythm. I would wonder, "Is he feeling this?" We would do the scene and he would laugh. But I wasn't sure if I should do the character with a New York accent. I kept wanting to ask him and they'd go, "He doesn't like questions." And I'd go, "But I'm in the movie." So I asked him and he couldn't have been nicer to me. I'd heard of people doing his movies and getting fired. That was my nightmare, like I get to do a movie with the guy who was the whole reason I became a comedian and then if he fired me, that would've been horrible.
So we're doing the scene and he says "Stop, maybe it's better if you just do yourself. Guys like us, we're already funny." And he said, "Guys like us!" So I went back to my mark and I started crying because I was so relieved. I was just beaming the whole time. I was making HIM laugh. Just fantastic.
R-J: Are fans as aware of your other performing sides, say, the dramatic turn you did in the movie "Happiness" as a depressed man?
JL: I know I can do it but other people don't. That was challenging because it was funny and sad and it turns and it's subtle. People know me as a comedian but I just did straight acting for 10 years.
R-J: Are fans also surprised that you have what's been described as an opera-quality voice, having performed at Carnegie Hall several times?
JL: Yes, but I don't blame them. You hear my voice, you wouldn't expect it. I got to sing on an album with Robbie Williams and he said, "We're doing a show at the (Royal) Albert Hall, you want to do it?" And I said, "Hell yes!" You can look it up on YouTube, it's called "Well, Did You Evah?" (written by Cole Porter and sung by Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby in 1956's "High Society"). And I got to sing the national anthem at Dodger Stadium. It's fun. In my stand-up act, I play the piano and sing as nice as I can and what I'm singing is absolutely ridiculous. That's what's so great about stand-up, you can put everything you do into your act. I make fun of everything -- politics, religion, sex, whatever I think is funny I stick in the act."
R-J: "Saturday Night Live" fans of course remember the Pathological Liar, but what about other characters like the devil and Hanukkah Harry?
JL: Hannukah Harry! Sen. Al Franken wrote that one. Senator! What an astounding achievement, unbelievable, oh my God! I'm very proud of him, he's very, very bright.
R-J: Is it flattering or irritating when people stop you and say, "Yeah, that's the ticket!"
JL: It's flattering. You know, I didn't invent the phrase, "Yeah, that's the ticket." I like old movies and it's from "The Thin Man." It was 23 years ago. It's like what you've always wanted, like "I hope people like this." It makes me feel good that I did my job well enough that they remember it years later. You never think that's gong to happen, and then when it does, it's like, "Oh my God." It was huge and it's still being used today. Anybody who lies, it looks like they're imitating me.
Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0256.