Actor Jeremy Piven on Performing Standup Comedyby Brie Stimson November 20, 2018
Emmy Award-winning actor Jeremy Piven recently spoke to the San Diego Jewish Journal about his new foray into standup comedy, how people sometimes confuse him with the character Ari that he played on “Entourage” and growing up Jewish. Piven will be appearing at the American Comedy Co. in downtown Thanksgiving weekend. The interview has been edited for space.
SDJJ: Why did you decide to do standup?
Jeremy Piven: I have always been a fan of standup, since I was a kid I was always drawn to it. I grew up on the stage doing comedy, sketches and improv and I guess in a way kind of all roads lead to standup … I’m loving it and it’s total creative freedom … With standup, you’re writing the script. You’re the writer, the star, the producer, editor, the whole thing.
SDJJ: How does your act change from venue to venue?
JP: I think that’s what’s most fascinating about the form. Because you’re breaking the fourth wall and you’re speaking directly to them, which, it really becomes a dialogue instead of a monologue and each show is completely different depending on the crowd, the energy and what comes at you and it’s pretty fascinating. You have to be on your game. I’m loving the process.
SDJJ: Do you consider yourself a writer?
JP: I’ve been writing on my feet for my whole life improvisationally and whatnot. And I’ve written scripts and prepared myself with alternate dialogue my entire life, but I wouldn’t consider myself a writer. But I love doing it.
SDJJ: Were you observant growing up?
JP: We were, I was always in temple at the High Holidays obviously. I was bar mitzvahed, and I come from an acting family, and I think that Judaism was very close to all of us as well as the theater. And I think obviously Judaism was our religion and theater is our religion as well so I was very lucky in that way if that makes any sense … My father would have a joke – he said we prayed ‘to whom it may concern.’ We were in a very liberal congregation called the reconstructionists led by Arnie Rachlis who is down in Orange County now at the University Synagogue. And he bar mitzvahed me, and I still go and observe with him to this day, and he’s been a very good friend to me and my family.
SDJJ: Do you talk about Judaism in your act?
JP: I do, I talk about my bar mitzvah. I talk about my struggles with my bar mitzvah. How patient Arnie was with me and I do a bit about rapping – I actually rapped my haftorah portion because I was not a very good bar mitzvah boy.
SDJJ: What’s next for you? Will you keep doing standup?
JP: You have to just kind of embrace the future with open arms. I really don’t know what’s next. I think as an actor you’re always trying to control the future … and every time you finish a job you think you’re out of work … After eight years of “Entourage” … I did four seasons of “Mr. Selfridge” over in the U.K., which is very near and dear to my heart and I love that show … It was on PBS and overseas it was a big hit … Now I’m extending myself and continuously putting your ego aside and humbling yourself and trying new things and that’s kind of what I’m getting into now and learning and growing. You have to just be a student no matter where you are in your career… Last year when I was filming “Wisdom of the Crowd” I would get up and do standup after a long day of shooting, and it’s really not the way to do it cause it can’t progress, doing standup and splitting your focus. So I’m all in, I’m loving it. It’s a chance for an audience to come and see who I am as opposed to a fictional character and how I see the world and what I think is funny and my experiences with my family and being on set and onstage and doing impressions, and it’s a full evening of standup.
SDJJ: Would people who know you from TV be surprised to see this different side of you?
JP: I think , yeah, I mean [in acting] it’s your job to play fictional characters with as much integrity as you can and never judge your characters. So the goal is to play them authentically. And if by playing them authentically, if by playing a character authentically you’re confused for that character you just have to embrace that, you know you can’t fight it … I noticed that when I was in the U.K. they intrinsically knew like, ‘There’s Jeremy Piven, he’s an actor, excuse me, Mr. Piven, I enjoyed your work in ‘Mr. Selfridge.’’ ‘Oh, thank you so much.’ And there are times here [the United States] when people scream Ari and smack you on the back and you’re at the urinal and it’s a little confusing, and I think that they have a bit of confusion and I talk about that onstage. It’s all part of the journey.
SDJJ: How would you describe your act?
JP: When comedians connect with an audience it comes from a place of truth … No two acts are the some, hopefully, and I guess because my act isn’t derivative of anything else, it’s just me. And the feedback I’m getting is from a lot of people is they say that they didn’t know that I was that funny, which is an interesting backhanded compliment, and I’ll take it.
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