J.B. Smoove on working with Rockstar, voicing Chakra Attack, and the enduring appeal of GTA 5

J.B. Smoove is an actor, writer and comedian whose career spans over two decades. Best known for his role as Leon Black in Curb Your Enthusiasm, you might otherwise recognise Smoove from Saturday Night Live, Everybody Hates Chris, Mr Deeds and a number of other TV shows and feature films. You might otherwise recognise his voice from the Grand Theft Auto 5 talk radio show Chakra Attack. 

As we discuss his role in the latter—one Dr Ray De Angelo Harris, a fictional host who haphazardly explores spirituality and relaxation—Smoove switches in and out of character. With fictional portrayals in mind, and given the fact this is a phone interview, I can't help but think of this scene from Curb

J.B. Smoove

J.B. is best known for his role as Leon Black in Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm. He provides the voice of Dr Ray De Angelo Harris in GTA 5's Chakra Attack radio show, which features on the game's West Coast Talk Radio station.

Let's talk GTA. You provided the voice of Ray De Angelo Harris in Grand Theft Auto 5's Chakra Attack. Chakra Attack is, let's say, a little bit out there. Is that fair?

It's about your mind and being in a certain place, man. There's Zen-like, and then there's Ray De Angelo Harris-like. There's a way of conjuring up your soul—diving into your soul and looking at how your brain works, we attach ourselves to that and we regenerate your energy into our energy, reprocess your energy and send it back out. That's what the whole mantra was when we were doing this amazing radio show on GTA. The power, reaching out to people, grabbing them, shaking their ass up a little bit. It's all it is. Grabbing your ass through the radio waves, and shaking that ass up. 

You know how many people told me that even in the game they would pull over—pull over a car in a videogame—and park on the side of the road, just so they could concentrate and absorb of the vibe of Dr Ray De Angelo Harris. They'd pull over in a videogame. Who the hell pulls over a car in a videogame to listen to the damn radio? You're playing a damn videogame! 

I mean, I can't in any way vouch for Rockstar, but what if there was a mission where the player meets Dr Harris—would you be up for that?

Of course I would! I would fix your life. I would  adjust the screws on your life. Everybody got screws. Sometimes the screws are loose. Sometimes they're too damn tight. I would adjust your screws to fit your personality and motivate you in my own special way. Everybody needs a good doctor in their life. 

Chakra Attack is all about mindfulness and yoga. At one point on the show, you talk about hot yoga. Episode 7 of the latest series of Curb is all about hot yoga. Is there a link there? 

That's just a coincidence, man. Hot yoga is something else. It's crazy how things intersect sometimes. My wife is at yoga right now. I don't know how you can go into yoga and not think about being so damn hot. 


That's it! 

Leon Black, the character you play in Curb Your Enthusiasm. He strikes me as someone who enjoys videogames. 

Listen. I think Leon would love videogames. I think he'd really love GTA 5. His life might be like GTA. We don't know much about Leon's story, he doesn't have a true origin. You watch these Marvel movies—everybody got a damn origin story. I know those guys are superheroes, but no one knows where Leon came from. We know a little bit about him, but I think if we knew more about him that's something we could channel. Who is this guy? Where did he come from?

Could you ever see Leon sitting down with Larry David to play videogames?

I think it'd have to be something about life itself. I think Leon and Larry could play GTA 5, because there's enough in there of a lifestyle that Larry has no idea about, that he's never experienced. Take Larry down that road. On a mission with Larry? I think that'd be so hilarious. Just to explain the game to Larry, and how it works, you know? Larry, we're gonna get in this car. We're gonna drive across town. We're gonna get this deal poppin'. We're gonna do this, we're gonna all these steps. 

I think that would so intriguing to him. I think he would get caught up. I think if Leon introduced him to GTA and told him how it works and how crazy it is—you know, there's ladies in it, there's intrigue, there's power, there's fights, there's running, there's driving cars, there's all of that stuff that you have never experience, Larry. I think Larry would get caught up in it and he'd be addicted to it. And Leon would have to pry the controller out of his hands at some point. I think that'd be a funny episode—Larry gets caught up in a videogame. He's up all night. His eyes are red. 

If this doesn't feature in a future episode of Curb I'm going to be very disappointed. 

Ha! How great would that be, man?! Aw man, how great would that be? Larry's eyes are red and… aw man.

Leon: What's wrong with you, man?

Larry: I was up all night playing that videogame you got me hooked on! I can't stop. I just can't stop. You got a game in you? Come on, let's play a game. Just one game.

Leon: I can't! I got other things to do, man.

Larry: … One game?

That would be awesome, man. How great would that be? Larry's addicted to the game. He can't stop playing. Aw, man! Then he starts living like the game. He starts doing stuff the game would do in real life. That would be great.

I'll leave you to run that past Mr David. Back to Chakra Attack, what was it like working with Rockstar—how much creative freedom were you given, how much was scripted, how much of yourself were you able to bring to the part?

It was amazing working with Rockstar. Do you know who actually hooked me up with Rockstar? DJ Pooh hooked me up with Rockstar and GTA, how crazy is that? It's crazy how your connections with other people end up being your connections with where you need to be at. He called me up and said: Hey man, you wanna do a voice on a videogame? I said: Yeah, what's it for? Once he told me what it was, I thought it was great. I could definitely do that. 

That worked out great. We had a great time in the studio. They had something written, of course, but they allowed me to get in there and they allowed me to have fun. I mean, it's one thing to have a concept, but it's another to know the voice behind it, to have the rhythm behind it—all these little nuances that we don't think about that come into play once you get into that studio. I had no idea how I was going to do it, or the character. But once I got in there and felt the energy, that's when everything came together. 

After that it's like a golf swing. You get in there and you get that rhythm on, and now you've built this world around. Everything you say, and everything you do, you attach your personality to it and your cadence and all of these great things to it, which in turn brings your character to life. Although it's only a voice over a radio station, now you actually have in your mind how he would be in person. Dr Ray isn't a physical person, he's a radio guy, but hearing him you almost feel like you know him, you almost feel like you want to meet him, you know what I mean? Whether you see him as J.B. Smoove, or you see him looking like somebody else, you have this presence to him, a base to him, a voice to the character. 

In December GTA 5/Online recorded its highest ever player count. It's almost three years old on PC and five years old on console. As someone involved in its creation, why do you think this is? 

I think the speed of things, the world of gaming, everyone has access now, and it makes it a lot easier for people to grab a hold of technology. We're in this place now where it's only going to get bigger. This game came four and a bit years ago, but it's still so popular. People love stories, and love being a part of those stories. If you can adjust that story to whatever you want it to be, that's what makes the game so amazing. You chose to turn down this street, but then change your mind and turn down that street. That's simple but these games operate on so many levels that even the smallest changes can totally change their outcomes. It's amazing. 

Those interested in seeing J.B. Smoove live on the road should visit his official website for more information. His book, named The Book of Leon, is out now. Here's a promo clip for that.