For the first 10 years of his career, Jon Lovitz did plays in high school, earned a bachelor’s degree in drama at the University of California - Irvine, and studied acting with Tony Barr at the Film Actors Workshop.
“I thought it was my lucky day when I got accepted into The Groundlings comedy group in 1982,” said Lovitz, 55, set to appear at the Helium Comedy Club on Sansom Street on Sept. 27, 28 and 29.
But he hadn’t seen anything yet, for in 1985, when the Groundlings appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Lovitz premiered his Tommy Flanagan of Pathological Liars Anonymous and was about to see his star really begin to shine. That appearance kicked off a series of events, including a movie — Last Resort — a series of voiceovers, and perhaps the biggest break of his career, a stint with Saturday Night Live that lasted from 1985 to ’90.
His list of characters also began to grow and blossom. Aside from the ever-popular Tommy Flanagan (“Yeh! That’s the ticket!”), others were also born, including Shakespeare ham Master Thespian, Hanukkah Harry, and the impersonations of Michael Dukakis and Harvey Fierstein, among others.
”Some of the characters just came out of my head, and others were based on people I’d seen or knew,” Lovitz explained. “Flanagan was based on an old Thin Man movie I had watched but I added my own parts to it to make it funny. And Master Thespian was a combination of actors like John Barrymore and John Carradine, and one of my drama professors in college.”
Lovitz was born in California and said he was always the class clown and had his sights set on becoming an actor/comedian.
“I saw Woody Allen in Take the Money and Run when I was thirteen years old, and he became my inspiration. It was then I decided I wanted to be a comedian.”
Twenty-nine years later, Lovitz met Allen and got to appear in his film Small Time Crooks, thus fulfilling one of his childhood dreams of working with his idol. A year later, Lovitz fulfilled another childhood dream when Neil Simon invited him to join the Broadway cast of his play, The Dinner Party.
“When Woody cast me in Small Time Crooks, he actually told me to add what I wanted in my dialogue,” Lovitz remembered. “Woody Allen was letting me improvise! And Neil Simon personally asked me to do The Dinner Party. I’m not kidding. It doesn’t get better than that.”
And yet, despite all his success on television, film and stage, Lovitz was unable to work up the nerve to perform standup comedy until recently.
“I was always going to do standup,” he said, “the way some guys are always saying they are going to climb Mt. Everest. But I finally decided to try it one night at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood, and it didn’t take long to realize that audiences really did want to see Jon Lovitz being funny and silly. I was home. I was safe. And I’ve been doing it and enjoying it ever since.”
In fact, he enjoyed it so much that he opened his own comedy club in 2007, where he has a chance to try out his weekly standup performances. He’s also given a stage to other popular comics, including Dana Carvey, David Spade, Carlos Mencia and a whole host of other funnymen.
With a new TV sitcom called Mr. Box Office about to start in syndication, and a movie scheduled with Adam Sandler, Lovitz is enjoying it all, and always remembers the advice given him by his father.
“My father was a physician but he never pushed me in any direction,” Lovitz said. “He told me to just do what I was passionate about, and pick something that never feels like work, something I just can’t wait to start doing every morning when I wake up.” ••
For show times and ticket information, call 215-496-9001.