In 1979 John Lovitz joined the Groundlings, an improvisational and sketch comedy troupe in Los Angeles. He was hardly making any money. His fortunes began to turn in 1984, when he appeared with the Groundlings on The Tonight Show. A year later, he was invited to join the cast of Saturday Night Live. After leaving the cast, he enjoyed continued success as an actor on film, stage and television.
Actor, comedian. Jon Lovitz was born on July 21, 1957, in the Los Angeles suburb of Tarzana, California. Lovitz first fell in love with making others laugh at the age of 5, when he attended a sleepover and found himself inspired by a friend who cracked everyone up by making funny faces. But Lovitz never considered a career in comedy until he saw Woody Allen's 1969 film Take the Money and Run. "I was 13," he says, recalling the film's impact on his life. "That's when I knew I wanted to be a comedian." Lovitz's passion for comedy increased when, as a teenager, his mother gave him The Collected Plays of Neil Simon as a gift; Lovitz "devoured them."
Some of Jon Lovitz's comic idols, such as Woody Allen, Al Jolson and the Marx Brothers, were famous entertainers, while others were just his neighborhood friends. Lovitz was childhood pals with Lisa Kudrow, who later played Phoebe on Friends, and her brother David. "She was like my sister," Lovitz says. "Her brother David was my friend, and he is super funny. And it's ironic, a lot of people, once they know we are close, think she looks like she's doing me. But if you see that, it's because we're both doing David. He was more talented than both of us. But he's a doctor now."
Lovitz attended the prestigious Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, and upon graduating in 1975 he continued on to the University of California at Irvine. There he studied drama under famous acting instructor Robert Cohen. Lovtiz recalls, "The class was called 'Great Acting' and the professor said, 'Forget mediocre acting. Let's just look at all the greatest actors. What are the elements of greatness? Try to put that in your work.' I was thrilled by that—that has always been in my mind. He said this is what you should always do, strive for greatness. Not that I think I'm great, but just the striving..." When Lovitz wasn't studying with Professor Cohen, he was holed up in his dorm room studying Woody Allen. "I memorized Woody's routines," he remembers. "Even used index cards with little arrows to show pauses, rises in voice volume, speed of delivery."
After graduating from college in 1979, Lovitz joined the Groundlings, an improvisational and sketch comedy troupe in Los Angeles. While working with the Groundlings, he met fellow comedians such as Phil Hartman and Paul Reubens and worked under acting coach Randy Bennett. "I had always goofed off in school," Lovitz says. "It was great having Randy as a teacher because he encouraged me to be the class clown." However, Bennett initially doubted Lovitz' potential as an actor. "I really didn't know Jon was going to make it," Bennett later said. "He was a challenging student. At first, he mumbled and didn't fully commit to his characters. But he was very funny and quick-witted." While Lovitz cherished his time with the Groundlings, he was hardly making any money, and he had to work part-time as a messenger to makes ends meet.
Lovitz' fortunes began to turn in 1984, when he appeared with the Groundlings on the Tonight Show. "I was so nervous it was scary," he recalls. "But when I got into the greenroom, Morley Safer of 60 Minutes was there following around Jack Lemmon for a profile. Safer asked Lemmon what the secret to his comedy was, to which Lemmon replied, 'Keep it simple.' I heard that. Went out, did my skit, and kept it simple. It worked."
Big Break & Beyond
A year later, Lovtiz got his big break when he was invited to join the cast of Saturday Night Live. Immediately after learning that he'd been cast, Lovitz drove straight to Randy Bennett's class and shouted, "I got it!" Upon hearing the news, Bennett burst out in tears. Lovitz remained part of the SNL cast for five years, from 1985-1990, and during that time he created some of the most memorable and inventive characters in the show's history: Tommy Flanagan the Pathological Liar, Shakespeare ham Master Thespian, Hanukkah Harry, and impersonations of Michael Dukakis and Harvey Fierstein.
After leaving the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1990, Lovitz enjoyed continued success as an actor on film, stage and television. He turned in a memorable performance as a baseball scout in the 1992 film A League of Their Own, then went on to feature in such acclaimed comedies as The Wedding Singer (1998), Small Time Crooks (2000), Little Nicky (2000), Rat Race (2001), and The Producers (2001). With his performance in Small Time Crooks, Lovitz fulfilled a childhood dream of working with his idol Woody Allen. Recent film and voice work include 3000 Miles to Graceland (2001), The Producers (2005), Southland Tales (2006), Hotel Transylvania (2012), Grown Ups 2 (2013), A Mouse Tale (2015), The Ridiculous 6 (2015) and Mother’s Day (2016).
A year later, he fulfilled another childhood dream when Neil Simon invited him to join the Broadway cast of his play The Dinner Party. Lovitz says, "Woody cast me in Small Time Crooks and actually told me to add what I wanted in my dialogue. 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 this." In addition to film and stage acting, Lovitz has enjoyed a long and successful television career. His most prominent television credits include Newsradio, The Critic, Friends, Just Shoot Me, The Simpsons, Two and a Half Men, Hot in Cleveland and New Girl.
Despite his remarkable success as a television, film and stage actor, Lovtiz was unable to work up the nerve to perform standup comedy until quite recently. "I was always going to do standup," he says, "the same way that some guys say they were always going to climb Mt. Everest." Finally, in the early 2000s, Lovitz took his chance by performing brief, five-minute sets at the Laugh Factory, the famous Hollywood comedy club. While at first he leaned on his old Saturday Night Live characters as a crutch, he soon realized that audiences really just wanted to see "Jon Lovitz being silly and funny. So that's what I do. I use my personality and make fun of myself and it really seems to work." In 2007, he founded the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club in San Diego. Two years later a second location opened in Los Angeles. The venues have also hosted many other famous comedians from around the world.
After performing an impressive array of television, film and stage roles, Lovitz continues to focus on his standup comedy routines—living out his childhood fantasy of making a living by telling jokes. Once an aspiring comedian memorizing Woody Allen tapes and poring over Neil Simon plays, Lovitz has now accomplished everything he set out to do, including working with both of those childhood idols. He says, "I can't think of any boyhood dreams left to fulfill."
Lovitz is fairly private about his personal life, but has been romantically linked with model Janice Dickinson.
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