Most fans know actor Jeremy Piven as Ari Gold, his boisterous Los Angeles agent character from HBO's Entourage, or as department store founder Harry Gordon Selfridge from PBS' Mr. Selfridge. Now, he's on the road, performing a role with which audiences aren't so familiar: himself.
The move into stand-up is a change of pace for Piven, a Chicago native who has been known almost exclusively as an actor across his 30-year career. Recently, after a gig at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles alongside veteran stand-up Russell Peters, Piven became obsessed with the form.
"The idea that you can come up with material on your own and do it in front of a live audience was magical," Piven told the Inquirer in a recent phone interview. "It was something that I was blown away by, and I got hooked."
Piven's foray into live comedy also comes several months following the start of a sexual misconduct scandal in which at least eight women have accused the actor of improper behavior. Two women, Ariane Bellamar and Anastasia Taneie, claimed Piven groped them on the set of Entourage, while others also said the actor forced himself on them. Piven's lawyers have denied the allegations as "works of fiction," and the actor has passed a polygraph test.
Piven would not discuss the allegations against him in his interview with the Inquirer.
It's a full set of comedy. This isn't a Q&A, a book signing, or a victory tour. This is straight-up stand-up. Selfishly, I want people to get a sense of who I am. It's hard to do that in an interview. You can't do it through fictional characters. This is a way for me to engage with an audience with my point of view of the world. Now, instead of playing a fictional character, I'm actually performing as myself. That, to me, is incredible, and it's a great opportunity because people can get a sense of who I actually am instead of a preconceived notion based on fictional characters.
I don't know what they're expecting. I just know that if they're there, I'm happy. There's a great responsibility there, and I've got about anywhere between 30 seconds and a minute that that recognition of what I've done will last. Then, it's up to me to really entertain them.
They know me as an actor, so then to see me navigating as a stand-up, its unexpected for them. I love that. I love breaking through expectations. How would someone know who I am if they haven't been in a room with me? To be in a room with someone and show them who you are, which is someone just like them except with a little bit different journey, we can share this commonality and laugh together.
One could say, "He hasn't done stand-up and it's going to take him 'X' amount of years." But I think there are other variables that lead one to doing stand-up. I do have a background navigating the stage as someone who has done sketch and worked with other actors to build a scene comedically, and done improve, and comedies, and played off of Will Ferrell and Owen Wilson and Craig Robinson and various people. Whatever preconceptions, misconceptions, whatever you're bringing to the table, just come to the table. Because it's my honor to perform in front of people, and I've been doing it my entire life.
The difference is that you're the playwright. You're writing everything. Instead of taking someone else's words and navigating through that, you're the show. I was looking for freedom, and boy, did I get it. This type of freedom is daunting because if you look at it, you see that it's a lot. I take it very seriously. Any stand-up I get a chance to talk to, I love to ask them about their journey, and they've been incredibly welcoming to me. I think some of them feel like the last thing we need is another actor trying stand-up, but I think they see I take it very seriously, and I respect them. It's been a really fun journey.
What's fascinating to me is without me knowing it, all roads have led to stand-up because it's the only form I haven't done. But if you think about it, I've been lucky enough to do all these other forms that inform stand-up. Both my parents are actors and teachers and directors, and from the time I was a child, I was lucky enough to crawl up on the stage. They threw me into a performing company, and in that company, we were doing not only scene work, but theater and improv games that were invented by a teacher named Viola Spolin. I was doing improve games and that type of structure right up until the moment I started Second City after college. My background is in sketch comedy and improv.
That's been one of those cult movies that, because of the times we're in, would be great to see again. That was a great movie to do, and I feel like it has been passed around and has become a cult classic. But there is no sequel in the works that I have heard of. It would be a blast to figure out how to do a sequel for that. I think now is a great time for all of us to laugh. Stand-up and comedy in general is really being sought after because we're all looking for a form of escapism.
We're very divided right now. There's an old saying: The fish stinks from the head down. Whoever is currently in office can set the tone for the country, and he [President Trump] is someone who goes to Twitter all the time and people are fact-checking him and it's hard to keep up with him because there's something new every day.
I think one of the great things that has come out of this time is that people are rallying and getting active and voicing their concerns, and knowing their rights. It's like the best and the worst of times. Simon Blackwell, who is a genius comedic writer, tweeted … that historians are going to look back in 30 years on this time and still not know what to make of it. These are incredibly strange times.