Jon Lovitz for “Rat Race”

Jon Lovitz is one of America’s most irreverent performers. His sly sense of humour translates beautifully in such scene-stealing performances as the baseball scout in A League of their Own, or the dim crook in Woody Allen’s Small Time Crooks. In Jerry Zucker’s fun-filled Rat Race, Lovitz’s Hitler scene is one of the most memorable moments in the film. Now on Broadway, Lovitz talked to Paul Fischer in Los Angeles.

Question: Tell me about the Hitler scene in Rat Race, it’s such a scene-stealer.

Answer: You hit your mouth on a steering wheel and you split your lip, but in this case, I hit it and I barely touch it and it comes out perfect. It’s just so silly. I loved doing it. Especially when Jerry would let me try things and be creative on film and collaborate. That’s what I love. He really knows comedy, he was a performer himself and he has a great sense of humour. I loved it. I just want to work with him. He’s just so nice. It’s fun to do something funny and have the director laughing. It makes you feel good.

Question: Why did you want to be a comedian?

Answer: This kid who was a friend of mine had twin beds and he kept popping up and making faces at me. And I laughed so hard that my sides hurt. I remember thinking ‘I want to be funny like Michael.’ Then when I was 13 I saw Take the Money and Run with Woody Allen and I thought ‘I want to be a comedian like Woody Allen.’ I found out as I went along that you have to work at it and practice and practice. I think every comedian I know was told at one time or another that they were funny but they wanted to be funnier. I made a conscious decision to get funnier.

Question: Why Rat Race?

Answer: I’m not offered movies left and right. The last two years I made six movies and before that it was really slow and I am talking about parts that ranged from small to just four days. The main thing was that the people who were making the movies were funny and were people I wanted to work with. The scripts were really good. With [Rat Race], I just got lucky. I had kind of written it off and then it happened and I was glad and happy I had gotten it. It was the first real studio movie that I had been hired to do in four years so I just wanted to concentrate on every scene and think ‘what can I do to make this the best I can.’ You’re supposed to do that anyway, which I do, but I was even more conscious of it this time.

Question: What was it like working with Woody Allen?

Answer: Oh yeah for sure. Woody is the guy who made me want to be a comic. .I was in heaven and couldn’t stop smiling because he was my idle and 29 years after seeing Take the Money and Run, I was working for him. I mean, I used to do his monologues at college, for goodness sake. I had his comedy albums and I would practice doing them all the time. When I met him I said ‘this is a dream come true and you’re such a great comedian.’ He said ‘I think you’re fantastic and the honour is mine.’ Then, later on, I wasn’t sure if I should do a New York accent, because everyone on the film was from New York and I was from Los Angeles, so I asked him about it and he said, ‘don’t worry about it. It will sound good whatever way you do it. Guys like us, we’re naturally funny.’ I thought, Woody Allen just said ‘guys like us! ‘And I remembered back to when I was doing my college act and bozos would yell out ‘who do you think you are, Woody Allen?’ And there was Woody Allen saying ‘guys like us.’ I started to cry, right there in the middle of the scene. I was so happy I cried.

Question: What about your Broadway role? Rumour has it you will be taking over the lead in The Producers?

Answer: I’m taking over Henry Winkler’s role in The Dinner Party in New York. I haven’t even seen The Producers. I’m not sure who started that rumour. I mean, Nathan Lane just won the Tony. 

Question: How do you feel about Broadway?

Answer: It’s exciting. It feels good. I’m a little nervous. The theatre I’m doing it at is the Music Box Theatre where Irving Berlin wrote and Marlon Brando did his first play. This history of the place is amazing. It’s Neil Simon. I’ve been working with him. It’s been really fun. I can’t believe it. I’m so excited to get started.

Question: You’re also ‘in’ Cats and Dogs. Any thoughts on that?

Answer: I’ve seen parts of it and it’s just hilarious. If you have animals and you think the way they think and you project personalities on them, that’s how they wrote the parts.