Tampa’s J.B. Ball taping a comedy special here after work with Kevin Hart – Tampa Bay Times
TAMPA — After working with Kevin Hart nearly a dozen times — a mix of producing, writing and acting — J.B. Ball believes he can say that he knows the Hollywood star.
But the 35-year-old Tampa native and current Los Angeles resident stopped short of saying that Hart knows him.
“I’m not even sure he recognizes me when he walks into the room,” Ball laughed. “He’s meeting people constantly and is so busy. I never go out of my way to chum it up with him. I’m just trying to get my job done.”
He hopes to follow Hart’s lead to be a household name in comedy.
Ball takes another step toward that goal on Sept. 24, when he returns home and to his alma mater to film an hourlong comedy special titled “It’s My Privilege” at the University of Tampa’s Charlene A. Gordon Theater.
If you’re attending, Ball said, you’d better have thick skin. His comedy does not take sides. It criticizes all points of view.
“It’s a lot of social commentary,” he said. “I’m constantly looking at polarizing topics and looking for where the common ground is between the sides. Maybe then they can stop arguing.”
The special is not yet attached to a network or streaming service. Ball will shop the special after it is taped.
You might already know Ball’s work.
There’s the Old Spice web series in which he portrays one of the writers charged with coming up with ideas for Hart’s marketing campaign for the male grooming products.
Or the segments he produced for “Olympic Highlights With Kevin Hart & Snoop Dogg” and “Ridiculousness.”
Or perhaps you have seen one of the online comedy sketches he wrote, produced and starred in. His most viral is “Who’s the G.O.A.T. LeBron or Jordan?,” which pokes fun at the heated debate via a barbershop argument that leads to a neighborhood catching fire. Originally produced for Comedy Central’s digital platform, the sketch was among the network’s most successful of 2019 with over 3 million views.
What is the key to Ball’s success?
The 2005 graduate of Alonso High School and 2009 graduate of the University of Tampa takes comedy seriously.
Ball is never off the clock. Throughout the day, he jots down new ideas and refines old ones.
“I went from carrying a composite journal to an organized notebook to digital notebooks today,” he said. “I keep it all in a binder with organized sections that I can pull from when I need to.”
That writing is what stands out to Ball’s fellow comedian Law Smith, a Tampa resident who has performed at local shows with him.
“He’s the most meticulous comedian I know,” Smith said. “There are no cover bands in comedy. We always need original material and his work ethic and diligence in writing his material is something to be admired.”
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Ball also has that “it factor,” Smith said. “The other comedians always knew he’d make it big. There was never a doubt.”
Clark Brooks, a Tampa standup comedian and editor for the Tampa News Force satire website, agreed.
“He has the full complement of tools,” Clark said. “He’s like the Mike Trout of comedy. He’s hardworking, he’s funny, he has confidence, he relates to an audience. He can do it all.”
Ball’s talent was first recognized when he was in sixth grade and tagged along when his mother, Monique Smith, performed at a wedding with her jazz band, Monique and Company.
“A producer was there and noticed how I was entertaining the other kids,” Ball said. “He booked me for a WB commercial.”
Ball’s family sent him that summer to a performing arts camp at the University of Tampa to develop his talent.
He later returned to the university to play basketball and major in filmmaking, but Ball’s screenwriting professor saw potential in a different medium.
“I was always pitching jokes,” Ball said. “She suggested I give standup a try.”
For the next three years, Ball said, he frequented comedy shows and hung out with standup comedians while scribbling ideas in his notebook, but never performing.
When he was 23, Ball attended a Tampa comedy show that a friend was hosting. Without warning, the friend called Ball on stage.
“He forced me to do it,” Ball said. “He ripped the Band-Aid off. I did 10 minutes and it was awful, but I got one really good laugh toward the end and that was enough to keep me motivated.”
Ball became a regular at open mic nights, honing his act with each performance. He’d sometimes open his notebook mid-act to cross out a joke that didn’t work, highlight one that did or add to an existing idea.
He went on to win the Florida’s Funniest Comedian competition, was selected to perform at the prestigious Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal and was highlighted on the “Hart of the City” series that had Hart travel the nation in search of budding stars.
In 2018, Ball relocated to Los Angeles and his manager booked an introduction meeting with Comedy Central.
“They were just supposed to get to know me,” Ball said. “But I treated it like a full-blown pitch meeting and pitched all my ideas,” which led to him writing and producing skits for their digital platform. “And once you show success in one area, that leads to more success and more opportunities. One thing leads to another and suddenly I’m working with Kevin Hart.”
If the special is a success and launches Ball’s career to the next level, will Hart finally know who he is?
“He might know me now,” Ball laughed. “I’ve just never actually walked up and introduced myself or asked if he remembers me. But he’s complimented jokes I’ve written. That’s good enough.”
When: J.B. Ball is performing “It’s My Privilege” twice on Sept. 24, at 6 and 8:30 p.m. The performances will be edited together into a single one-hour special.
Where: The University of Tampa’s Charlene A. Gordon Theater in the Ferman Center for the Arts, 214 N Boulevard.
Tickets: The shows are sold out but there is a waiting list at the-university-of-tampa-fmx.ticketleap.com in case ticket holders cancel. There will also be a waiting list line at both shows in case ticket holders do not show.
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