In the character of Hollywood super agent Ari Gold in HBO’s “Entourage, Jeremy Piven made multitudes of boorish comments. Among them: “You fire a guy, you create a rival. You fire a woman, you create a housewife.”
It was not the first time Piven-as-Gold used that line, either. He first tested it on a close confidant — his mom.
“Every line I said as Ari Gold, I said to my mother’s face first,” says Piven, making his Las Vegas debut as headlining stand-up comic at 9 p.m. Friday at Treasure Island’s Mystere Theater. “Mom would actually give me notes on how to scream, ‘I’ll choke you out with a strap-on, Yoko!’ ”
To better understand this process, it helps to know that Piven’s mother is accomplished teacher, actor and director Joyce Hiller Piven. She and her late husband, Bryne, created Piven Theatre Workshop. Their students included John and Joan Cusack, Adam McKay, Hope Davis, Aidan Quinn, Rosanna Arquette, and siblings Jeremy and Shira Piven.
Thus, Piven’s mother provided unflinching, invaluable direction to his craft.
“My entire background is from a theater background, and my mom was my teacher since I was age 8,” Piven says. “Being from Chicago, being part of Second City, taking the roles I have done and tried to bring in alternate dialogue and mixing it up — all roads have led to stand-up comedy.”
Piven toured with the legendary Second City comedy troupe, which along with schooling at Drake University and his parents’ theater school developed his diverse acting skills.
For his portrayal of Gold, Piven won three Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a a Comedy Series (from 2006-2008) and also a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries, or Motion Picture Made for Television (2008). But performing in front of a live audience is an entirely different challenge.
“That What’s great about doing stand-up is you get road work and dealing with hecklers or the unexpected,” Piven says. “As an actor, we don’t have a lot of people heckling us while we’re doing scenes (laughs). It wouldn’t be the best thing.”
Piven says of his appearance at the TI theater, “Be careful what you wish for, because I have total freedom. It’s me onstage, the audience gets a chance to know who I am, what I think is funny and what is going on in my life.”
He enters into some of his fictional characters, summoning his Gold persona and also performing impressions. The actor can perform spot-on characterizations of Owen Wilson and Sylvester Stallone, for instance. And also his friend Mike Tyson.
“I’m a performer, and stand-ups are performers and writers, so as an actor you have to ask, ‘How do I navigate that space alone?’ Piven says. “But to be in a setting that is like a proper theater, and also a stand-up venue, is like my home.”
Piven has long been an zealous Las Vegas tourist. “Entourage” filmed in the city, and he most recently co-hosted the MMA Awards show at the Palms in July, and afterward hung comic and friend Russell Peters. A Las Vegas (well, Henderson) resident, Peters introduced Piven to some tucked-away haunts. Velveteen Rabbit on Main Street in the Arts District was one.
“We’re in this total, locals hang, and I’m drinking mescal and just loving it,” Piven says. “It was such a great vibe.”
Piven continues, “I’m someone who grew up being a fan of Las Vegas, the Rat Pack, the big fights, and I never would have thought I’d be headlining as a stand-up in Vegas. But to me, it feels right. I don’t know how else to say it. I can’t wait to just get into it.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter,@JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.