The girl-crazy star of ''Rat Race,'' revs up for a hit -- but is always ready for a (heh-heh) miss
Jon Lovitz
Credit: Jon Lovitz: Michael Lewis

He plays a family man named ”Randy Pear” in the new jackpot-chase comedy ”Rat Race.” And in person, Jon Lovitz resembles one. During a late-afternoon conversation at the busy Manhattan bistro Fiorello’s (where he hangs out between performances in Neil Simon’s Broadway play ”The Dinner Party”), the 44-year-old California native constantly shifts his gaze to check out passing women. Between good-natured ogles, Lovitz holds forth on making movies funny, his ”Saturday Night Live” salad days, and the perils of publicity.

Do you think ”Rat Race” is going to be a hit?
I hope so. I’ve been in movies where people say, ”It’s gonna be huge.” You just don’t know. I was really just glad to get the part … [because] outside of Adam Sandler putting me in his movies, I haven’t had a studio movie in four years.

Jerry Zucker worked on the ”Airplane!” and ”Naked Gun” films, and on ”Rat Race” he’s the sole director. What makes a good comedy director?
People always say, comedy’s so hard. Well, it is if you don’t have a sense of humor.

And a lot of people directing comedies don’t?
There’s a lot that think they can direct comedy. The comedy directors I’ve worked with were all performers. Penny Marshall, Rob Reiner, Woody Allen…. If you look at the funniest comedies, most of them are directed by people who were performers themselves. Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd — they all directed their own movies.

Would you direct yourself?
I’m not in the position to do that, unless I generate my own material, which I’m trying to do with Adam Sandler. Adam got really popular and they gave him this production company. He said, ”What I want to do is help you and Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon and all my friends, Rob Schneider and David Spade, make their own movies.” And that’s what he’s doing.

So why aren’t the movies he’s commissioned funnier?
On ”Saturday Night Live,” the stuff that worked was stuff we wrote ourselves. And when you write a scene on ”SNL,” you sort of direct it, too. In the movies, the performers aren’t in charge. Someone else is deciding, ”Here’s what’s funny, do it like this.” [He’s distracted as a gorgeous woman walks past the table.] Look who’s here. That girl is here. Yes, I’m looking at a girl. [He leans toward the tape recorder’s microphone.] Not gay!

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
No, there’s nothing wrong with it… I’m just saying. In California, people say [to me], ”Are you married?” ”No.” ”Oh. Are you gay?” ”No, I’m just not married.” And then they’ll go, ”Do you drink?” ”No.” ”Oh… alcoholic?”

You’ve just done great work in a big ensemble comedy. Would you do an action ensemble, like, say, ”Jurassic Park IV”?
I think if a dinosaur was chasing me, I would just die on the spot. I think before he ate me, I’d kill myself. Or if I didn’t, I would just hope he swallows me whole and he has a quick digestive system. So maybe I’d get pooped out.

Rat Race
  • Movie
  • 112 minutes