*This interview was originally published Nov 7, 2012. Catch Rory on “ ” on TBS Tuesdays 10/9c.
The best comedians possess a certain quality that draws the crowd in even before they’ve uttered a word. Like a moth to a flame you find yourself instantly intrigued by their comedic aura. Rory Scovel is one of those comedians. Just a furtive glance, a giggle and flash of those pearly whites and he’s got you. A master of catering his act to an audience, Rory will make any audience feel instantly at ease with his comedy stylings. And Rory’s audience is quickly growing too. He was named Variety’s 10 Comics to Watch in 2012. He has appeared on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” “Conan,” Comedy Central’s “The Half Hour” and “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.”
A regular on the festival circuit this year, you may have caught him at the Bridgetown Comedy festival, Moontower Comedy and Oddity Fest, RIOT fest and the Montreal Just for Laughs Festival, to name a few. This year also marks the release of Rory’s debut comedy album Dilation. I think an iTunes reviewer eatmoreturth put it best: “There’s no reason for you to not buy this album. Unless you don’t like to laugh so hard you have to pull your car over and explain to the person with you that you were listening to something in your headphones that they couldn’t hear was so god damned freakin funny that you couldn’t even operate a motor vehicle. So there’s that. Yeah.” Brilliant synopsis. Brilliant comedian. Enough said. Read on.
Serial Optimist: Hi Rory. Imagine you have been tasked with coming up with an idea for a weed-based breakfast food. What would it look like? What would you call it? How would it be packaged?
Rory Scovel: I have no idea. I like the breakfast foods that already exist. Maybe toaster strudel with weed? I would call it Toaster Strudel w/ WEED now packaged in a BOX.
SO: Breakfast of Champions! What was life like growing up in South Carolina? Were you a holy terror as child? When did you decide you definitely wanted to be a comedian?
Rory: I was not a holy terror as a child. I was pretty normal. I was ADHD and very hyperactive. I played sports (basketball, tennis, soccer). I was definitely the class clown in school, which sometimes got me in trouble but I was also pretty afraid of getting into trouble.
I decided I wanted to try standup comedy after college and after listening to a David Cross cd. I liked what he was joking about and more importantly I liked how he was performing. Seemed really loose and fun.
SO: You and David certainly have those contagious smiles. I know nothing about South Carolina but I do have relatives living in NC. What would you say are some of the similarities and differences between two Carolinas?
Rory: I don’t really know. I’ve never lived in North Carolina. I love Asheville, NC a lot. So I’d say that’s one thing that NC has over SC, but SC also has Charleston. I think NC is more mountain scenic, and the blue-ridge parkway is gorgeous, especially in the fall. Other than that I don’t really know.
SO: You have a communication degree. Would you say you have successfully utilized this degree in the real world? I don’t think your parents have an argument that could hold up in a court of law.
Rory: I would say that my communication degree has definitely helped what I’m doing now, so yes. I took one class called Human Communication and it completely changed how I talk to people. It was very useful for what I’m currently doing.
SO: That worked out well. How would you describe your brand of comedy? Do you have to mentally prepare before you go on stage? Do you try to be spontaneous at every show?
Rory: I would describe it as very silly with slight touches of serious. I like to improvise a lot on stage so I try to mix pre-written ideas with spontaneous fun.
I do have to mentally prepare before I go on stage. Not necessarily going over what I am going to talk about but how I talk about it and make sure I’m having fun. It’s important to get into the right headspace.
SO: You always seem ready and raring to go. What do you enjoy about long-form improv? What are some improv tips you could enlighten younger comedians with?
Rory: I love the idea of creating an entire show from nothing. Creating comedy from a suggestion but also creating it from your own personality and ability to translate ideas into something comedic. I think that’s very genuine.
I don’t know if I’m the guy to offer any tips for improv. My main suggestion would be to take some improv classes to benefit your standup. They are a huge benefit for being confident on stage regardless of how you’re doing. I’d also recommend checking out some improv shows. Groups out of Chicago are almost always incredible. Cook County Social Club is awesome. TJ and Dave is a must. 4 Square. All of these groups inspire me to play more and be more confident about finding something on stage.
SO: What do you find is the most effective way to ease a hostile crowd?
Rory: Never let them see that you give a shit about their hostility. Sure, maybe deep down you do but the longer you do standup the less you’ll care about their negative attitudes. Not that this is always the case but when you find yourself in a situation where the crowd or some of the crowd is just negative no matter how you’re doing, you’ll find that you just don’t care. You love the people that are having fun too much to be distracted.
SO: That’s an excellent attitude to have. What are your criteria for walking away from a set fully satisfied?
Rory: Making sure I had a lot of fun. I just want to come off stage knowing that I had a really fun time on stage. If I do come off having a lot of fun I know the show was good. I wouldn’t have fun if the crowd wasn’t having fun. So it’s a give and take. When I come off excited then I know that it was really good.
SO: Your album Dilation was a pure delight. Now that it’s been out there for a while can you share some of the feedback you’ve received from your fans and foes? What was it like whittling down the stories/jokes you would use on the album?
Rory: Feedback was overwhelmingly good. I did get some reviews that weren’t big fans of the cd and I have read some comments here and there from people that really didn’t like the CD. When you get a great review that really details why they liked the album its super helpful. A negative review that does the same is also really helpful. Comments about how it’s just not good don’t really help anyone. I would say though, the negative reviews made a lot of points that I agree with.
The only thing about doing your first CD is that you don’t know how to do it; you just have to do it and learn the process as you’re doing it. So deciding what jokes to do or how loose to be was something I learned after the fact. Definitely things that I’ll take into future projects because I have a better understanding of the process now.
When deciding what to perform on the album I decided to just perform the same set I would perform that night if I weren’t doing a cd. I think it’s important to always just capture where you’re at right now in your craft than trying to reach back to older stuff just because you can now officially retire it. There is probably a reason you aren’t doing that stuff anymore anyways so why do it on a show that is being recorded for an album. That was my approach anyways.
SO: Sounds like all in all it was a rewarding learning process. What was your most frightening TV standup experience? What was it like performing with Jon Dore on “Conan?” Why isn’t there more double booking going on in TV land?
Rory: Doing Fallon was my first late night TV spot. I was very nervous. Terrified I would forget a big part of a joke or even a whole joke in general. Terrified that I would just go blank. Overall though, all the TV stuff hasn’t been bad or frightening because the crowds are always really great to play with. Since they are so supportive it makes the set much easier to perform.
Performing with Jon on Conan was really cool. To be able to do something like that and share the experience with a close friend is a really cool thing and I’m really happy I got to experience that. Also really happy that everyone at Conan was adventurous enough to let us try the sketch on in general.
SO: I hope to see much more of that experimentation in the future. You are always a riot on The Todd Glass Show. What do you think makes this podcast so successful? Do you have a favorite episode? (It doesn’t have to be one you’ve been on.)
Rory: Thank you. I think the podcast is a success because Todd is so full of personality. Very likable person. He is light and easy and goes with the flow and knows how to have fun. He is a natural entertainer and I think he has this magnetic personality that brings people in. There are people that absolutely hate the podcast. Yes, those people exist. I think they just don’t like it because comedy is subjective. I like that no matter what; Todd and his show don’t really try to please anyone. It’s just people sitting around talking, making each other laugh. Jokes and bits are a risk at all times. You never know when you’re creating comedy what will work or fail and I love that on Todd’s show we are all willing to fail just because if we do succeed then its funny for everyone.
I don’t think I have a favorite episode. I don’t really go back and listen to them. I like just being in the moment with it and then moving on to the next time he has me on. He is great. A huge influence on me as a performer and entertainer for sure.
SO: I vote for lots more live tapings. Live performances just blow the experience out of the park. Do you purposefully switch accents in your act? For the longest time I’d seen you perform with the southern accent then one day you flip-flopped and I was totally taken aback. Do you painstakingly develop new characters or do they just magically appear on stage?
Rory: I don’t like to make anything a set thing. I just like to do characters or accents as I want to or when I think it will be fun. It’s something I just do for me and it’s really fun that audiences seem to like it. I go through periods where I don’t do it because the fun is fading. Something new always comes out of doing it, so its fun in terms of exploring my material from a new angle.
SO: Guessing what you’ll do is half the fun. Why is there no official Wikipedia on Rory Scovel yet?
Rory: I’m not ready for this world.
SO: Are any of use really? How many podcasts do you think you’ve appeared on in the last year? What have been some of your favorites to guest on?
Rory: I have no idea. It’s been a bunch and for the most part they are all a lot of fun. I really enjoyed being on YMIW with Pete Holmes because he is fun to just talk with. I also really like talking philosophy and method of standup and he does too, so it’s great to chat with him.
Rory On Craig Ferguson In June
SO: Petey is the best! You two have a lovely rapport. The “Modern Comedian” episode you appeared on was pretty hard-core. It seemed like at one moment you were just excited to be seeing The Dark Knight and the next minute you had to deal with horrible tragedy on stage. Was that the most bizarre change of events you’ve experienced? What have you taken away from that experience?
Rory: It was strange. We just wanted to film us going to Batman and talking about Batman and then telling jokes about Batman. Instead it became a “is it too weird and sad to do Batman stuff”. Going on stage doing the jokes wasn’t anything terribly difficult. People were either going to laugh or they weren’t. It sort of just put things into perspective for us all and it’s interesting that Scott Moran was able to capture such a unique moment.
Not so much the performance but just the moments of finding out about a horrible tragedy. I think doing the jokes helped the audience sort of deal with a tragedy and not in a confrontational “talk about the ordeal” type way, just doing Batman jokes. I think laughter is the best medicine. Even when something is really horrible. Even when a joke is really inappropriate.
SO: Laughter does help ease tragedy. You were named Variety’s 10 Comics to Watch in 2012. Is it more important to you to be a media darling or blow away audiences on stage?
Rory: I don’t know what a media darling is or how to be one. It sounds like it’s a good thing and I think both of those things are good and go hand in hand. If you’re constantly blowing away audiences on stage then it will definitely lead to some positive attention.
I think going on stage and wanting to blow audiences away is the goal of every comic for every show. So I’d say above all things that’s probably the most important thing.
SO: You certainly succeed at blowing away audiences with your humor. Are your fellow comedians still bugging you about your appearance on the Nissan commercials? Beep. Beep. What was the audition like for that commercial?
Rory: No. No comics ever bugged me about it. I think some of them were happy for me to get it and to do it. I think at this point it’s probably annoying because they keep seeing my face while they are trying to watch football. I definitely understand and agree with that. The audition was really fun because it was mostly just reactions to honking sounds and seeing how you dealt with honking sounds while doing something wrong. It was fun.
SO: I’ve read that you always had a desire to be a filmmaker and actor. Who are some directors that you admire? What type of movie genres would you be interested in? For some reason, I can picture you in a Wes Anderson type of film. Written any screenplays?
Rory: I would love to be in a Wes Anderson film. That would be surreal. I love his movies a lot. Back to the Future is my favorite movie so I definitely love Zemeckis. Boogie Nights is also a favorite, so PT Anderson as well. I think this list could be really long so I’ll leave it at those 3 for now.
As far as acting/writing/directing myself, I’m interested in all of it and in any genre. I look forward to trying to make feature films one day. I don’t know if I ever will but I’m definitely going to try. Right now it’s mostly standup with very little acting. I hope to act more over the next few years. What I’ve done so far has been really fun and I want to really learn how to do it.
SO: My crystal ball says it will be so. Outside of comedy what are some of your pastimes?
Rory: I played sports growing up. I played soccer from 5 years old till graduation from college. I really miss it a lot.
I used to shoot and edit a lot of videos in college. I’m hoping to be in LA more and start making some videos with friends again. Even things we don’t write out or post online. I just like making videos.
SO: Stellar. You are an engaged chap. Are you excited to be shackled to your betrothed? Will there be a comedian performing at the reception? Give us your best pitch to implore folks to donate to the F@ck Daniel Kinno/Scovel Wedding fund? How much have you raised so far?
Rory: I am very excited about it. My fiancé is great. There will not be any comedians performing at the reception. However it will be a really fun event and we are in the middle of planning/organizing the whole thing now. I think it’s going to be an awesome occasion and so far we’ve raised around $500 dollars for it through our F@ck Daniel Kinno/Scovel Wedding fund. A fund that is going to help end Daniel Kinno’s despicability. I think that’s probably enough of a pitch, “ending Daniel Kinno’s despicability”.
SO: Hmmm…The “Help End Daniel Kinno’s Despicability Tour” has a nice ring to it. What’s next on the horizon for Rory?
Rory: More standup, hopefully some acting. I don’t really know for sure going into 2013, outside of this wedding. I am going to be on a few episodes of Bo Burnam’s new MTV show “Zach Stone is Gonna Be Famous.” I’ve seen some of it and I think it’s a really great show. I’m excited to see how the episodes all come together. Everyone should check it out if they can.
SO: Rory, thanks so much for sharing your comedy insight. We wish you a joyous wedding and down with Daniel Kinno despicability!