Rory Scovel Is Teed Off
Not really. But the South Carolina comic does set his sights on our new reality in his new special, Rory Scovel Tries Stand-Up for the First Time.
Rory Scovel isn’t afraid to show his hand.
“Let’s get right into it: Anal. Who’s done it? Who’s done it?” he interrogates a crowd in Atlanta moments into his misleadingly titled Netflix special, Rory Scovel Tries Stand-Up for the First Time.
“Who’s done anal?” he continues, hammering home the question. “Who’s done anal? Who here has done anal? This here is the show.”
It isn’t, of course, but let’s make one thing clear: The Greenville, South Carolina, native is not a shock comic. It just so happens that he has an ease with audiences that belies his twelve years as a standup. And, sometimes, he has a fascination with anal sex. Give the guy a break.
Scovel has always seemed like an old comedic soul. His rapport with the crowd, whether they’re eating him up or spitting him out, is of the fuck-it-all variety more commonly seen in elder statesmen like Todd Glass and Dana Gould. His nerves never show. When he breaks, he’s the first to smirk about it. When he bombs, the hoodie-dressed comedian leaves the stage with a shrug that suggests another gig is right around the corner.
And they are, more than ever before. After sharpening his chops with stints in South Carolina, DC, New York, and now LA, he has cultivated a career that’s about to pop. Beyond the Netflix special and an accompanying tour, it includes roles in the upcoming movies Dean (written and directed by Demetri Martin) and The House (starring Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler).
That’s not to mention his TV credits—playing the principal on truTV’s Those Who Can’t and Bo Burnham’s boss on MTV’s Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous—and a ceaseless schedule of podcast appearances on Comedy Bang! Bang!, The Dollop, Doug Loves Movies, and Sklarbro Country, to name a few.
FLOOD caught up with Scovel on a Friday morning while he was at a playground supervising his baby and gearing up for a wedding the following day.
I get the feeling that, especially given the highly produced conceptual setup, and the fact that it was recorded last fall, that you probably had the new special in the works for a while.
It wasn’t in the works for too long. We reached out to Third Man Records [who issued the audio-only Rory Scovel Live at Third Man Records in 2013] to see if they were interested in producing it. From the moment they said yes, we were fired up to not take two years to get [a] special out there. Especially [since] I have political jokes in there that, [since the special is] coming out in June, are already a bit dated, but I just like them so much, I couldn’t take them out.
Third Man’s involvement explains the Jack White appearance in the Netflix special. Had you formed a friendship with him after doing the Third Man release?
Yeah, ever since we did that album, I’ve kept in touch with him and Ben Swank over there at Third Man, and anytime I pop into Nashville, I touch base with those two and tell them I’ve got a show if they’re interested in coming out to see me at Zanies or another local rock club. Not only do they always show up, [but] they bring that whole Third Man crew with them.
Am I wrong to think you had more of a Southern accent before and it’s gotten ironed out over the years?
I sometimes put it on. I’ll do a Southern character or a German character. But I don’t know that I ever really had one growing up, because I went to a private school, and a lot of the other kids that I hung out with were from all over the place. Everybody in my family has a pretty thick Southern accent, and I’ve always been asked why I don’t. I assume it’s that or I just watched a ton of TV or… I really don’t even know where it is.
You seem preternaturally comfortable with audiences. Did that begin when you started in standup in South Carolina?
Maybe a little bit. I would attribute some of that to learning improv classes in DC right when I started going to open mics. In my act now, if there’s something that doesn’t work, I’m almost more excited to try to get myself out of the corner and make people think it’s funny. Maybe it comes across that way because I actually look forward to failing.
Can you think of a time recently where it was genuinely uncomfortable for you?
Nothing comes to mind recently—because I also have a horrific memory. I probably deleted it out of my brain as soon as I got offstage.
How is it being a standup comedian with a horrific memory?
There’s a lot of times I can’t remember the jokes or the ending to a joke—unless I’m performing all the time. Like, if I’m doing a tour, it becomes a lot of fun and I remember every single beat. And it becomes less improvised and more scripted. But if I’m not performing very frequently, I won’t remember what the order of the jokes is or how a joke ends, and I try to figure it out in the moment. And I think a lot of people have interpreted that as every show I do is different or I’m making it up as I go.
It’s kind of good because it’s turned me into this type of standup that I enjoy being, and then other times, it’s like, well, if I wasn’t an asshole and just did the homework, I wouldn’t have to stress out and wonder what my act should be. It’s kind of this weird thing, and I don’t hate it, because it makes the show fun. But I don’t love it, because I could maybe give a stronger show each time.
I’ve noticed you’ve gone a little quieter on Twitter since Trump got into office. Are you frustrated?
I was irritated; not that people can’t express their opinions, but in this social media world, it’s like, “Here, read this person’s opinion, even if you didn’t seek it out.” You get someone’s opinion and then—at least for me—I get agitated so quickly and so easily that I found it made me unhappy.
I was addicted to Twitter. It really is a great outlet to live-tweet stuff. Like any type of sports is so fun, [and then with comedy, it felt like you could] connect with an audience in a whole new way. You could even write horrible jokes but then just move on to the next joke.
But then—and this happens every political cycle—you get to find out how many people agree with you, and you don’t necessarily like them either, and you find out how many people disagree with you, and if they disagree with you, or have a lack of compassion or education, it drives you insane. If someone disagrees with you, that’s one thing. But some of the stupidity and just how vile people really are, it became such a turn-off.
There’s still an attraction to it. I still have a Twitter page, and there’s this element of [wanting] to see what people are talking about—but then I feel like I left for the right reasons. The account is still great to promote stuff, but at the same time, I can’t read any more about politics. I gotta seek out my information in another way. FL