Scovel Heats Up

Jonathan Zeller

Stand-up comedian Rory Scovelgrew up in South Carolina and lives in Los Angeles, but spent 2007 to 2010 making a name for himself on the New York City comedy scene. May is a big month for Scovel, who's nominated in the Club Comic category for The Comedy Awards (held at the Hammerstein Ballroom and airing on May 6 on Comedy Central) and premiering his first-ever half-hour special (on May 11 on the same network). Scovel took a break from his busy touring schedule to discuss his act, NYC and hipsters.

Your act can be very self-referential. In the first minute of your Late Night with Jimmy Fallon appearance, you made a joke about your girlfriend being in the hospital, analyzed the audience's expectations of that bit and repeatedly questioned your trustworthiness as a narrator. Do you ever feel like there's an “arms race” to come up with more layers in your set and differentiate yourself from other comedians? Rory Scovel: I don't ever perceive it as a need to do that. I think sometimes it will fit with a certain joke, and I have the kind of act where I can do that—because I am somewhat “meta” and self-referential, and I improvise a lot. I just did a [Craig] Ferguson set, and I opened with something very silly to establish my sense of humor—so I would say I do it to establish myself with an audience that doesn't know that I'm into sillier comedy. In a way, yes and no. [Laughs] I guess I felt both sides of that argument.

One of your most interesting bits was on Conan, when you and Jon Dore performed at exactly the same time. Where did that idea come from? RS: I wish I could take credit for it, but that is all Jon Dore's creativity. I saw him do that once with a comedian in Portland years ago. [Later on,] he and I were at a festival, and he asked if I wanted to try it out.

Did you rehearse? RS: Actually, no. We make a point not to tell each other what we're going to do so that it feels more organic. We do know that we want to amp up the volume and physicality at the weirder sentences. Probably the best example is when I yell out “fighting Chinese kids.” That's so much funnier having no clue what I said before it. You're listening to Jon, and then out of nowhere comes “fighting Chinese kids,” and you're like, “Wait, what was that guy—what was he even talking about?”

What do you mean by “if you hate your neighbors having emotions”? RS: It only sounds like I'm anti-hipster. I never am. But there is a certain genre of person—especially nowadays—who is just like, “I will not display any emotions, ever.” You're denying yourself the core of human existence: communicating to me with your emotions! Why won't you give that to me?

Where would you recommend fans go to see up-and-coming comics in the City?

RS: I played a lot of indie shows, and those come and go. I did shows at The Creek and The Cave in Long Island City, which has become its own staple. RG Daniels did a show called Sunday Night Stand-Up at Three of Cups. I did Rififi. I was running a show there before that closed down.

I do Big Terrific at Cameo Gallery out in Williamsburg whenever I can. If I'm in town, I always try to do a Wednesday show there. And Whiplash, on Monday nights at the UCB, is always great. I think if people are looking for up-and-comers that maybe have a little bit of experience under their belts, going to Whiplash is a great bet. It's an 11pm show on a Monday, but it's always packed, and you might see someone like Zach Galifianakis.

And it's free. RS: Yeah, it's free! You might see someone like Galifianakis, Todd Glass or Bobby Kelly, and there's a great chance that you're going to see three or four people you've never heard of who are very good.

What do you miss about New York? RS: Oh, all of it. I love the City. I love the easy transportation system. And I love the food culture. I love that you can just walk around and discover so many things. You could spend years in one neighborhood and still not see everything. In Los Angeles, I like the food culture, but you can't walk somewhere and discover a restaurant. You have to have a driving plan together. In LA, you have to have friends recommend a bar or a restaurant, and you have to commit to it. In New York, you could walk past [a restaurant], decide it's not what you thought it would be, walk two doors down and discover another restaurant that's amazing. I really miss that.

What's your favorite New York restaurant? RS: Supper.

What would winning a Comedy Award mean to you? RS: I'm still relatively unknown on a larger scale. Some of the people who are nominated for the Club Comic award and other awards, the nation's starting to get to know them. I feel like I'm still not really there. If I were to get this—if anything, it raises my profile a little bit. It might get someone to go, “Hey, let's look into this guy. Let's listen to his album, let's go to YouTube, let's see what he's done on TV.”