Talking to Rory Scovel About Standup, Acting, and His ‘Conan’ Bits with Jon Dore
Though comics often make an audience feel as though they’re delivering their jokes for the first time, they’re usually well-honed. But Rory Scovel often actually is making things up on the spot. Sure, the improv-heavy comic writes jokes, but every set looks completely different depending on the day. Whether it’s a new accent, character, or wacky form of crowd work, he is unique in his unpredictability and delivery. With a new album coming out and an upcoming TBS sitcom, I caught up with Scovel to discuss improv, acting, and listening to jazz vinyl on the couch.
I picture you as a really rambunctious child, what were you like as a kid?
I played a lot of sports and was pretty hyper, so yeah I would say I was pretty energetic.
What was your family like?
I come from a pretty big family and everybody played sports. Everyone is a smartass so I think that’s probably where my comedy comes from.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a comedian?
I didn’t really know until after I graduated college and I listened to a David Cross CD. After that, I decided to try it, and I realized I really enjoyed it.
I’ve read that you said you were heavily influenced by David Cross in the beginning of your career, at what point did you kind of grow into yourself and your own style?
It took quite awhile, I’d say the first five years, it was just a lot of experimenting. I think around the fifth year I started to gain a lot of confidence and took on a style of being a little bit more spontaneous on stage. I also started to like the material that I was doing more so I don’t know if it was one of those things that just came out of having enough experience, but that’s when I started to really have fun on stage.
Your style is very improv based. Were you able to make material up on the spot from day one or was that something that developed as you became more seasoned?
Well, I was doing it from the beginning but I think I didn’t really figure out how to apply it until later on.
Do you ever just do a pure improv show any more outside of standup?
Yes, every now and then. I came up with this one group in DC called Doctor Fantastic and everybody kind of went their separate ways, but we try to perform at festivals together once in awhile if we can. It’s pretty rare, but if I do play in a show, it’s usually with them.
You grew up in South Carolina and often do a Southern character, is there any one specific person that you base him off of?
I think it’s just a combination of people – a lot of members of my family and just kind of being around people in the South. I feel like there are so many different southern personalities and dialects. I guess as a child I kind of stored them in my brain and it’s fun to dip into them in different voices. They’re usually all over the place, sometimes I’ll do a specific one over and over, but I think it just comes from having been around it. Four years ago, I started doing it on stage, and I really liked it as an alternative to being myself all the time.
What about the German guy?
Yeah, that just came out of nowhere just messing around one night, and then I just did my jokes as that guy. And then pretty soon I started writing jokes for that character.
I have to ask you because it’s one of my favorite things. What was it like performing alongside Jon Dore those few times on Conan? Will we be seeing you guys work together on anything in the near future?
We don’t have anything planned soon. But doing both those performances was awesome. As a comic you have to perform by yourself all the time so to actually get to do it with a friend on TV was pretty fun because I’m not really in a sketch group or anything. Anytime we think of, anything bizarre, we kind of run it by each other and see if Conan is willing to put it on.
Did you know Conan pretty well when you pitched the idea?
Jon pitched it to Conan because Jon had already been on Conan. I think they were kind of looking for something a little less standup traditional.
Who are some of your other favorite comics out there right now?
I feel like it always changes when I see different people. I go in and out of who is inspiring me. Sometimes it’s someone from the past who is now re-inspiring me. In that case, Tig Notaro and Maria Bamford. Recently, I’ve worked with them, and it was so inspiring and awesome to get to see them perform. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know how to describe that inspiration but just seeing them, the fun they were having, and how they were doing it, just inspires me to think about the jokes that I’m doing and how I’m doing them.
I’ve always felt that you and Maria Bamford have a lot of really cool similarities.
Yeah, it didn’t occur to me until I recently watched her where I was like, “Oh my God, I love this.” Because over the last few years I’ve started to go in and out of characters so to see someone do it so beautifully, it was really cool to watch.
How do you prepare before you go on stage?
I don’t really know. I try to get in my head and think about some things that I want to talk about, but I think it’s mostly just kind of psyching myself up. Just getting my confidence up to not panic and really commit to the jokes that I’m doing whether they’re good or bad. I try to remind myself to make sure I do those things, but there really isn’t a specific ritual or anything that I do.
I’ve read that you want to be a filmmaker and actor. What do you love about acting versus standup?
I just recently started becoming an actor, and I think what I like about it is that it’s a little change of pace. So far it’s been comedies. It’s kind of started to happen at a good time because I’ve been going in and out of these characters for awhile now. It’s kind of fun to be able to get to be a character on a TV show and commit to one thing. I still love doing standup, so I don’t really look at it as a break from standup, but there is something kind of fun about stepping away from only focusing on standup. And now I have a new challenge to learn, so it’s exciting.
Is there any specific role that you really want to play?
I don’t know, I don’t think I have one. I still am so marveled by the fact that I am acting in anything now. I do want to play a full spectrum of things though. I don’t want to necessarily get stuck doing just comedy, which isn’t a bad thing to get stuck in, but I would like to see what my range can be. Since I have no experience, I don’t really know what it is yet. I don’t know if there is one dream role, but at the end of the day I’d like to think that I’m capable of doing any kind of film or TV role. I guess I don’t really know if I can do those things unless I actually get the chance to do them so my dream role would just be to keep having roles [Laughs]. Having somebody say, “You’re qualified to have this role” is the dream.
What about directors that you really want to work with?
I don’t know. I feel like it’s almost cliché when you name someone because it’s the same people that every person wants to work with. It’s almost like I’m naming obvious people … I haven’t seen it yet, but now that I know that Louis C.K. is in Blue Jasmine, I think something just clicked in my head, “Oh I’m seeing this standup comic in a Woody Allen movie.” Woody Allen is a legendary standup comic and filmmaker. If there was ever an opportunity to be in a Woody Allen movie, that would be a serious “holy shit” moment.
What does your perfect day look like without any comedy in it?
I don’t know, it’s actually kind of weird. That’s kind of been my rhythm for a long time now, being home for a couple days and then going out on the road for a couple months, and then back home. When I’m home, I think because of that schedule, I don’t really have a specific rhythm. I find myself wishing I was being more productive everyday, writing and trying to think of different ideas for sketches or videos that I could shoot – the kind of thing that every comic would like to have, the full package. I wish I would sit around doing those things but the reality is that I usually put a jazz vinyl record on and sit on the couch and stare at the wall. It sounds like I’m a psycho, I know. And while I’m doing it, I don’t necessarily even enjoy it, I just think about how I’m not doing something else. A typical day for me is just accepting no matter what I’m doing even if I wish I was working or doing something else.
What sort of projects do you have in the works right now?
Right now, I’m about to put out a second album. It’s a vinyl only on Third Man Records. It’s coming out at the end of September, I think, so I’m excited about that as far as standup stuff. And then I’m also shooting a new TBS show called Ground Floor. I’ll be shooting that whole season for the next three months so that will keep me around here for awhile and put the brakes on any road gigs. So yeah, basically that album and this TV show which will air in mid-November.
That’s exciting, are you looking forward to being in one place for a change?
Yes, it’s kind of cool to have the job of going to one place every day. It’s a multi-cam sitcom so there’s no location shoots or anything, I’m happy about it.
How do you like LA now that you’ve been there awhile?
I really like it. The weather is so great. I mean, I know everybody talks about the weather but there’s a reason for that. I do miss New York in terms of standup because for me, it’s just the best city in terms of being able to get up and perform all the time. I think New York is unmatched in that respect anywhere. I do like it here though because I am now drawn to acting and trying to do both things.
Blair Socci is a writer and standup comedian living in New York City.