Comedian Rory Scovel on crowd tension, Bobcat Goldthwait and why Aurora didn't steal Batman from him
Baby-faced Rory Scovel has been lighting up the comedy world with his classic observational humor, mixed with context-free voices that he applies randomly to no particular jokes or bits (he's been known to drift into a German accent at random points in the show, and may or may not continue with it throughout an entire set). After making the rounds of festivals and late-night television and starring in his own Comedy Central special, Scovel recently ventured into the dangerous world of sitcoms, selling a pilot to ABC in which he stars. Scovel will be performing through Sunday, February 3 at Comedy Works, and he recently sat down with us to chat improv, comedy politics and why the Aurora theater shootings could not destroy his pervasive obsession with Batman.
Westword:When was the last time you were in Denver?
Rory Scovel: I was just in town before Christmas to host a One Republic charity show. I introduced a few bands and tried to tell jokes, but that's always the worst setting for comedy.
I hear a lot of comedians say that. Which is a shame, since there's so much overlap between fans of music and standup.
Yeah, it can work in smaller settings, but in a bigger theater it can be tough. They're listening to loud music, and they chat during it, and then a comedian comes out and you have to be quiet and listen to the details. It's too back and forth for people, going from shouting to dead quiet to dancing.
I once read about Andrew Dice Clay opening up for Guns N' Roses at the Rose Bowl stadium in '92. Can you imagine a comedy gig like that?
Oh, my god, yeah. In his heyday I'm sure he could crush, but if that was anything recent, it would be such a nightmare. The crowd would be like, "we're not into you anymore!"
Now that sounds like good comedy. And didn't Bobcat Goldthwait bomb really bad while opening for Nirvana on one of its tours?
Yeah, he's such a great guy, he was the first comic I ever officially worked with for a weekend of standup. The first time he told me about Nirvana, I pictured a nightmare, and then the more I got to know him, I thought, I bet he enjoyed having to fight the crowd to bring out Nirvana. He did the Sasquatch Festival, and when someone heckled him he replied, "I'm the only one in this whole festival who's ever opened for Nirvana!" He'll always have that in his backpocket.
Have you ever enjoyed having a bit of negative tension with a crowd?
Definitely. And there are two ways you can do it. If you're being a dick and the audience doesn't like you, then it's probably your fault. But then there's times when it's just not connecting, the crowd and the performer just aren't hitting it off. And in those moments I have reverted to just be annoying, saying punch lines over and over again. It can be fun, but it's nothing I ever look forward to.
I imagine in those instances there's at least a few people who see the comedy in that kind of awkward tension.
Oh, yeah. I did a show in Des Moines on a Wednesday, and I think half the crowd was there to see me and half the crowd were just there. And they were really split, with half the crowd loving that I was getting weird, and the other half hating that I was getting weird. So I kept getting weirder, because it made the one side hate me more, and the other side like me more for them hating me.
In those moments I'd assume many comics would panic and go blank -- has your experience in improv helped you deal with things like that?
For sure. It's like, I have jokes that get everybody, and others that get some people, but sometimes I'm working on a joke and it gets no one -- and in that moment there is a little bit of a panic that you've lost everyone, and your brain shuts down and you can't figure out how to get them back. It's so important to remain calm so you can figure out a way to get out of it. There are comics that will be like "fuck this crowd, they don't get it." But you may have been able to pull them back, you just need to switch topics, but because your brain shut down you couldn't figure out what that topic should be.