If you haven’t yet taken a stance on Rory Scovel’s giggle, get ready to take a side- you stand to hear a lot of it in the near future.
He spoke about it in reference to his Earwolf podcast, Pen Pals with Daniel and Rory, in which he and his co-host Daniel van Kirk respond to fan letters. “It’s become really fun,” he says about his entry into the podcasting world, but he recognizes that it might be tough for some listeners to, well, endure. “I have a giggle that you either love, or hate. There are very few people that are down the middle,” he said when I checked in with him ahead of his appearance at Just for Laughs Northwest, Vancouver’s iteration of the Canadian festival mainstay.
Should you be headed to the festival later this month, know that Scovel is overjoyed to be there. “Any excuse to get to Vancouver I welcome- just to be there [..] Getting to come up and see those friends again is always great. And the fact that they’re comics, there’s a good chance that we’re all in the festival is perfect.”
And you should also know that the journey he took to craft his set would be, for some, a harrowing experience.
I happened to talk to Scovel the day after his first of four nights in Chicago, where his 45 minute sets were wholly improvised. He admitted that such an endeavor was and remains “terrifying,” but he also has come to enjoy the challenge. “More so than being funny, the challenge is keeping the audience engaged, and not letting it flatine. Which,” be added with a giggle, “I’ve learned the hard way, can happen.” He used a similar strategy last year over six nights in Atlanta to craft his current hour, which he’s just finished touring overseas.
Taking his show not just on the road, but to the air and over to new countries, has taught him a lot about audiences—both in the places he traveled to like London, Amsterdam, and Oslo, but also about the ones he returned to in the US. He plans to put that knowledge to use at JFL, and appreciates the crowds he anticipates getting to see in Vancouver. “I was just in Oslo, Norway, and went through my set with very little hesitation. And the audience was there with me the entire time, at every punchline.” He added that the similarity of observations has elements of comfort and confusion to it: “the fact that things can be relevant in our society and their society…I guess can be good and also really sad revelation?” Ultimately, he chose comfort. “It’s cool to realize, it really makes the world seem smaller, knowing that people will laugh at these jokes that some idiot in Los Angeles thought of.”
As it happens, another commonality that audiences overseas have, is not treating comics like, as he puts it, “idiots in LA.” I’d heard this said about Canadian comedy crowds before, and Scovel affirmed that many audiences—there as well as in the other countries where he performed—took comedy more seriously than he’d initially expected:
“There does seem to be this different respect for standup in other places such as Amsterdam or London, where audiences really show up. As a regular audience member, they’ll really show up almost as a journalist or as a reviewer, even though they aren’t. They really watch it that way, and they really expect a certain standard out of a show.”
After years of writing and performing, Scovel has come to appreciate the seeming higher standard, the “theatre respect” that these audiences assign to comedians. “I really love it. It makes you feel better about the craft you’re working at, and putting your whole life towards. It kinda feels good to have people go, “we see you. We’re paying attention. We care about how this goes.” It feels good.”
Speaking of the craft that Scovel’s working at, he’ll be going from JFL to hone his craft in another medium: TV. His Comedy Central series in development, Robbie, was ordered to pilot in late 2018, and begins shooting in April. The show will also star Beau Bridges, SNL alum Sasheer Zamata, and Mary Holland. I asked him how his years of writing for himself, prior TV appearances, and his stint writing for The Eric Andre Show have prepared him for this new frontier. After insisting its under the careful watch of many, many people (“it feels so weird to say it’s ‘my’ show”), he went on to express excitement about getting to steer the perspective of a series:
“Now that it comes from a place where I have some authority with what we do with it, it’s kind of fun to figure out how to take some of the topics that I like discussing in my standup, whether they fall under religious, political, social issues…whatever it could be, it’s fun to now know I can say “I want these things to be part of the story, or to be part of the jokes.”
The forthcoming show is about a youth basketball coach whose son will lead his team to glory…and out of the shadow of his larger than life father. It draws inspiration from many of Scovel’s formative experiences that are currently peppered through his act. He cited his experience on TruTV’s Those Who Can’t as inspiration for weaving the two together. “I felt like that show did a great job of it, because that was three comedians who really wanted to say stuff in that show that they also say in their act. The balance is kinda fun, it kind of feeds into each other.” We likely won’t see the fruits of Scovel’s labor on air until 2020, but he’ll be highly visible until then.
In addition to JFL, he’ll continue to tour the US, appear on Those Who Can’t in a recurring capacity, release podcast episodes, and if that isn’t enough? He’s also preparing for a new fall tour and hoping to shoot a new special. Plus the TV show. “I’m sure at some point I’ll drown in all of it,” he admitted with a final sounding of that trademark giggle. “It’s a lot of spinning plates, but they seem to keep spinning, so I’m going to let them keep spinning until the day they crash.”