Just for Laughs: Rory Scovel speaks in (and hears) voices
Changing personalities keeps things fresh, and keeps audiences on their toes
MONTREAL - The last time I saw Rory Scovel in person, he was about two-thirds through his set at the Comedy Nest (where I grew afraid for grandmothers everywhere, but I digress) when he violently dropped his very convincing Southern drawl and picked up the slightly more angular sneer of his L.A.-based “normal” voice. That’s L.A. by way of South Carolina, where he was raised, and maybe a little New York, where he spent a couple of years working the comedy clubs.
At the Comedy Nest in October 2012, he made the switch from drawl to normal without remarking, just continuing with his set, but a good number of people in the packed room cocked their heads as if to ask if they’d heard right. Wasn’t he just doing a Southern accent? Or is he doing an accent now?
Next time I saw him, from Seattle’s Bumbershoot festival via YouTube fan video, he had on a withering German accent. Well, a German character doing an impression of Coldplay’s British frontman, Chris Martin.
But on a recent weekday afternoon, the voice on the other end of the phone was — well, kinda giggly. No wonder.
“Sorry,” he said, “I went to do blood work and I totally forgot.”
The giggling came after being asked if he was OK to continue, down a squirt of blood and all. “No! I’m high and I gave blood! Who knows what the answers are going to sound like!”
The voices are kind of a signature for Scovel, who was also at the 2012 Just for Laughs festival and will repeat this year with two one-man shows, Monday and Tuesday.
The voices are about keeping it fresh.
“I’m sure people come to shows and there are certain jokes they’d like to hear. I’m like that with other people ... but I don’t like for there to be an expectation with when there might be a voice, so I’ll change them around for different jokes.”
Also, he continued, “It’s like if I get bored with myself, I do the same jokes as a different person, which is fun because it changes the jokes a little bit for me.”
So sometimes the voices speak for him. Sometimes they speak to him. Back at the Comedy Nest in October, one of the voices belonged to Jack White, of the White Stripes, Dead Weather and Raconteurs, and also the mastermind behind the vinyl-championing recording studio Third Man Records in Nashville (“Your turntable’s not dead”), which will soon release Scovel’s second album, based on the set he performed there on June 22.
The phone call that delivered White’s voice came backstage that Saturday night. The story, though, starts the autumn before in Nashville.
“I was at a burger place before a show and he was there eating,” Scovel recounted. “He and his friend were sitting next to me and my friend, and I just decided to hand them both the CD ... and left it at that.”
A year later, Scovel’s friend Reggie Watts was talking with White about comedians. “And Jack White mentioned that I had given him a CD ... and Reggie was like, ‘Oh, I’m friends with him. Why don’t we call him right now and you can tell him you like the CD?’ ”
White invited Scovel “to come to Nashville to record the album. It’s one of these rare success stories of annoyingly handing someone something and they actually look at it and decide to do something about it.”
“I was about to go on stage in about five minutes and then I got that call and I thought, ‘Great, I’m going to do this album!’ ” Scovel said, laughing. “And then I went onstage and did a horrible set for 45 minutes.”
(For the record, the set was not horrible.)
Scovel “exceeded our comedic expectations,” the Third Man website reports, and the vinyl will be released “in the coming months.”
Just another jump up the increasingly upward curve of Scovel’s career arc.
Scovel says he liked not only recording a show live, but also having to fit it into two 20-minute sides required by vinyl.
“It was just one show and recorded right to tape and right to vinyl. So because of that, I had to play within the time limit of 20 minutes is Side A and 20 minutes is the second side. That was kind of new to me, but I enjoyed the challenge. What are the different things that you can play around with if there is no fade-out, if something just ends abruptly?”
Doing it all in one take was also liberating, like a comic starting out and getting just one shot.
“If I were doing a CD, I’d probably do four shows and edit it all together into what sounds like one set,” he said. “You get best of the best and now we can really put out a great product. But what was fun about this is that we knew it was just one show, knowing it had to be what happened in the moment, and I think I might get addicted to that style of recording.”
Another marker of the increasing momentum in Scovel’s career is the sitcom Ground Floor, slated for the U.S. cable outlet TBS in 2014. From Bill Lawrence (Cougar Town, Scrubs) and Greg Malins (2 Broke Girls), Ground Floor is about a finance exec (Skylar Astin of Pitch Perfect) whose supposed one-night stand (Briga Heelan of Cougar Town) turns out to be one of his building’s maintenance workers. Among the support players are a hypercritical finance boss (John C. McGinley of Scrubs) and a maintenance worker called Harvard, played by Scovel, who is secretly in love with Heelan’s character.
“I definitely wanted to get into acting, though I didn’t know in what capacity,” said Scovel, who will also write for the show. “Having shot the pilot, I’m glad it’s a multi-cam sitcom. It’s a good start for me, for someone who’s not trained as an actor.”
But for the moment, there are his two Montreal shows.
“I’ll probably do a lot of stuff that I was doing for the album,” but he won’t scrimp on the classics. “I’ll go in and play around and have fun. I enjoyed the shows in Montreal last year so much. I’ll try to have that kind of fun again.”
He did not say whether his well-known Seven Grandmothers joke will be in the lineup, but the question was begging: How many grandmothers are you up to now?
Scovel laughed. “Right now, I’m up to 18 grandmothers. A full-on addiction has set in.”
Rory Scovel performs Monday, July 22 and Tuesday, July 23 at 9 p.m. at MainLine Theatre, 3997 St-Laurent Blvd., as part of Just for Laughs. Tickets cost $20. Visit hahaha.com for more information.
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Rory Scovel recorded his upcoming second album at Jack White’s Third Man Records last month. “I had to play within the time limit of 20 minutes is Side A and 20 minutes is the second side,” he says. “That was kind of new to me, but I enjoyed the challenge.”
Photograph by: Just for Laughs