Saturday, October 22, 2011

Rory Scovel's "Dilation"

Confidence is a tricky thing, especially when it comes to stand-up. You could take the exact same joke in front of the exact same crowd told by the exact same comedian but deliver it with various levels of confidence and you'll get completely different reactions. It's up to the comedian to decide which approach works best for them. Are you going to take the stage like you belong there, sure-footed and determined, unafraid to let the crowd know who's in charge? Examples of confident comedians might include Robin Williams, David Cross, or Dane Cook.

Or perhaps you prefer the Confidence Meter dialed down, instead finding humor in the softer-spoken style of someone who doesn't want to rock the boat. One wouldn't naturally assume under-confidence (or at least the illusion thereof) and comedy could mix successfully, but I present as Exhibit B such talented performers as Mike Birbiglia, Demetri Martin, and Woody Allen.

And then you have the other end of the spectrum. The level that, I believe, may be the hardest to pull off. It's easy to portray yourself as an over-confident, pompous jackass, but who cares? That doesn't always equal funny. The trick is taking that over-confidence, putting it all out there for the world to see, and not only make a crowd of strangers laugh but also make them want to spend more time with you. When it's not pulled off successfully, there's nothing you can do to make people wish you'd get off the stage sooner. But done the right way, it really is pretty cool to behold. Comedians like Daniel Tosh and Anthony Jeselnik are so good at it, they make it look easy. It's almost as if they're trying to see who can say the worst thing with the cockiest attitude and still sell albums.

And they do.

Now add to that small-yet-impressive list of Comedians Who Kill With Over-Confidence this guy: Rory Scovel.

On his new album, Dilation, Scovel proves himself as a no-holds-barred comedian who has introduced a new ingredient into this over-confident jambalaya: Fun. Where Tosh and Jeselnik combine a smarmy disgruntled-ness into their format, almost as if they loathe the fact they have to perform for the general public (which isn't a critique; I think it's a vital part of their successful formula), Scovel has instead torn that particular page out of the recipe book and jammed it down the garbage disposal. He's not angry at or with the crowd, nor is he miffed that his presence is required on the stage. Nope. Scovel has a unique angle that breathes new life into his pomposity.

I'll say it again: Fun.

Sure, Scovel comes across as over-confident and arrogant at first, but dammit, he's also really happy to be here and that happiness is infectious. There are even a couple of times when Scovel cracks himself up and as he reveals each tiny chink in his armor, it humanizes him, and the laughs flow freely and more and more abundantly.

Scovel is a riot and each minute spent with him is plain and simply a great time. The track listing, with titles like "Drive," "Walk," "Eat," "Live," and "Breathe," refuse to give you any clue as to what lies in store but from the very first minute Scovel takes the stage you're ensured that no matter what happens, it's going to be funny. His smarmy "thank you's" as he basks in the welcoming applause that greets him in the opening track soon devolve into the paranoid rant of an amnesia patient desperately demanding to know just what in the world is going on.

And with that, a piece of armor is gone and the humor is instantly elevated to the next level. It's brilliant to witness.

This project is so incredible, it's actually really tricky to approach for a review. Each track covers so much ground, it's hard to decide what to focus on and what to leave for you to discover on your own. Not that I'm complaining. If the fact that there's too much good stuff to rave about in one sitting is the only downside to the CD, then that's not actually a downside at all.

Despite the fact I've already discussed Scovel's self-assured approach, that's not to say he doesn't span a vast range of emotions, energy levels, and points of view. He leads us through a wide array of mood swings and he knows exactly when it's time to switch gears for the most comedic effect. In one instant he's a guy bragging about being so rich he doesn't fly in planes but instead drives them around just to show off how loaded he is. But then at the drop of a hat he hilariously morphs into the pilot of the plane, a good ol' Southern boy who can only dream of the time his plane will hit a flock of birds over the Hudson River so he can show everyone how to really land a plane in case of emergency.

If he's not telling the most finely-crafted joke about a Tyler Perry movie title, then Scovel is in a mock fit of anger, crying and sniveling with all of his strength, doing whatever it takes to mock all of the whiny people who were outraged by the Karate Kid re-make. The only thing funnier than when Scovel puts into perspective everyone who actually took time out of their day to bemoan the Hollywood machine is when he explains why he actually liked the new version.

Scovel's crowd work is second-to-none and he's able to turn even the worst hecklers and audience participants into gut-busting gold. At one point he asks a woman in the crowd what she does for a living. She cryptically answers with "I do medical." Scovel doesn't let her off the hook until it becomes apparent -- to me, at least -- that she's a big fat liar and the closest she's come to "doing medical" is watching reruns of Grey's Anatomy with her diabetic rescue cats.

When Scovel begins another bit by mentioning how boring Michigan is, he's immediately interrupted by the most pretentious Michigander you'll ever find yourself wishing death upon. What is deliciously ironic about the entire exchange is that the more Scovel pokes and prods, the more this wannabe heckler proves his initial point. She continues to offer up reasons why Michigan is awesome but does so in such mind-numbingly boring fashion, she unwittingly becomes Scovel's best witness for the prosecution.  The more she talks, the less impressive she (and Michigan) becomes and in doing so, presents herself as the perfect punching bag for Scovel. I'm pretty sure the next time she steps up to defend Michigan, she's going to receive an overnight express letter from the state which simply reads, "Don't."

A great running gag that Scovel latches onto throughout the album is his conversation with the person listening to this recording in their car. He's not afraid to stop the action and give an occasional "Turn left here" or even come to complete radio silence just to freak out The Guy In His Car. Scovel's willingness to break the fourth wall and turn the format on its ear is yet another example of his unique approach that pays off. Big time.

Throughout the duration of the album, Scovel changes his method and persona, but it happens so smoothly you never realize it's happening. Only after the fact, as I looked back on the proceedings, did I even realize what took place.

It all started off with Scovel in charge, a mischievous trickster pulling us up a steep incline in a rickety red wagon, occasionally threatening to let go at any moment, careening to what would most assuredly be our demise. But as we crested the hill, Scovel showed us the other side. Yes, it's pretty steep and yes, we probably should have brought a helmet, but by this time it's too late. We've already put our trust in Scovel and it's a trust he has earned. He doesn't want us to get hurt, he just wants to give us the thrill ride of a lifetime.

By the end of the last track, as we're zooming down the hill in that little red wagon, whooping, hollering, and having a complete blast, we realize Scovel has jumped in beside us and no one is enjoying the ride more than he is. His hands are in the air, and no one is screaming louder.


As fun as it may be to push someone down a hill and watch what happens next from on high, ultimately it's another story to give in and be a passenger. With Scovel, we're in this together and anything can happen. It's dangerous living via comedy and by the time the wagon slows to  a stop at the bottom of the hill, we're actually glad he left the helmets at home. Sometimes the best part of the ride is the risk that comes with it, and it just may be a while before another ride as fun as this one comes along. I highly suggest you trust Scovel and take your seat in the wagon.

I'll see you at the bottom of the hill.



  1. Good review... I haven't heard the album yet, but Rory is a really talented guy and a heck of a nice dude.

  2. [...] 7. RORY SCOVEL - DILATION This project is so incredible, it’s actually really tricky to approach for a review. Each track covers so much ground, it’s hard to decide what to focus on and what to leave for you to discover on your own. Not that I’m complaining. If the fact that there’s too much good stuff to rave about in one sitting is the only downside to the CD, then that’s not actually a downside at all. [...]