Thursday
Jun 22, 2017
   Rory Scovel's Inconsistent New Special Is Undermined By Its Structure   

Read the original review on www.pastemagazine.com.

 

Amanda Wicks begins her review of Rory Scovel's first special by namedropping the three Youtube clips she watched to establish her comedy-nerd cred, and the conclusion she comes to is that "Scovel’s strength lies in his ability to don a character at a mere finger snap, and create elaborate, absurd stories emanating from their point of view." Had she let Youtube autoplay a couple more clips from Conan, she might have come to a very different realization: Scovel's defining trait is doing what he finds funny and not caring whether the audience is in on the joke. Like the time he and Jon Dore did standup simultaneoulsy, or performed in a tux with piano accompaniment, or walked into the audience, eventually climbing to straddle a man's chair. Saying characters and accents define his comedy is a claim that isn't even supported by all three of her own cherry-picked examples, and it turns out that building from a false premise is just as fatal for a review as it is for a joke. I think Amanda Wicks' strength lies in her ability to shoe-horn Pete Holmes into any discussion, but she sadly only manages it once in this review.

Even within the confines of characters and accents, her critique doesn't hold up to the briefest scrutiny. For some reason she's disappointed we didn't get to hear from Kevin the crappy baseball player, yet fails to mention that that entire scene is told in character as a cop undercover as an over-aggressive little league coach. And somehow co-worker Kathy stuck in her mind from being mentioned once in passing, while she ignores the raspy-voiced friend from the OJ documentary, which is the longest-running impression in the entire show. I can only imagine what a cavalcade of disappointment Wicks' life must be if she somehow manages to miss the things she says she likes when they're right in front of her. Amanda Wicks is herself the subject of a modern-day adult fairytale--one with a very definite moral.

She quotes him saying "We’re just gonna rant and get to the bottom of stuff now," which she thinks is him "unwittingly summarizing his set." But he also said "Do you not interpret my sarcasm?" and the answer to that question is clearly no. Despite her protestations that she likes the weirdness and totally gets it you guys, the jokes she identifies as his "most powerful" are regular standup bits. Whereas what makes Scovel unique are the meta-jokes and self-aware commentary: "What if this was the whole show?" is a joke that only works if you understand that the tangents and asides aren't the whole show, but they also kinda are. Whenever the audience was on screen, there was always at least one person who wasn't enjoying the show. That's going to happen with any groundbreaking comedian, but the point is you shouldn't hire that person to write the review.

Wicks' review would benefit from some self-aware meta-commentary of its own to reconcile the contradictions in it. She says Scovel needs to create "new structures" rather than relying on the existing "scaffolding" of a standup special, immediately after saying the weird talkshow sketch in the middle "falls flat". Despite claiming to want it to be more original, what she liked was all stuff that fits the conventional standup mold. The reader is left with an impression of someone trying desperately to appreciate a more nuanced art form, but like a dog at a baseball game she doesn't even understand what she doesn't understand. Saying "weird is wonderful" is wonderful, but that means creating new structures to review a different kind of special rather than relying on the existing scaffolding of comedy criticism. Unfortunately, someone who puts Iliza Shlesinger second on a top ten list was never going to parse out just what a review of a Rory Scovel special looks like for her.