With an alt favorite like Rory Scovel, there’s always the worry that the hype will overwhelm the material. After witnessing him do a concurrent set with Jon Dore on Conan or pitching open-mic bits while climbing onstage scaffolding, there’s a real possibility that seeing a conventional headlining performance could disappoint.
Luckily for the New York Comedy Festival audience at Zizzle Zazzles, it was everything fans could want from a Scovel show. For one thing, the Southern-inflected German accent that he maintained throughout—unacknowledged until the final minute—imbued every line with a slightly surreal humor. If nothing else, it’s an impressive feat to get through an entire hour without pronouncing one “th” sound. (Try saying the word “atheist” without it.)
The secret to Scovel’s success may be that his prepared material is clever enough to stand on its own. His proposition that Christopher Columbus was “the greatest real-estate agent ever” and the storylines he creates when washing dishes while high are well-developed and hilarious bits. The surrounding silliness of ad-libs and characters only work because he builds on such strong premises, a principle lost on many who attempt “wackiness” without a solid base.
But it’s definitely in his extemporizing that Scovel cements his status as one of the funniest comics working today. A physical chunk that began when he accidentally stepped on the mic cord and ended with him continuing his set while Tebowing had a taste of the you-had-to-be-there magic of great improv shows. And part of the joy of his clearly off-the-cuff miming of a One Percenter smoking a cigarette was his own amusement in the idea, his face going red as he cracked up.
Ordinarily, a standup laughing up at his own jokes wears thin, because the comic is normally attempting to overcompensate for the audience’s lack of amusement. But watching Scovel entertain himself is more like seeing an actor break during a SNL sketch—a sign that he’s experiencing it all with the audience and is just as amazed by how funny it all is.
With a headliner like Scovel, opener Mike Kaiser was bound to be overlooked. “Who am I?” he began his set, a question the crowd clearly wondered about this unannounced opener. Nonetheless, Kasier’s attempt to distinguish himself from the “15,000 young, slender, bearded white comics in New York City” was promising, with a particularly great joke involving William Faulkner and salamanders, and a string of “It’s so cold out…” gags that suggest he has a bright future in writing late-night monologue jokes.
“Me and 75 percent of the audience are really into this show,” Scovel said halfway through his set. “Twenty-five percent aren’t sure it’s started yet.” It’s impossible to say what the next incarnation will be like, or the one after that. Presumably each performance of Zizzle Zazzles will bring its own unpredictable weirdness. It’s always worth going to find out.