Comedian Rory Scovel Is Ready for His George Carlin Era

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/HBO
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/HBO

In the past, comedian Rory Scovel never really knew what he was going to say when he walked onto the stand-up stage. But that all changed when he decided—20 years into his career—to finally do the “homework” of actually writing a complete and cohesive hour. The result is his new special, Religion, Sex and a Few Things in Between, which Scovel describes as the “tightest” set of material he’s ever produced.

In his return to The Last Laugh podcast for this bonus episode, Scovel discusses how this new approach changed his experience on stage, how he still strives to stay ultra-present in his work, and why he has decided to lean into politics (with an eye on George Carlin) for his next act.

Scovel’s 2021 special Live Without Fear documented his unique ability to go on stage night after night with nothing prepared. For this new hour, he really wanted to do something different.

“This is the first time I really looked at the material and actually did the homework of editing, taking things out that I maybe love, but just aren’t getting the response,” he says of this new hour, which began streaming on Max this week. “And I know it’s sort of strange to be 20 years into my career talking about something that I think a lot of people discover early on. But I think as an artist, things just happen when they’re going to happen.”

“I don’t appreciate a band that just kind of always puts out the same album,” he explains. “Even if they’re putting out an album that I don’t end up liking, I always appreciate that they at least tried to do something slightly different than what they’ve done before.” In the same way, in comedy, he says he has no interest in seeing a new hour from someone who “hasn’t learned anything, or hasn’t grown or evolved or changed in any way.”

Scovel also felt like if he really tightened up his message, especially during the long section about religion that opens the special, then he might be able to reach people where they are. “If I tightened it up a little bit, I think maybe people who are turned off by those topics might come and listen,” he says, “and they might appreciate the presentation, and it might get them laughing, whether they agree or not.”

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Wading into those somewhat more divisive waters has inspired Scovel to push things even further as he starts to develop material for his next hour. He says that “frustration” has often served as a major motivator to get on stage and express his opinions through comedy. And with the 2024 election on the horizon, he’s feeling especially frustrated about America’s political system.

“Who knows? At the end of the day you probably end up losing some people because they just can’t stand jokes about politics, despite the fact that they would spend their free time at a rally,” he says, making a subtle jab at the MAGA faithful. “But I think at some point you kind of get pushed to the point where you want to speak out and say what you really think. And see if you could turn it into something that entertains people, or gets them to laugh, or who knows, maybe open their eyes a little bit to other people’s situations.”

As he was putting his new Max special together, Scovel would facetiously joke that he was in his “Carlin phase” after delivering some of the more absurd bits. “But I think I then walked away from that being like, you know, the Carlin thing is kind of interesting,” he says now. “Not that you want to go, ‘I’m gonna try to be Carlin,’ I don’t want to do that.” But he does want to see what his version of the political rant with a message would look like.

When I mention that he could always just utilize the new “AI” version of Carlin to come up with his new material, Scovel laughs and jokes, “Yeah, maybe I can just type it into a computer and this special could be made tomorrow.”

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Listen to the episode now and follow The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, or wherever you get your podcasts to be the first to hear new episodes when they are released every Wednesday.

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