Welcome to The Noctuary
Rory Scovel returns to the Relapse to document a week of improvised comedy

By Lee Valentine Smith

After he puts his daughter down for a nap, Rory Scovel calls INsite from his home in Los Angeles to discuss his latest project. "I'm terrified and excited at the same time," he laughs. His upcoming show, loosely called The Noctuary, is a week-long engagement at the Relapse Theater.

Nothing so terrifying about that - except for his return visit to the venue, his performances will consist of completely unprepared material. When he steps on stage on the Monday night of the run, the challenge for the Greenville native will be to create a whole new hour of material - as the audience watches and cameras record every minute.

But the veteran comic actor is no stranger to challenge. His latest movie finds him in unfamiliar romantic comedy territory as he co-stars with Amy Schumer in "I Feel Pretty," slated for release next month. His edgy special Rory Scovel Tries Stand-Up For The First Time debuted on Netflix last fall and prominently features the Relapse.

The release date for "I Feel Pretty" has just been moved up from June until April, how do you feel about it?

I just saw it last night and I feel very good about it. It's me in a role I haven't really played before. A much more, not necessarily serious, but definitely more of a straight-man and closer to myself.

You're in good hands with this one, with a strong cast of character actors. When you got the job, what was your initial reaction?

You know, I think I've been sorta waiting for this opportunity. This one, kinda like all of 'em, just sort of fell out of the sky from knowing Amy. Somebody dropped out from this role and they quickly needed to fill it. She threw my name out there and they went with it. Then I showed up and was able to do the job which was probably a surprise to them - and to me!

It must ease a bit of on-set stress to be working with a friend and peer.

Yeah and I think it wasn't so much like any sort of nervousness of being able to do it because I've been circling around trying to have an opportunity like this for a while. When the call came, I was like, 'Well I don't know what's going to happen, but I think I'm ready to at least get in the batter's box and see.'

It seems to be the same way with Amy, also a great stand-up with a likeable screen presence, but she's had a few roles that didn't quite fit her style.

I think this one finally falls perfectly into her style of comedy. With a message that's so very clear and she's always talking about, onstage and off, about body perception. So it's kinda perfect in a way. For me it feels like it's the perfect storm. Now after seeing it I think it's very timely, very relatable and I think it's gonna be pretty big. Everybody bringing their A-game for sure. It's always good when everybody kinda knows each other. We're all coming from a comedy background as folks who exist in that sort of middle-ground between drama and comedy.

Let's talk about the upcoming Relapse gig. What were you thinking when you signed on for it?

I constantly wonder that when I put myself in these positions. But this is actually a position I've wanted to put myself in for a while. When I finally talked about it out loud, suddenly this crazy idea is very real. I knew if I said it out loud to the right person at the right time it would happen. I'd have to either put up or shut up.

Now it's on the calendar and you can't back out.

Well recently I was thinking, 'I love going on stage, I love Relapse, and I love the improv nature of the idea.' It's made me think about how to remain calm, break through and find the material and keep the show rolling in the moment even when I don't necessarily know if I even have any gas in the tank. So I'll have to find the gas in real time.

That's quite a challenge.

There's a part of me that feels like if I can accomplish this, then going onstage with prepared material from this point on will feel very different and much easier. I hope it will feel much easier, but who knows?

Do you have any advance concepts in mind, just to fall back on?

The thing that excites me and terrifies me about this is that I don't know what this show is, or what the rules of it should be. It really is an exercise for me to not fall back on anything I've done before. The catch of it is I can start to build material over the course of the week, but that Monday night is the cleanest the canvass can possibly be. Then I can slowly start to put stuff together.

On the first night, are you winging the entire show or will you throw in some greatest hits to pad out the time?

It all has to start happening when I walk out. Minute one is the beginning of anything I'm allowed to use going forward. I can't bring in anything I've done before. That sticks with the ticket price, too. It kinda rises as the week goes on, under the assumption that the show gets a little better each night. But that's not a guarantee, either.

How are you documenting this unique experience? Are you filming it?

We are. Scott Moran who directed my special and John Campbell, who was the DP, are gonna shoot the entire thing as a documentary. That's the other thing, too. We don't exactly know what we are documenting.

You did this once before, also at the Relapse, but only for one show.

Yeah I did a show there where I really did make up everything. It was at one of those 1 a.m. Secret Shows. That's what kinda made me realize that I can do this. And it's what I want to be doing as a stand-up anyway. I really want to be able to create a show from nothing just like an improv group does, but I want it to morph it into standup.

At this point, with no rules and no set, what are your expectations?

I guess right now, what we'll be documenting is a 14-year-comic artist trying to change how he approaches his craft. I've done it for 14 years but there's definitely room for improvement as to how I currently do it. There's a part of me that wants to change how I write these songs, basically, and see how it goes. Then literally not just do it for this one week, but I kinda want this to become how I do my shows. I'll learn how to make material out of nothing. Then if I can have two versions of one show, that would be my ideal goal.

You're calling this The Noctuary. That's a pretty mysterious name for a comedy show.

I didn't even know the word, I was looking online for words that maybe I don't necessarily use. Since the shows are at night, over a course of nights, a noctuary is like a journal of nocturnal incidents. Since I'm documenting this week I felt it was important to not just call it Rory Scovel doing standup because that's not what this show is.

Are you bringing any special guests?

Gilbert [Lawand] is opening and he's put together different locals each night to go up and do some time before I go out. There's nobody flyin' in for it but if anyone happens to be in town, then by all means, I'd love that kinda show. At this point, it's myself, Gilbert and Atlanta comedians.

That's plenty because Atlanta has so many good comics.

Oh yeah, Atlanta has one of the best comedy scenes going right now and has had one for a while. In my mind, the reason why a place like Relapse is so great is because it has great ownership, facilitated by great talent. It's also a very welcoming community. That's why it's on the map in the comedy community.

And you've further immortalized Relapse in the special.

Comedy specials are a snapshot of a moment in time and there's no better place to do it and no better owner to work with than Bob Wood. I went in knowing they'd be fully supportive and on board. Bob is like, 'What do you need and how do you want it?' I think that comes through in the special. We were given the right space to work with. I think it really comes through on the screen that Relapse is not your average comedy venue.

Rory Scovel performs March 19 - 24 at Relapse Theater. For more information, please visit relapsecomedy.com.



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