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Comedy Reviews - CD - Rory Scovel - Live at Third Man Records

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Live at Third Man Records
Rory Scovel
Comedy Record
Third Man Records 2013
www.roryscovel.com

Following on the heels of Rory Scovel’s extraordinary 2011 debut album “Dilation,” Scovel is back with a new special called Live at Third Man Records, available exclusively on vinyl.

No, that is not a typo.  So, let’s deal with that first as the obvious elephant in the room.  Third Man Records is an independent record label founded by Jack White of The White Stripes.  It maintains a live venue in Nashville, Tennessee, and sets itself apart from other such labels because of the manner in which it uniquely records music performances and transfers them directly to vinyl. Although most of the label’s releases are music performance, Scovel is not the first comic to appear on the label; previous comedy performances include Conan O’Brien, Reggie Watts and Neil Hamburger.

Although vinyl and music are often considered a match made in heaven, it remains unclear if the same can be said of vinyl and comedy.  First, there is the distribution problem.  How many stand-up comedy fans even have the ability to play vinyl records?  Second, the selling point of Third Man Records’ approach is that the live performance is recorded directly to vinyl in a single take.  This runs counter to how most comedy performances are recorded and produced.  In fact, most comedy specials are pieced together by carefully editing and splicing together bits and pieces of the same 1-hour set recorded over the course of two or more performances, typically throughout a weekend.  Here, Scovel gets just one chance to get everything right, hope for the perfect delivery, and hope for the perfect audience and audience reaction.  So, did it work?  Yes and no.

Scovel’s approach to comedy is a bit unorthodox, and will undoubtedly not appeal to everybody.  While I really love his style and delivery, I am not naive enough to think everyone will agree with me.  Scovel does a number of different voices throughout his act.  However, rather than walking on stage and beginning his act in his normal speaking voice and then transitioning into his other characters, Scovel is known for frequently walking on stage and immediately launching into a voice -- sometimes leading the audience to wonder if that truly is Scovel’s voice, and if the entire show will proceed in that manner.  Obviously Scovel’s ability to fool anyone with this technique will diminish as his popularity continues to grow.

His performance on Live at Third Man Records takes the same approach.  Scovel begins his set in his “German guy” voice, and is immediately hilarious in his overtly bizarre style.  Throughout the special he also dives in and out of his “Southern guy” voice where he puts on a thick Southern accent.  Personally, I never get tired of that character, and pretty much every word Scovel says in that voice leaves me doubled over in laughter.

Scovel also attempted to make unique use of the fact that he was recording a vinyl album by frequently acknowledging that he was recording on vinyl, and also trying to make clever use of the format itself.  For example, there is your standard Side A and Side B on the vinyl, with each section containing approximately 20 minutes of material.  After Side A concludes and you flip over to Side B, Scovel opens Side B pretending that he continued to tell jokes while you were flipping over the album.  It’s kitschy, at best, but not really funny, and the novelty is obviously lost after the first listen.

One of Scovel’s many talents is being able to effortlessly weave back-and-forth between his actual material and audience interaction.  The problem with audience interaction on a live recording where you only get one take is that if the audience interaction is dull, you do not get a second shot.  Here, some of it works, some of it doesn’t.

The special ends very abruptly.  This is intentional, but it is too bizarre to be enjoyable.  The last true bit is a bit about the abortion debate in which Scovel discusses a billboard with a picture of an infant containing a message about the infant having brain activity seven months before birth.  This bit just sort of ends without being fully explored, and I felt Scovel could have done so much more with this premise.  After that bit cuts off, Scovel appears to introduce a bit about race, but then the album ends before he does anything with it.  It was clearly meant to be sort of a call-back to the bit that opened Side B, and play off a suggestion that the show continues after they ran out of room on the vinyl, but it didn’t work for me.  Weird does not always equal funny, and I personally would have preferred an actual, developed closing bit over this gimmick.

All in all, this is a good special, and if you’re already a fan of Scovel you should really enjoy this.  If you like Scovel, and you’re one of the few who have the ability to play vinyl records, go ahead and pick this one up -- there’s plenty to enjoy.

Brett Watson

Other Rory Scovel Reviews

Dilation: a quality comedian that needs to find his comedy voice



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