Scovel scores lots of laughs at MASS MoCA

As I followed Combo Za into its dressing room in the depths of MASS MoCA, I embraced my role as both a groupie and a reporter. Combo Za, the College’s improv comedy group, was following up its top-notch performance from the night before by opening for upcoming “comedy giant” Rory Scovel Saturday night in MASS MoCA’s B-10 Club. The show consisted of Combo Za, Albany native Matt Kelly and then the headliner Scovel. I left my post backstage and took my seat in the café-esque B-10 Club where the mood was very “New York City poetry reading,” minus the art students, plus some local North Adams characters.
As Combo Za took the stage, I was filled with anticipation, as its performance the night before with Middlebury’s improv group “Middlebrow” was such a success. Unfortunately it seems that I was the only person in the room feeling this way, because the group’s mock newscast was not met with much energy from the crowd. Working with the audience suggestions “North Adams gets a new mayor, chicken lips and Marlboro ‘can-a-bus’” proved to be more difficult than they had originally planned. While Combo Za’s previous show was filled with catchy one-liners, crazy characters and witty banter, the newscast seemed to fall flat in comparison. But in all fairness the night was young, and the audience’s receptiveness to comedy seemed to increase proportionally with people’s trips to the bar.
Second to take the stage for a brief stand-up act was Kelly, who has a monthly show in Albany and stuck primarily to sex and dating jokes. The amount that this man said he hooks up is surprising due to the fact that he looks like a “12-year-old magic boy.” He joked: “I’m the hook-up equivalent of pizza. Accessible, cheap and there within 30 minutes of you calling.” Kelly was quirky and often offensive, but he was very aware of that and used it to his advantage. While some of his jokes were received with headshaking, people were still able laugh them off. While Kelly was entertaining, he seemed a lot better before Scovel came on, which is, I suppose, the point of an opening act.
When “the man of the hour,” as he was introduced, finally came on stage the audience was full of excitement and slightly buzzed (except for the woman behind me who was, in the words of Scovel, smashed). Without saying a word, Scovel had the audience rolling within the first five minutes as he walked around the stage with a trophy bowing and waving as if it were an Oscar. Scovel is a South Carolina native who has opened for comedians including Louis C.K., Daniel Tosh and Nick Swardson. In the press release for the show, MASS MoCA said, “We’ve caught him in the sweet spot on his trajectory from underground sensation to comedy giant.” After the show it was not hard to see why Scovel is quickly becoming so popular.
While Kelly had relied mostly on prewritten jokes, I found that I liked Scovel best for the moments when he went without a script. His ability to work off of the things surrounding him, whether it be the “material I can’t describe hanging from the ceiling,” the audience or the MASS MoCA water bottle (“put the art inside of you!”) it was Scovel’s spontaneity and impressive improv skills that made him hysterical.
With many of his jokes stemming from marijuana and mushroom use, Scovel made the very honest argument that while he was trying to quit smoking, it was impossible with a new 3-D movie coming out every week. He was also very creative with audience participation, using a man and woman in the front who were celebrating their anniversary as the basis for an entire 10 minutes of his set. Scovel was able to use “his infectious stage presence and engaging charisma” to really bring the audience into his act. I was even given the chance to participate when Scovel caught me taking his picture and made an extravagant pose for my benefit. It was these kinds of interactions and witty off-the-cuff remarks on his surroundings that made Scovel’s show both engaging and almost unbearably funny.