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Humor of the Beast

Rory Scovel On How TOOL Influenced His Approach To Comedy – Humor of the Beast

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Welcome to “Humor of the Beast,” a recurring series where we interview the funniest people about their favorite band, as well as the impact heavy music has had on their lives and in comedy.

Something about a trio of comedians following Tool on tour by performing standup sets in each city the band is playing just feels right. And that’s exactly what Rory Scovel, Nick Youssef, and Freddy Scott are doing on the “Comedians Following Tool on Tour – The Tour.”

But this is not merely comics cleverly exploiting Tool’s oddball connection to comedy. Scovel, who can be regularly seen on numerous late night talks shows as well as beloved TV shows like Those Who Can’t, is a true die-hard fan unafraid to share all the ways Tool has inspired him as a performer.

Before embarking on the tour, Scovel spoke with us about how Tool helped him discover his comedic voice, what it was like to help Danny Carey carry his drum set into a tiny jazz club, what inspired him and his friends to follow the band on tour, and what he wishes he told Adam Jones when they crossed paths at an airport.

Read highlights from our conversation below.

When did you first discover Tool?

I think it was shortly after Ænima came out in 1996. I was in high school at the time, and I had a friend who was all over the map with the music he listened to and I was just a guy who listened to whatever was on the radio. For some reason I asked him to show me some bands he was into…

He told me to go buy a Malevolent Creation album. I went to the record store and I didn’t know they had a “heavy metal” section, so I couldn’t find that album. As I was walking out, there was this promo placard – since the Tool album had just come out – and I went, “Oh I think I saw this CD in his car.” So I just grabbed that CD not to leave the store empty handed. I threw it on once in the car, and with “Stinkfist” being for the first track, I was just immediately onboard… And I told him I bought that album, and he was so upset because that was going to be the last part of my “education” in the music he was going to expose me to. [laughs] So I had just jumped right to the end…

Side note – I did end up getting that Malevolent Creation album later on! And I realized that I was just more attracted to the sound overall with Tool and Maynard James Keenan’s voice. Even though I didn’t specifically know what the song was about or what he was saying, I liked that I could find my own story in it and create what I think the song was about… It’s weird to try to figure out those threads of what I do and what Tool does because it’s not entirely there, but the inspiration of how they do what they do is a huge part of my standup career for sure.

What I love about them is that they seem to just make the music that they want to make. I don’t think there are a lot of bands out there selling out arenas that have the confidence to make an album with songs mostly over 10 minutes. I think a lot of bands stop and go, “Eh, I don’t know… I’m worried about the marketing! How would we do it live?” They just make what they like to make.

And I love that every time something new comes out, I get so nervous that I won’t like it just because I want to like everything [of theirs]. And every time I hear their stuff for the first time, I don’t like it! [laughs] I go, “Eh, I don’t know, I gotta sit with this!” And then I sit with it and I get to the third or fourth listen, and I’m like, “Heh, they did it again!” [laughs]

Is that how you felt with Fear Inoculum?

Absolutely! When they dropped the title-track, I put it on while I was in my hotel room so I had to listen to it through my iPad speakers – which I was already like “Alright, have an open mind! This isn’t the best way to hear this.” But I played it and it was confusing and not what I expected, which ultimately tends to turn you off in almost everything until you realize that’s what art is supposed to be – it should confuse me, it should be the unexpected! I think that’s what I love so much specifically about this new album.

That’s possibly the best way to define comedy specifically – that it should be unexpected. What typically gets the biggest laughs in comedy is what you don’t see coming.

It’s a couple of things – you want it to be unexpected and surprising, and sometimes you maybe want to disagree with it. And it all comes back to … for me, the fact that Tool just make what they want to make and know that they are good at it makes me go, “Alright, I am funny, so I have to have confidence and faith in myself as an artist that when I go out there, I am doing what I would want to watch! I am performing the style that I would enjoy seeing.”

You start to get to a point in your career where you go to a show and there’s tons of people there who become your fans, and it’s like, “Well, if all I’ve been doing is performing exactly what I want to see and that’s what you’re attracted to, we’re probably on the same page.”

When was the first time you saw Tool live?

Early December 1996 at the Grady Cole Center in Charlotte, NC. Only now – having gone back and looked at what that venue size is – do I realize how incredible that space was to see them because it wasn’t a rock club but wasn’t a giant venue. It was like a gymnasium at a YMCA that could hold a lot of people [laughs].

Also, I had no idea what to expect because I had only listened to Ænima. I didn’t know what they looked like. Psychotica was the opening band, and nothing against them but I remember sitting their going, “I hope this isn’t what the show is like.” [laughs] And then Maynard came out, and he’s at the front of the stage in boxer briefs, painted blue and white. I was just in a trance watching him move to the songs… I love to see when a band doesn’t care if I like it because they like it so much. And I don’t know what that is other than just commitment and confidence in your craft.

When I watched Maynard moving the way he was that first time, I was like “Oh my God, I can’t stop staring at him!” And then as I matured into a bigger fan, that’s when I was like, “Well, I should watch everyone in the band instead of being someone so shallow that they only stare at the singer!” [laughs]

There was a moment when I saw Tool last November where I couldn’t believe it was Justin playing a piece that I could’ve sworn was an intricate guitar riff.

I know! … I’m not a musician in anyway, I can maybe play four chords on a guitar and it’s not appealing to anyone, but whenever I see that Justin is playing [a certain part] I’m like “Oh my God, HE’s the one playing that!” But I don’t say that too loudly because I always assume someone’s going to be like, “Yeah, can you not hear the instrument?!” [laughs] I’m too afraid to admit that I don’t know what music is!

They still leave a little bit of mystery in an age where everyone just gives you the whole fucking thing. I like that there’s a lot of questions, that there’s a lot we don’t know. I mean even now there’s a lot of information out there, but I like that they don’t seem to be just selling themselves. They just let the music do a lot of the talking. At the same time, somebody can send me a link [to their interviews] tomorrow, and I’d be like “Oh never mind, I was wrong with that answer!” [laughs]

How many times have you seen Tool live at this point? We should probably add And Counting next to whatever number you give.

[Laughs] Yes, because I think it’s about to be eight or nine more times after this January tour, which would be absurd because by then I could… Actually, I could probably become a crew member on the tour because I’ll probably know enough about what’s going on. I’ll be like, “Want me to set up some of the microphones?”

I tried to count it the other day and I couldn’t totally get to a solid number, but I think maybe right now I’m somewhere around 15 times. And I said to my wife, “They’re my favorite band ever… Honestly I couldn’t tell you if 15 in the course of me liking them since 96 is a lot or a little.” And it was weird to me that this is the first time I ever caught multiple shows… Whenever they’ve announced a tour, I always try to catch at least one show. And I guess this 13 year gap and finally getting a new album woke something up inside of me and I was like, “Oh I want to go a bunch of times!” because I don’t know when they’re going to just stop doing this.

Their last album [10,000 Days] came out around two years after I started doing standup, and it’s so bizarre to me to look back [at everything I’ve done since that album came out].

What exactly inspired you, Freddy and Nick to embark on this tour? How did the idea even come about?

I actually hadn’t met Nick [until recently], but I knew he was a comic and noticed he had written some articles about Tool, he was clearly a big fan. Some other comics were like, “Yeah Nick’s legit, he’s a good guy. You guys should meet up because you’re both obsessed with this band!” So before they played the Staple Center [in L.A.] back in the fall, I reached out to Nick and was like, “Hey my wife, Freddy and I are going to get dinner before the concert if you want to join us.” He joined us with a friend of his, and my wife basically watched the four of us geek out over Tool. And I was sitting their thinking, “I feel like I’m at a weird sort of AA meeting.” I’ve never actually sat with other fans and just geek out like this, and it just feels so good to have other people who care about this one thing as much as I do, if not more.

I think it was Nick who made a joke at that dinner and was like, “We should book some comedy dates, just follow them on tour and go to their shows.” And then as soon as they [announced more tour dates], I hit up Nick because not only would it just be kind of fun to do comedy and go see our favorite band, but for some reason it just makes sense …

I learned of Bill Hicks through Tool! I found Mr. Show randomly on HBO one night when I was in high school, and then discovered that Tool was in the pilot! There’s this crazy connection [between] Tool and comedy, and I was like, “You know what – we should do these dates because I think their diehard fans are also very aware of Bill Hicks and Mr. Show, as well as of the band’s respect for comedy!” I think some people fly in for two days to see their concert, and we’ll kind of be an added bonus entertainment they can come to if they so desire. So we were just like, “Fuck it, let’s just do it! Let’s just see what happens!”

… I don’t know what it is, but their respect for Bill Hicks and what he was doing … I don’t do what Bill Hicks does, but I tell people I try to find myself somewhere between Steve Martin and Bill Hicks… like, “Alright, I’m trying to fall in between saying something serious and being absolutely silly and absurd.” And I don’t know if that’s [something] I would have in my comedy brain had I not discovered Hicks through the linear notes of Ænima when I was 16 years old.

I love that art passes art to other artists. If you’re openminded and your willing to pay attention… I don’t know if I believe in “signs” or “being guided,” I don’t have any proof on either side of it, but there are times I go, “Man, some coincidences are so crazy that it’s almost like someone is on the other side giving you a map. And they’re telling you that you’d like this and it might be something that changes your life forever, and then it does!”

Have you ever actually met anyone from Tool?

The first time I had any interaction, if we’re even going to call it that, I went to see the Webb All Stars [a jazz group Danny Carey sits in with occasionally] at the Baked Potato in L.A. … I bought tickets for like $15 [for a show at] this tiny, tiny jazz club. [We get there and] there’s no drum kit onstage, and my wife goes, “Oh maybe Danny had to cancel, or he’s not coming.”

So my wife and I are sitting at the bar and this guy just walks in and announces to the whole room, “Would anyone like to help Danny bring his kit in?” My wife to this day says, “I’ve never seen you be more of a ten-year-old boy then when you heard that question.” I stood up and was like, “Does he need help? Cause if he needs help…” I was trying to play it cool, but was clearly so obsessed. I went out to the back, he was just sitting in his truck, and me and two other clearly fanatical, huge fans are just making eye contact with him while holding some of his drums. You can just see we’re like, “Do I just make a break for it and keep this symbol forever?!”

Then I took it inside, and I just laid it down wherever somebody told me to. As I started walking back to my wife, he was walking in and I just patted him on the shoulder while saying, “Super excited, can’t wait to see the show.” So if we’re counting that as an interaction… It was crazy!

But the only other interaction… I was at the Minneapolis airport a week after Fear Inoculum came out, and I was connecting a flight to Cleveland. I was with my buddy and hadn’t stopped talking about the album the entire time, and as I’m walking through the airport I see Adam Jones out of the corner of my eye. I glance over and was like, “Oh my… Adam! Adam! Adam Jones!!!” until he turned and acknowledge me. He turned around and I was like “Holy shit! This is bizarre…”

I will say as a standup comic who does have people wanting to compliment you or take a picture, I do know to keep those moments brief and not be the guy that tries to deliver a monologue about how much they mean to me [laughs]. So I kept it brief and just said, “I fucking love the album and can’t wait to see the tour! Is it ok if I grab picture?”

I really wish I would’ve been like, “I know you’re heading to your flight and hate these moments, but just in 20 seconds I want you to know that I have my dream job simply because you guys make the music you want to make. And I stick to that – I make the comedy I want to make and I don’t ask for permission with my standup, and because of that I’m successful with it. You make music that helps people get other jobs that aren’t related to music.” And then I probably would’ve started crying, so it’s probably best I didn’t say any of that. [laughs]

Well then let’s imagine a scenario where you’re onstage – whether during this tour or even a random show – and suddenly you look out and see Tool in the audience. What would happen?

[Laughs] I don’t know that it would do anything other than give me a great shot of adrenaline, which is always great for the show. I definitely wouldn’t address it or make anything out of it. I don’t intend to go onstage during this tour and actually do any “Tool stuff.” I think I’m just going to do my standup as is. But I think if I saw them, I’d be for sure very excited and it would give me a healthy dose of nervous energy that I could probably use – after about 20 minutes [onstage], you get a little tired [laughs]. After 20 minutes, I’m ready to go home!

So that’s where you and Tool differ – they can play a 20 minute song while you can barely do a 20 minute set!

[Laughs] Yeah, I do 20 minutes of all these random jokes and I’m like “Alright, how much longer?” while Tool are like halfway through one song [laughs].


Editor’s Note: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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