Eating on the Road with Rory Scovel

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Rory Scovel is a hard-working comedian at the top of his stand-up game. More importantly, he loves chicken and biscuits. Love loves them. He mentioned them a few times during our interview, while actually eating a chicken biscuit. Can you blame him? Hailing from Greenville, South Carolina, he understands the worth of a good biscuit, while balancing it against an effort to eat healthy on tour.

Rory has been performing stand-up for over ten years, and spends about half of an average year touring. He has released two comedy albums, and made appearances on nearly all of the late night shows, including a few memorable visits to Conan. For the last two years he’s been a cast member on the TBS series Ground Floor, and currently has new TV and film projects in the works. Basically, he’s a busy guy, but he took a few moments to eat a chicken biscuit and talk to Paste about how he thinks about food and what he eats on tour.

Paste: What are your eating habits like when you’re performing?
Rory Scovel: I get really nervous before all of my shows. So if it’s an eight o’clock show, I gotta eat a big meal around 4 or 5. You don’t want to eat right before it, and I need to go back to the room and prepare for the show. The downside of that is you end up having to eat at a weird time. Breakfast is such a thing that I look forward to on the road, because you have time to explore and you can go big. You don’t feel as bad having a sloppy, fun breakfast knowing there’s time to work it out before you’re on the stage.

Paste: What are some of your favorite spots to go back to?
RS: Home Grown in Atlanta is such a great restaurant, and the local comedy scene has kind of latched on to it as their home base for breakfast and lunch. If we were to go there right now, we would run into a couple of comedians sitting there and hanging out, which is cool.

They have this one dish called the Comfy Chicken Biscuit. It’s an open-faced biscuit with fried chicken on top of it and sausage gravy on top of that, and it’s so amazing every time. So good. They have a counter up of how many people order, and the numbers are astounding. People love it. Any time I’m in Atlanta, I’ll make it a point to go.

When I go to San Francisco I always go to House of Nanking once or twice or even more because I love it so much and it’s some of the best Chinese food I’ve had. And people will tell me there’s way better Chinese food I can get in San Fran, but I know I love this place so I always go. Places become familiar in the cities you play often and you look forward to going back.

Paste: What about when you’re not in a big city?
RS: Usually someone picks you up from the airport and you’re staying in the middle of nowhere and you have to go where ever is walkable. And sometimes what is walkable is the worst health option possible, but you’re kind of stuck. Or you eat at the club and it can be a lot of fried stuff which tastes great, but you know you have to do five shows in the course of three days. And you don’t want to be on stage having to be energetic, but you feel weighted down because you ate like a dog in a junkyard.

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Mandee Johnson

Paste: So do you try to stay away from junk food?
RS: I’ve grown a little bit more mature—and when I say a little bit I mean a very little bit—in that if I have a show tonight, I know that if I have a nice big healthy salad for lunch, it’s not necessarily what I want to eat, but I know that I’ll feel great on stage. Knowing that balance, it makes it easier for me to choose healthier stuff on the road.

I’ve eaten fun food all day, and got on stage and just felt horrible. And I had to walk away and think well that’s a lot of people that paid to see me, and I didn’t care what I ate at lunch so I didn’t give them the full me that I could have. Every show like that, you have the opportunity to make some life-long fans, and you can’t discount that. If I eat healthy today and I have an amazing show, there could be 20 people at this show that buy everything I sell for the rest of my life because they saw a show they loved so much that they’re on board with me through TV, film and stand-up. But if someone’s first impression [of me] was just some slobby dude who has grease sweats because he can’t say no to a cheeseburger, then they might not be a fan for even just a little bit.

Paste: Did it take you a while to figure that out?
RS: When I started out I made horrible food decisions. I did fast food. Because I was in my twenties.. I was coming off of playing soccer for 20 years and my metabolism was fantastic. So I could eat two big macs and get on stage and give you more energy than I can now eating healthy all day.

Paste: Was it also a financial thing early on?
RS: If you’re a middle act, sometimes your drinks and food aren’t covered. So when I would middle, I wouldn’t eat at the club. I figured I could spend $15 on this salad, or I could spend $3 at Taco Bell after the show and save that money. You’re also not making that much money. You’re having to fly yourself, sometimes you’re having to get your hotel room, so after you’re paid you’re really just breaking even.

When I first starting going on the road, I would be gone for three months. Some of that was just luck that I was able to get booked. It’s also the only way I could come home with money, instead of constantly flying from place to place. So that’s two straight months of eating Taco Bell.

Paste: Do you eat any fast food at all anymore?
RS: Bojangles is one of the few fast food places where I don’t care how it makes me feel, I love that chicken biscuit so much. I will overdose. I think it’s only in the southeast, so that’s the only time I get it, and I go nuts. That’s an example of how I used to be with all fast food.

Paste: What about McDonald’s? I know you’ve talked about it in some of your stand-up.
RS: For a while I would eat the fish sandwich at McDonald’s. And people would be like, “what are you eating?” And I would be like “I agree that I don’t know.” People think it’s disgusting. I knew it was gross, but I loved what it tasted like. The bun is different than the other buns, it’s a piece of fried fish with a slab of cheese and tartar sauce, I don’t know what it is. I’m not even a fan of tartar sauce, but there’s probably a pound of sugar in that tartar sauce that makes me love it. If I could just know that it’s actually safe food, I would order it right now. Because I really do love it.

Paste: What do you think about comedy club menus? Do you eat at the clubs where you’re performing?
RS: There are some comedy clubs that have a great menu, and I will just eat there because it’s free and it’s not heavy or unhealthy. There are some clubs that are only fried food, and I don’t hate it, but I just can’t do it. But there are some clubs that are smart enough to know that if you actually have a real menu, you can be more appealing.

People are there to see the live show, but they’re also there and you’re often forcing them to get two items, so why not make those items great? Some clubs really care about their bar being classy and their menus being up-to-date, and those clubs are typically the most fun to play. Because they’re not just trying to make money, they have people leaving saying I enjoyed my time here, I’ll come back.

Paste: Do you think eating plays an important part in what you do?
RS: To me, all of it—learning how to be an artist, and what jokes to write and what stand-up to do and what stand-up means to you, is part of the business. And part of it is being a business person—who do I want representing me, what career choices am I trying to make, what’s the game to play in the marketing product that is me. And then a portion of it is your own health. Health-wise, how are you going to take care of yourself? Those three things are major. They’re all part of success of this job. Yeah, you need to be funny first off, but you have these other things you have to take care of, and food is one of them.

Laurel Randolph is a food and lifestyle writer hailing from Tennessee and living in Los Angeles. She enjoys cooking, baking and candlestick making. Tweet at her face: @laurelrandy.