REVIEW: Rory Scovel’s Live Without Fear: We Love Live Fear

Rory Scovel’s Live Without Fear premiered June 24, 2021 on YouTube. Promos on Scovel’s Instagram account showed exactly what we were in for: completely improvised stand-up sets and an amorphous pronunciation of “live.” The first few seconds of the special/documentary confirm this: “I appreciate you guys coming out tonight. That takes a lot of goddamn courage—to literally be like, ‘Okay, what is the description of the show? Oh, it says he’s no longer willing to do the homework. Let’s go see that, then.’”

But the subtext—and the reason an audience came—is the titillating friction between expertise and testing that expertise. Freelancers feel it every time they throw out a rate card: “you’re paying for my experience, not the time it takes me to do the job.” And comedians—the ultimate freelancers—feel it every time they say, “I’m a comedian” and the listening party promptly replies, “Then tell me a joke.”

And if you’re as only good as your last joke, then stepping onto a stage with no material written certainly induces fear. Which is exactly what makes Live Without Fear so good: we’re seeing both a product and a process. 

Scovel plays by the book, acknowledging the elephant in the room—an unwritten set—and then riffs on various associations, asking questions of the audience when he seems to reach a creative impasse. But this special isn’t to be confused with something like Todd Barry’s The Crowd Work Tour. Barry’s a master at riffing and audience banter, but he’s been doing it for much, much longer than Scovel and doesn’t give us a breakdown of each moment where he wished he had ended a bit and moved on or explored a different tangent. 

What we see in Live Without Fear is funny—Scovel manages to deliver despite his self-imposed constraints—but the special falls short in its attempt to intertwine the narrative of the Relapse Theatre, a comedy club in Atlanta, trying to keep its doors open with Scovel’s improv-stand-up endeavor. Although an interesting tidbit of comedy business and history, casual comedy fans won’t find those portions all that engaging and will see the inclusion of Relapse Theatre one of sheer temporality instead of true interplay.

Rory Scovel’s Live Without Fear is free on YouTube. Get at it.