Cocktails, Comedy, and Cabaret: An Interview with Tori Scott

OCT 5, 2018

In Tori Scott is #Thirsty (October 11 as part of Afterglow @ OBERON), Scott combines pop songs, standards, and show tunes with true stories about life in New York City as a single woman with a penchant for vodka. Here, Scott speaks with A.R.T. Dramaturgy Apprentice Elizabeth Amos about crafting her cabaret shows, her recent run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and her desire for inclusivity in the world of stand-up comedy.

Tori Scott: Tori Scott is #Thirsty

What can audiences expect from #Thirsty?

With #Thirsty, I want to introduce myself to Cambridge audiences. It’s a bit of back story on where I grew up, what it’s like being a single woman in New York, and the gay male influence I’ve had in my life from a very young age. It’s also about coping with everything that’s happening around us in this country—maybe by self-medicating with too much vodka? Living alone, dating, the gay male influence, politics, and vodka—that’s kind of my life story.

What comes first when you’re writing new shows? The stories, or the songs? How do you select the songs you sing in your shows?

Usually there’s a theme, or a story I want to tell. My stories are based on true experiences, and the shows are a nice, playful way to put it all out there. I’ll sketch out a plan for what I want to talk about and the songs go in from there. I have a running list of songs that I want to sing in the hopes that I can find a place for them that feels natural. I won’t put a song in a show just because I enjoy singing it. I want them to move the story along, be clever, and catch people off guard.

What song is at the top of your list to include in a future show?

I want to sing “Jolene!” It’s so funny—one of the songs I’m doing in #Thirsty is Janelle Monae’s “Tightrope.” It was a running joke with my music director that every new show I’d say, “Hey, do you think ‘Tightrope’ would work here?” Finally, there was a story I wanted to tell in #Thirsty and he goes, “You know what will work…” And it finally worked! But yes, “Jolene” is on the top of the list and I just haven’t been able to get it in yet.

You recently performed #Thirsty at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. What was that experience like?

Performing in Edinburgh was wild. I did twenty-five shows over four weeks, and every night was a new experience. Some nights it was a lot of really drunk people who just wanted to see a funny show. And you think it is hard to understand Scottish people when they’re sober?

What kind of routines do you adhere to when you have a demanding run like that?

I don’t like to drink when I’m singing—it dehydrates you—but I do like to drink as a person. My voice teacher said once, “You know, I’ve always felt like white wine occasionally is less dehydrating.” Well, let me tell you, I ran with that. “White wine and I’ll be fine.” But other than white wine, I do a lot of vocal warm ups, steaming, and keeping myself hydrated.

What about your time in Edinburgh did you find most surprising?

One of the biggest surprises for me was the demographic of the audience. In Edinburgh, I would ask if any audience members were members of the LGBTQ+ community, and sometimes there was no one. Sometimes two people would applaud. I was shocked! I think it was because a lot of stand-up comics perform at the festival, and they bring a certain kind of audience. I did have a friend who was performing on a cruise ship docked in Edinburgh. He brought a bunch of people to my show one night, so there was a whole row of gay men and it was like, “Oh, thank god.” I had such a huge gay male influence in my upbringing, I sometimes feel like it’s just a part of me and it was the gay community that first started hiring me. I started doing cabaret upstairs at a gay bar in Hell’s Kitchen—it’s no longer there, but it was called Vlada. The audiences from that venue followed me to Joe’s Pub and brought me over to Fire Island and P-Town, and now I occasionally perform on gay cruises. It’s important for me to let that community know how much they’ve supported me.

Do you always perform cabaret, or do you sometimes shift into the stand-up genre?

People have so many opinions about what stand-up is supposed to be, which is exhausting, so I like to do my own thing. Have you seen Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette on Netflix? It’s so good, but some people—predominantly male comedians—criticized it saying, “That’s not real comedy, she’s not telling jokes.”  It’s really just her style of observation and story-telling—not ‘set-up, joke, set-up, joke.’ When I was in Edinburgh, one of the responses I got was, “Let’s emphasize that this is comedy.” And then I got this review that was like, “I just felt like she should have been under cabaret instead of comedy.” People want to fit you in a box, but everyone finds different things funny, so how can you say something is one thing and not the other? There are a lot of different kinds of comics.

Interview by A.R.T. Dramaturgy Apprentice Elizabeth Amos

Image: Darren Bell.

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