Steven Rogers (not to be confused with the Marvel character, he’s aware) carries himself with the attitude of a classic stand-up comedian on his debut album Before He Was Super, coming across as both a self-deprecating and natural performer. You may have seen him before on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, which could serve as a highlight reel of his jokes on the album, but with one key missing component: Rogers’ spontaneity. He’s clearly become more relaxed in the years between his late night debut and his first comedy record, delivering bits with the same mile-a-minute pacing, but also with a newfound ease.
Much of Rogers’ material focuses on his anxiety (both generic brand and social), but he refrains from using his own mental health as the butt of all his jokes. While the New York-based comedian has no problem making fun of himself, he also takes aim at society’s treatment of people with anxiety. Even the people who love us can casually dismiss our mental health problems, not because they don’t care about us, but because they simply don’t understand—and don’t understand that they don’t understand. Rogers illustrates this nuanced point well without being too preachy, either. He also provides us with one of the best analogies for a therapist I’ve heard in a long time: “an exterminator for your thoughts.” From now on I’ll be referring to my brain as a roach motel.
In spite of his anxiety, Rogers casually commands the Tropicana Room in Jamestown, New York (where the album was recorded), and wherever you happen to listen. He’s conversational and quick-thinking, the type of person who feels like he was born with a mic in hand. Any hiccups that occur are swiftly integrated into his set. Stumbling over the wording of a therapy bit, a loud motorcycle, and a shouting audience member all become fodder for jokes rather than obstacles for his performance. He’s not afraid to deconstruct a joke in real time, which leads to even bigger laughs. Sometimes his improvised bits prove even funnier than his scripted material.
Rogers’ quick-wittedness is apparent throughout Before He Was Super. He favors concise observations over drawn-out stories, which means the hour is dense with jokes. His word play shines, but some of it can be missed because of Rogers’ speedy delivery—that just means you have to listen again, though. And that’s not to mention the callbacks, which are rare but rewarding. Whether discussing his mom’s penchant for pot or his difficulties working out, it’s clear that he’s a talented writer and improviser.
Rogers makes the most of his time in Before He Was Super, introducing himself as a comedian and, perhaps more importantly, as a person. His material is relatable and will hopefully spark conversations as he arms his listeners with hilarious anxiety-related lexicon.
Before He Was Super
is out via Blonde Medicine on May 6.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.