Charleston’s reigning king and queen of quirky social satire — comedians Henry Riggs and Maari Suorsa (a.k.a. Nameless Numberhead) — are feeling their new show, and they think you will too. “This is like a redemption show for us. We feel very strongly about it and are happy for people to see it,” says Riggs. “We can be judgmental of our own work, and the show we did last year … we did not like it.”
This new performance — first brought to stage as part of Theater 99’s annual Piccolo Fringe series in May — was such a hit that Theatre 99 owners, Brandy Sullivan and Greg Tavares, invited the duo back for an encore on July 27. “It’d be cool for people who are looking for something different to see it,” says Suorosa, “and for those who have seen us before, I think it’s a little sharper and all brand new material.”
The show falls in line with their signature style of sketch comedy which they call “surveillance chic.” It means they’ve got a pulse on the mundane social mannerisms we all subscribe to and have found their passion in turning these interactions into absurdly funny performances. “All of our work is rooted in trying to make fun of ourselves and laugh at the silly things we’re into,” says Riggs. For this show, the duo have zeroed in on “podcasts, craft beer loving bros, motherhood, sports, relationship troubles, and our society’s obsession to find connections in everything we do,” connection being the key word here. These topics are essentially vehicles to arrive at their up-for-interpretation point: that we seek validation (under the guise of social intimacy) to the point of madness.
Their sketches routinely joke about this generation’s tendency to yield to social media’s influence over our identities and interactions. “Social media makes us like, ‘Oh, I love this thing! This is my jam! This is my spirit animal!’ People connect over the podcasts they listen to and the beers they drink and their parenting styles. We’re just highlighting these interest groups and these funny personalities,” says Riggs.
“There’s nothing that makes you feel more like a Scrooge than seeing something with mass appeal and thinking, ‘I don’t like that.’ Then you feel like the absolute Debbie Downer … It’s like, ‘Oh no, I don’t care about brunch! I’m broken!'” laughs Suorosa in agreement.
Despite these observations, the duo says they’re not taking a philosophical stance, per se. “There’s nothing to be learned. It’s a comment on how invasive this stuff is in our lives and how it’s changing our world,” explains Riggs. “We don’t have answers. Here’s the comment, and the show lets you draw your own conclusions.” Comedy, after all, is more than mere entertainment. It’s an artform, and like most artists, their practice is an outlet for interpreting ominous and confusing circumstances. “The only way to cope is to laugh at how we’re being pushed around by the algorithm. We have to write comedy about it to make sense of it,” says Riggs, “Otherwise it becomes terrifying.”
If you’ve ever seen a Nameless Numberhead performance, you know that the duo operates most of their own sound and lighting through pedals and foot switches. In this show, they take this autonomy to the next level by literally building the set in front of the audience. They start with a blank stage and add elements as they go until the stage is fully set at the conclusion. “That also plays into the connectivity thing,” explains Riggs, “because we bring out these totally random pieces one at a time, a pole or a music stand or a chair or a wig, things that are seemingly random in the moment. But by the end it all creates a set, so it’s sort of like the physical representation of connecting the dots. It’s very abstract, but it’s a funny thing for us because it’s like, ‘Oh, we’ve got everything set up and the show’s over! Thanks so much!'”
In between creating absurdist satirical sketches, the duo serve as comedic advocates for the community. They want to initiate a collaborative comedy scene in Charleston similar to what they experienced in Chicago where they met and practiced comedy. They’re the founders of Rip City, an experimental platform for local entertainers to test original work. They’re actively looking for a permanent home where they can expand on the Rip City platform and create a workshop space for comedians to sharpen their skills. They hope to introduce a stepping stone for amateurs to hone their craft until they’re ready to host a show of their own. “It feels like the comedy scene right now is on everyone else’s turf. You’re performing in a restaurant or the corner of a bar or a theater when they’re not using it. Ultimately, I think the scene needs a place to call their own and be proud of and be consistent,” says Suorosa.
But in the meantime, be sure to catch the show at Theatre 99 and support the scene. Or don’t if you’re not interested in laughter and thought-provoking comedy. As Nameless Numberhead says of all their work, “It’s an absurd lesson on society you won’t want to miss. Unless you do want to miss it, in which case, that’s fine. Live your life.”
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