Henry Riggs and Maari Soursa are Nameless Numberhead, a new, two-person sketch comedy team debuting at Theatre 99 this month. Riggs and Soursa cut their teeth working in Chicago with the theater company The New Colony. “Somewhere in that time frame, we started dating and writing our own material,” says Riggs. “We ended up putting together all kinds of weird shit, anything from short comedy premises to full-length musical ideas.” The duo have recently brought that energy to Charleston, and are focusing on developing their voices as both performers and writers. “Our goal is to keep developing new material to tour comedy festivals, while making Charleston our home base,” Riggs says.
Though it may seem like a strange move to go from Chicago to Charleston to pursue comedy, according to Riggs and Soursa it’s not your location that matters — it’s what you’re creating. Like many Charleston transplants, they were attracted to the city by the weather and the relative ease of living as opposed to Chicago and other bigger cities. Riggs and Soursa are already working to engage the Charleston comedy community. “We’ve been talking with just about every comedian in town because we are going to shows all the time, just soaking up everything that we can,” Riggs says. “We’ve gotten positive feedback from fellow comedians and we try to collaborate with as many people as possible.”
The couple sees a gap in the Charleston comedy scene that their experience in the Windy City may help them fill. “The Charleston audience is conditioned to identify comedy as either improv or a stand-up,” Riggs says. “Having recently come from Chicago, where comedy and experimental theater are the lifeblood of the arts scene, we were inspired by shows that fuse everything together. We’re trying to bring that flavor to Charleston and make a push for even more experimental work. Comedy thrives on taking risks and trying new things on stage and good work will usually inspire more good work.”
Because Chicago’s theater companies were so competitive, people were trying work that would grab people’s attention. “Anything from shows where the audience was onstage with the actors while the show was happening, all the way to really out-there stuff, like a man who sits on stage alone and eats a bag of cookies while a knocking at the door grows louder.”
Nameless Numberhead isn’t quite that avant-garde, Riggs continues, but he and Soursa are aiming to “let people have one foot in the comfort circle and ask them to put one just outside of it.” Riggs recalls a bit from one of their shows when they asked the audience if anyone would like to take the Red Bull Challenge. “Without us even explaining what it was, a ton of hands shot up and before we knew it a lady was up on stage ready for the challenge,” Riggs says. The bit was that whoever took the challenge had to chug an eight-ounce Red Bull — if they did, they won the grand prize (a 20-ounce can of Red Bull). “We feel like the more insane a premise or sketch is, the more it makes you think or draw your own conclusions about what it means. Even if it doesn’t mean anything at all.
“There’s a great Dr. Seuss quote to the effect of ‘I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain.’ And it’s true. We love nonsense. It makes us question why things happen, and what they really mean. Even if they don’t mean a damn thing.”
Some of the sketches featured in this show are directly influenced by their transition to Southern culture. Riggs is a pedicab driver and Soursa is a server and they have their eyes on you. “As comedians, we can barely walk down the street without finding something to draw from in this town,” says Riggs. “Tourists, the college culture, food obsessions, southern manners, festivals upon festivals upon festivals, and plenty of other things.”
Though you are sure to recognize bits of Charleston in the show, the goal is to keep the sketches more universal, as the eventual goal is to take Nameless Numberhead on tour. At the most basic level, Riggs and Soursa are simply interested in the foibles and habits of the modern man. “The server who asks you how the food is before you even take your first bite, or the mom who’s too busy posting to Facebook to stop her kid from destroying a public store, or maybe your friend who takes forever to explain the rules of a board game. We love the weird things people do and we’re kind of obsessed with pointing out how insane everything is, and holding the insanity mirror up to nature,” Riggs says.