There are those who go to college for something specific — doctors, lawyers, priests — and then there’s the liberal arts majors. You know the type: the seemingly aimless dilettantes who take a couple classes in English, dabble in drama, hang out with the art punks, and generally gad about campus with whatever group they’re aligned with on a particular week.
So what happens when those liberal arts majors actually turn out to be — gulp — hard workers, and funny hard workers, to boot?
If you’re Andrew Connor and Mike Mathieu, The Cody Rivers Show happens. The two met at and graduated from the smallish Ohio Wesleyan University, where the well-rounded curriculum honed their writing, acting, singing, and dancing skills to the sharp point that eventually scripted the birth of their wholly original, hour-long sketch show.
“We were in an improv group [the Babbling Bishops] together, hung out a lot, and just got to be really good friends,” says Connor. After graduation, they both traveled the world separately before eventually settling in Bellingham, Wash.
At the iDiOM Theater in Bellingham, their two-man show swiftly evolved from an initial midnight slot in 2004 to a regular gig. While many comedians would be satisfied with being able to quit their day jobs (Connor: freelance journalist/construction work, Mathieu: plant nursery … guy) to work in comedy full-time, Connor and Mathieu have a restless, effusive energy that emerges not only in their highly physical act but in their work ethic.
“The show that we’re bringing to Charleston is our 13th show,” Connor says. “We’ve been doing an all-new show, with all-new material, about every three months or so.
“It’s always a bit of a struggle to decide what we really care about,” he continues, “because we challenge ourselves strongly to do work that is unlike anything we have ever seen before, and to do work that is unlike anything we’ve ever done before.”
In the two and a half years since they began performing their unique amalgam of high-concept theatre, original songs written and performed by the pair, broad physical comedy, and the all-too-underused-in-comedy element of dance, Connor and Mathieu have caught the attention of audience members of all ages, including the notoriously tough theatre critics at Seattle publications The Stranger and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, with their decidedly noncrude, definitely skewed skits.
A past highlight is “DJ Agenda,” where the two silently meet up at a “club” as an overheard DJ walks them through the opening stages of courtship through dance moves like The Charleston and The Swamp Thing.
While The Cody Rivers Show began with shows containing eight or nine disparate sketches, the one they’re bringing to Charleston, “Flammable People,” has about 15 commingled bits and some running themes, including a “kind of spiritual self-improvement success cult,” clowns, and a pair of fathers and their children.
“It’s not like a play,” Connor says, “there’s not a really clear singular narrative, but there’s definitely some more obvious coherency between pieces. We find the connections and enhance them and turn them into pretty absurd treatments of things that are otherwise vaguely connected to real-life happenings, and then intermixed with that are song and dance numbers and other crazy theatrics that don’t overtly relate to the storylines.”
These boys have done exceptionally well for themselves so far and are poised to continue their upward trajectory with a national tour that begins this week with their appearance at Piccolo. So, the next time someone laughs at your liberal arts degree, take them to see The Cody Rivers Show. That’ll shut ’em up for good.
THE CODY RIVERS SHOW: FLAMMABLE PEOPLE • Piccolo Spoleto’s Piccolo Fringe • $15 • (1 hour) • June 5 at 7:30 p.m.; June 6 at 3 p.m.; June 7 at 8 p.m.; June 8 at 6 p.m.; June 9 at 5 p.m. • Theatre 99, 280 Meeting St. • 554-6060