New York has lost a lot of its luster of late, but one area in which it will retain its dominance is as a breeding ground for underground comedy. What you see in a closet-sized space in New York will often end up as a cultural phenomenon five years later, and while Andrew Connor and Mike Mathieu of The Cody Rivers Show technically hail from Seattle, they subscribe to the New York/Chicago style of comedy, which is grounded in theater, as opposed to the Los Angeles style based on semi-spiteful mockery of the arrogance and contradictions of the entertainment industry.
If right now the Frat Pack of Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen are the dominant force in comedy, in five years I guarantee you will be seeing more acts like Cody Rivers. You can argue that their style of cerebral, inverted observational comedy has already broken through, with TV shows like Important Things with Demetri Martin and Robot Chicken, but as bro-comedy icon Peter Griffin said on Family Guy, “You’re not really a success until you’re on a respectable network like NBC, ABC or CBS.” As it stands, the next wave of comedy is shaping up to be one of the most cerebral we’ve ever seen, and even within the theater realm. Cody Rivers's new revue, Meanwhile, Everywhere, may be the most joyous, hilarious, effervescent brand of cerebral comedy I’ve ever seen, and the only act of its kind that didn’t make me depressed (comedy nerd that I am) without hiding the utter chaos behind its humorous exterior.
Granted, the crowd at UNDER St. Marks was exactly the kind catered to by the Cody Rivers Show's style of comedy. Yet I am still hesitant to call any comedy act too cerebral until I am proven wrong. The fact of the matter is, the era when most comedians started performing at 16 or 17 and had to be funny to stay alive is further and further in the past. For more and more people, joining the working grind is a reality, and going without food for days for an artistic dream is even less practical than it once was; more and more comedy troupes are populated by lawyers and accountants, and even those who live in relative Bohemia are educated at places like Yale, Columbia, and Harvard.
A similar change is occurring to comedy’s audience. Those in their 20s have an unprecedented level of college education, and can pick up on little highbrow touches more than ever, even if they didn’t make much of an effort to learn in college. Thus, when Cody Rivers does a routine on speaking in opposites, mixes real-life storytelling with an absurd mock-ballet, or flips through a talk show on Greenland Independence, Robot Chicken style, by using the “magic of theater,” what was oblique even in the Steve Martin era is becoming increasingly mainstream. Needless to say, if the under-30 vote can put Obama in the White House, I think it can dictate comedic taste.
In an era when The Simpsons has turned finding parallels or previous reference points into a comedy nerd’s game, it’s still hard to find a parallel to The Cody Rivers Show, as few acts I’ve seen intertwine physical humor so seamlessly with the highbrow. In fact, the only parallels I can think of are the short absurdist plays of Beckett, Artaud, and Ionesco, and SITI's brand of physical theater, but The Cody Rivers Show is a hell of a lot funnier and a lot less depressing than all of those. Between Conner and Methieu, the classic straight man/buffoon dynamic is shifted on a nearly constant basis, and their chemistry is so strong on a physical, emotional, and intellectual level that you’d think they were soul mates—and they’ve got that covered too, by not even trying to hide the bulges in the full-body wetsuits.
I use the term "comedy nerd" liberally, nowadays, and I think that is okay in a culture where our lexicon is dominated by the nerdiest of the comedy nerds (“spam,” “yoink,” “freaks and norms,” and “cromulent” are among the relatively common terms originating from comedy that have been popularized by the Internet). In fact, things were like that even 15 years ago, before the Internet. If the postmodern philosophy of Foucault and Derrida was based on the chaotic philosophy of Nietchze, Darwin, or Kant, depending on who you ask, The Cody Rivers Show is similarly indebted to the comedic breakthroughs of Steve Martin, early Saturday Night Live, and The Simpsons. But The Cody Rivers Show is possibly as far down the rabbit hole as comedy has ever gone, turning the ability to find humor in chaos into a means of survival for the soul.
The Cody Rivers Show: Meanwhile, Everywhere was presented at Under St. Marks (94 St. Marks Place) by The Horse Trade Theter Group. For future tour dates of the Cody Rivers Show, please visit www.codyrivers.com. Photos by John Meloy.