Don't let the title fool you. In Ithamar Has Nothing to Say, the one-man show from Ithamar Enriquez, the comedian has plenty on his mind. But channeling Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and the mute stars of yore, the Second City alum uses his body to silently communicate to hilarious effect. So much so that Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele of Comedy Central's Key & Peele just announced plans to produce Ithamar has Nothing to Say for a six-episode Maker Studios web series. Thanks to Piccolo Fringe though, Charleston audiences will see it first before it goes live online.
"In the show I play multiple characters. There's a lot of physical comedy and I never utter word," says Enriquez speaking from L.A. "We're able to touch upon some cultural things that are kinda fun to look at through physicality. It looks at how ridiculous we are as people."
In all his sketch work the actor, who's had roles with Key & Peele, Arrested Development, Raising Hope, and Men at Work (as well as appeared in commercials for McDonald's, FedEx, Volkswagen, and Edge shaving gel) uses his huge eyes and ambiguous ethnicity to play characters like a Christian Science Fair participant on the web series Couchers where he vies to meet proselytizing footballer Tim Tebow, to a feckless date who suggests going on a walk ... in a circle. His love of the double entendre and the absurd all play out in his live version of Ithamar, he says as the show explores a variety of different aspects of American culture. The actor was hesitant to give anything away, but a search online revealed Ithamar to have such scenarios as attempting to fit into a hipster coffee shop, using his body to "feel" jazz music, and pitching Hollywood execs on a film using only body language to communicate.
"It's a little difficult, but I've always loved that the kind of comedy," he says, speaking of silent slapstick and pantomime. "Growing up I loved Laurel and Hardy films, Mel Brooks, Steve Martin, and Rowan Atkinson doing Mr. Bean."
A self-proclaimed comedy nerd, Enriquez majored in musical theater at Arizone state before moving to Chicago to join Second City. "That was really my grad school," he says.
After touring with Second City and working at their Vegas outpost, Enriquez teamed up with MadTV's Frank Caeti (who directs Ithamar) — in fact the duo were last in Charleston together for the 2004 Piccolo Festival. It was Caeti's connection with Key and Peele, from his years at MadTV, that was the catalyst for the web series.
"Frank and I approached them to see if they'd produce this show, and thankfully, they said yes," says Enriquez. As of press time, one episode of the series has been filmed, but parts of what's performed in Charleston could end up in future episodes. Which, given the media market nowadays, is pretty fascinating considering those very scenes could ultimately be seen around the world.
"The landscape of television right now is most people aren't seeing things on TV. Original series are reaching a much wider audience through the internet," says Enriquez. More surprising is the fact that it's almost better to go the online route than attempt to break out with a sitcom. "Everyone is excited about my show because minimal dialogue means international appeal. The hope is that a lot of people will click on it all over the world," notes Enriquez.
To understand the power of a web series, one need only look at the stats of the producing company behind Ithamar. Maker Studios is a web series behemoth. The company, founded in 2009, claims 55,000 YouTube channels, including the beloved Epic Rap Battles of History and PewDiePie, and, according to Yahoo Tech columnist Rob Walker's "What Is Maker Studios? And Why Does Disney Think It's Worth $500 Million?'" Maker's produced work racks up a total of 5.5 million views a month. Add power players Key and Peele to the producing mix and Ithamar's chances at growing an online audience look pretty good.
But the improver has been in Hollywood long enough not to let the buzz go to his head. "Only time will tell," he says. "There's been a few shows now with Broad City and Children's Hospital that have transitioned from web to TV. So it is becoming more common." Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson launched Broad City as a web series in the spring of 2010. Following a guest appearance by Amy Poehler, the show was picked up by Comedy Central.
We'd hazard to guess that Enriquez has the same dreams.
"The comedy scene, it's the one thing that's ever made complete sense to me. I know exactly what that is, what to do, and how to do it," he says. "I remember Mike Myers once described it as, it's as if you're looking through a keyhole and then that keyhole expands. That for me was comedy. As a child I loved it. In high school I thought maybe I'll do theatre or Broadway. I was singing a lot. Then I saw Second City do an improv show and I thought, what is that? That shaped the rest of my path."
Whether that path will lead beyond home computer screens remains to be seen, but given his upcoming trajectory, it's worth getting a look at Enriquez' live take when Ithamar has Nothing to Say rolls into town.