At the beginning of each year we like to look at improv acts, nights and troupes that are goingto make an impact on the new year. So in the next week we speak to a few teams that are going into 202 to make a bang. Today we talk to a troupe that organise monthly nights in London and are set to host most this year – The Big Smoke. I caught up with member Sal to find out all about them.
Hello guys tell us all about yourselves?
Big Smoke isn’t really a troupe – it’s the event-organizing bit of a collective of people that span a number of teams and groups.
We are known for running stand-up and improv night from our base at the Nell of Old Drury, in Covent Garden. We also do events at Space Theatre in the East End and we’ve just started some nights at Moor’s Bar in Crouch end.
Most people who do Big Smoke are also in Caretakers, which is a long-form improv team.
How did your group come about?
Prior to Big Smoke, most of us played together as Caretakers, a long-form improv group which formed around FA’s sunday night jams. Brooke Hoerr got in early with the managers at Nell of Old Drury, a pub right in the centre of the West-End, who were trying to rebuild their comedy club.
Brooke Hoerr, who was one of the Original Caretakers, began a comedy night in January 2018. Our format is 8 solo performers with an improv-jam finale. His idea was to take 8 independent performers and bring them back a the end of the show and get them all improvising.
It’s the sort of thing that really shouldn’t work (and in our third show it really didn’t), but we’ve got better at this. I’d say about 95% of the time the improv section is the funniest bit of the show.
How did you get into improv?
I started in 2017. I was going through a messy divorce and a friend of mine suggested improv classes as a fun diversion. I took Intro at the FA, and kept going.
I’ve met some of the best people – and it’s really changed my life.
What are your plans improv wise for 2020?
Big Smoke is expanding.
When Brooke started the project we had just one weekly night, but in September we launched our first pure Improv night. I mostly run that with Dave Thomson.
In January 2020 we are taking on another night at the Nell, and in February 2020 we are starting a monthly Jam called “Anyone Goes”, which will be hosted by Alisha May and Sammy Hannah.
We also have our first Big Smoke “takeover” event on 6th of January. Foreseeable Future, an excellent hilarious team are going to host, book their favourite acts and we will get to sit back and watch our friends make us laugh for a change.
I think we’d like to do four take-over nights per year. It’s a fun way of taking some of the pressure off Caretakers.
What other improv acts are you looking forward to seeing to this year?
So much, improv!
Actually this year, I want to watch slightly less improv. I think there’s a danger of being too in the improv bubble. I’d like to take in more other kinds of culture so that when I am performing I can bring more to the stage.
What styles do you hope to see more of in improv this year?
If I could answer that question, I’d be doing it myself. I want to be surprised.
Do you have any new year’s resolutions? If so what are they?
I could finally get round to coaching for Caretakers. We’ve been going for almost two years and never had a single coaching session. It’s something we used to joke about: Some teams practice and never perform, but we are the team that performs but never practices.
It all seems a bit arrogant, and we are going to need to put in a bit of work if we want to grow beyond our current abilities.
Are you on social media? If so how can people find out more about your troupe?
QUICK FIRE ROUND
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
I’m easily grosed out, I’m keeping my food in the safe-space.
If you could trade lives with anyone for a day who would it be and why?
Somebody really awful… somebody who’s unmoored from the truth. I obsess about American politics – I’d love to know what Rudi Guliani gets up to these days.
If you could paint anything what would you paint?
Like a painter & decorator or a painter of canvases? I mean my home really could do with a lick of paint, but hopefully I’m going to move out soon.
Actually, these days I do quite a lot of visual art. Big Smoke has quite a distinctive art-style, and that’s mostly me.
What is the most delightful word you can think of?
That changes from moment to moment. I’m really that fickle. If I could name a tune I’d hate it by the time this is published.
Who is your comedy hero and why?
My comedy heros are team I play with. They are the ones who’ve saved me from my own dumb ideas so many times. They’ve forgiven my trashy moves and gold-plated my stinkiest turds. I love them all.
What is your favourite movie quote?
The kind of movies that I watch are odd. What’s the point of quoting from a movie if nobody ever gets the reference? I’ve given up!
Who is your favourite cartoon character and why?
For a while I was obsessed by Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe. I was delighted by this gender-bending, science-fiction comedy musical. But as with movies, my taste in toons is fickle. I don’t think I’ve watched a single episode in 2 years!