There's probably no better way to celebrate the rich culture and storied history of the American South than to make fun of it. After performing together all over the world, Southeast natives Amber Nash and Matt Horgan decided to create a show that would allow them to take a little piece of home on the road. And with that, Big 'Ole Show was born. Set in a fictional town during the antebellum period, the two improvisers play up classic character types like the ornery army general or spoiled Southern belle while riffing on tropes and cliches that most people associate with that time. But the show is as much a fun play on the past as it is a celebration of what makes the region unique.
"Matt and I toured in Europe together and a bunch of other places. ... We meet a lot of other improv troupes all over the place and different festivals and all over the world," says Nash, who fans of the animated series Archer will recognize as the voice of Pam Poovey. "We thought, 'We're from Georgia. What makes us different? What sets us apart?' We thought it would be really fun, especially when we were touring far away from our home, to take something that was like a piece of the South."
But audiences of Big 'Ole Show shouldn't go in expecting a history lesson. Nash admittedly knows little about the Civil War — a point which serves as a major source of comedic material in the completely improvised show. According to the performers, the show is less about getting bogged down in the specifics of that era and more about having a good laugh at the shared culture.
"We try to have some fun with poking fun in a good-natured, loving sense at the South and some of our stereotypes and idiosyncrasies here," says Horgan, a member of Atlanta's Dad's Garage Theatre. "We more just kind of make it a Southern thing rather than worry too much about trying to really get intricate with the Civil War and Atlanta or anything like that. We generally have more fun dealing with Southern cliches and things like that."
During each performance, the two improvisers mine the audience for information about the fictional town that's about to be brought to life on stage. Over the course of the show, Nash and Horgan create three different storylines and attempt to weave them all together. With only two people on stage playing an entire town of people, this involves a large amount of hats and wigs and other accessories to realize each character. The comedic duo also play the two elderly narrators that pop up throughout the performance to provide a few more details on what is going on in the story. Left with only each other to rely on while stepping in and out of multiple plots and an ever-growing cast of characters, Nash and Horgan have created a show that's difficult to pull off, but always worth it.
"I think being in a two-person improv show is one of the most rewarding things you can do as an improviser, but it's also one of the hardest because we're both in a scene, but then we know that scene has got to end and it's got to get edited by these two narrators that we both play," says Nash. "Then we go to another scene that both of us are in so there's no time to think. It's a lot of work, and sometimes we stumble and we have to figure things out really quickly before the audience knows that we're trying to figure out what's next."
Horgan adds, "We try to make it definitely melodramatic in places. You are going to see big over-the-top characters. You're going to see love triangles or forbidden love or ridiculous plots that go wrong. You're also going to see us as improvisers make mistakes about facts in the show and then have fun with that."
While Big 'Ole Show has toured all over the country, the show's two stars say there is something special about performing in the South. This allows Horgan and Nash to get a little more specific with their humor and really tap into the quirks that have become hallmarks of the shared culture. While audiences on the other side of the country may not recognize references to RC Cola and MoonPies, these little details are sure to resonate with South Carolina natives
"We're looking forward to presenting it. Charlestonians definitely have a Southern identity that's all their own," says Horgan. "And we're looking forward to see what they think about the show and see how they interact with it too because it is a very interactive show. We get ideas from the audience, and it's going to be tailored to whatever they bring to the table."