Leicester born Jim Smallman is busy. Comedian, wrestling promoter, podcaster, voice artist and dad are just a few of the things he can put to his name. That’s hard to imagine from a guy who used to have sleepless nights before giving presentations at head office for a high-street fashion chain, but it unexpectedly helped him launch into comedy.
“I did a stand-up course in Leicester to help me with [nerves]. I had no intention of doing the gig at the end of the course, but a few weeks in I was already doing open spots around the Midlands. It’s the first thing I’ve ever done that I’ve been even half-decent at.”
“I was doing a gig in Kent with severe jet lag after my first holiday in eight years, fumbling through my set and trying to remember my jokes, thinking it was going well when a 60-year-old woman walked to the front of the room and tried to punch me in the face”
He has subsequently performed at Download Festival seven years in a row, the Edinburgh Fringe four times and a host of appearances at the Leicester Comedy Festival. As well as the highs, Jim can also recount a couple of lows. “I was doing a gig in Kent with severe jet lag after my first holiday in eight years, fumbling through my set and trying to remember my jokes, thinking it was going well when a 60-year-old woman walked to the front of the room and tried to punch me in the face”.
As a wrestling fan since the early eighties, Jim along with a couple of friends, Jon Briley and Glen Joseph started PROGRESS Wrestling in 2012. A risky venture given British Wrestling wasn’t exactly flavour of the month at that time, “We started the company as a bit of a hobby and didn’t expect to get past one show”. They also took the bold step of placing themselves in central London, “Everybody told us was madness. We do enjoy proving people wrong”.
Five years on and PROGRESS continues to go from strength to strength in London and beyond. Every month they sell out the Electric Ballroom in Camden in the blink of an eye. PROGRESS has also gone international with shows in Germany and frequent trips to the USA which is where Jim had one of his proudest moments so far, “We did a show in New York in August. When I got into the ring, 1500 Americans chanted my name for seven straight minutes so I couldn’t talk.”
The future looks brighter still for the company, “In September 2018 we’re doing a show at Wembley Arena that will be our biggest ever and could well be the largest independent wrestling show in history.”
His new show ‘I’m Sorry, I Love You: A History of Professional Wrestling’ is the first-time Jim has brought his comedy and wrestling worlds together, “I’ve always avoided it as I’ve got two very different careers. PROGRESS is popular enough now for most gigs that I do to have someone wearing our t-shirt in the crowd. When I filmed My Girls last year, the entire audience was pretty much PROGRESS fans.”
“This show is me looking at the entire history of professional wrestling, globally, in an hour. I may overrun a little bit. There’s a lot to get through.”
Jim Smallman brings his new show ‘I’m Sorry, I Love You: A History of Professional Wrestling’ to Firebug on February 18. Tickets are Sold Out.