Central Michigan University alumnus Larry Joe Campbell had the audience in stitches during a 90-minute improv show Friday in Warriner Hall’s Plachta Auditorium, alongside Jim Belushi and the Board of Comedy.
Campbell, best known for his frequent role with Belushi on the television show “According to Jim,” graduated from CMU in 1992, double majoring in broadcast and cinematic arts and theater and interpretation.
Director of University Theatre Steve Berglund, who was also one of Campbell’s theater professors, has been in contact with Campbell since he graduated, and approached him about performing a show at CMU. Berglund praised Campbell for still being part of the CMU community years after he graduated.
“Whenever he is in town, he goes out of his way to meet with students, sometimes to mentor and other times just to visit,” Berglund said. “He’s the most generous, down-to-Earth guy I know.”
Berglund remembers back to when he first recognized Campbell’s potential for stardom.
“Larry had a tiny part in an early show in which he came onstage and announced the characters,” Berglund said. “For every show, he went out of his way to explore many possibilities and tried to be a different character every time. He was very personable, which made it easy to cast him in other shows.”
When Program Board Concert Chair Josh Palmer heard Belushi would be in Michigan last month, action to get him on campus began almost immediately.
“We didn’t have a lot of time at first, but it was not difficult,” Palmer said. “We had to act fast, but our timing went really well.”
After a recommendation from Berglund, Program Board set about securing Belushi and the Board of Comedy. Palmer said he knew Belushi and Campbell would be a solid choice as their names were bound to be recognized by a majority of people in the area.
This was Palmer’s first endeavor as concert chair that involved a comedy show, and he expressed excitement over the chance to branch off from the more traditional events put on by Program Board.
“We haven’t experimented a lot with improv shows before,” Palmer said. “We were just shy of a sell-out.”
Taking that chance certainly paid off, as Palmer said the show easily brought in more than 1,100 patrons.
Excitement was tangible in Plachta Auditorium as Belushi made his way down the aisle performing the tell-tale theme song to “According to Jim” on the harmonica, and patrons roared their approval when Campbell took the stage with a spirited “Fire Up Chips” moments later.
The show itself consisted of what Belushi described as “short form” improv, including several monologues, sketches and interactive scenes in which patrons were encouraged to take part.
Throughout the performance, the comedy kept returning to the subject of Campbell’s alma mater, as the cast cracked jokes about the dorms, med school, professors and local law enforcement.
In addition to soliciting suggestions from the audience, Belushi and the other members of the board took the time to interact directly with audience members in the first few rows.
Lapeer senior Lucas Cosens was one of the lucky audience members pulled on stage to do a charade-like skit with Belushi and Campbell.
“Getting to work with the professionals was really cool,” Cousens said. ”It was a once in a lifetime moment that I’ll never forget.”
Zeeland junior Kourtney Wissink said the improvisational show was not what she expected.
“I liked how they had different skits,” Wissink said. “They kept it moving well, and I was never bored.”
Wissink and her friend, senior Ashlyn Hill, are long-time fans of “According to Jim,” and were excited to see their favorite comedic duo in action.
Hill, who regularly attends improvisational shows any chance she gets, noted that for her, the comedy left something to be desired.
“I liked it when it was just (Belushi),” the Midland senior said. “Some of the improv was a little underwhelming.”
One assertion that was echoed by most was the idea that another comedy show would be more than welcomed in the future.
“I am a comedy addict,” Hill said. “I would love it if they did more. Who wouldn’t like to laugh?”
Workshop with students
On Saturday, Campbell, Belushi and the rest of the Board of Comedy met with theater students for a morning improv workshop. Students performed scenes with and in front of the professionals, as they offered helpful tips and constructive criticism.
Many members of CMU’s own improv group, Trap Door Improv, were in attendance and had the opportunity to work on their improv skills with professionals.
After the workshop ended, Campbell, Belushi and the Board of Comedy posed for pictures with students and answered questions.
Zack Pedica, a Warren senior and Trap Door Improv member, was booming with excitement after the workshop was over.
“It was nice to hear that they wanted us to just be ourselves, because that is what makes the scene work,” Pedica said. “We all needed, more than anything, to hear that character relationships were the most important part of a scene.”