Larry Joe Campbell is starting to think people are out to get him.
“I’ll walk into a place and someone will stare at me, and I’m thinking, ‘This person wants to beat the hell out of me.’”
They don’t. Rather, they’re just trying to place Campbell’s face. The Michigan native actor’s boyish visage has become increasingly familiar to the public at large in the four years he’s spent as Jim Belushi’s brother-in-law on the prime-time sitcom “According to Jim.”
Campbell isn’t quite as instantaneously recognizable as your average pop star, but his face no longer blends into the crowd — hence the looks of confusion.
“The looks are like, ‘Did I go to college with that guy?’ ‘Did he fix my cable last week?,’” says Campbell. “They get that furrowed brow and I think either I have something on my nose or they want to fight me, and then I have to remember I’m being recognized.”
After getting a degree in theater at Central Michigan University, Campbell landed a coveted spot with Detroit’s Second City in 1996, when the company was just a fledgling enterprise. One day, Bob Saget’s manager happened to catch a show, and was so taken with Campbell that he lured him out to Los Angeles and signed him.
During the last few years in Hollywierd, Campbell has hooked up with several alumni of both Detroit Second City and Hamtramck’s Planet Ant Theatre and Improv Colony: Andy Cobb, Marc Evan Jackson, and Joshua and Nyima Funk.
In fact, this motley crew of former residents decided to form their own improv troupe in Los Angeles, christening it The 313 in honor of the big D. They perform regularly in the Los Angeles area, and are now returning to Detroit for a two-weekend run at the Hastings Street Ballroom.
Campbell says, unfortunately, most people in Los Angeles still think Detroit sucks.
“We’re trying to change that mentality by saying, ‘Here’s some Detroit talent,’” says Campbell. “We’re saying, ‘We’re from Detroit. We’re proud of that. Here’s a show.’”
Furthermore, Campbell says The 313 offers a slightly different experience from the same ol’ improv troupe.
“We’re trying to offer a fresh, new experience. It’s not just Whose Line Is It Anyway? — we keep the energy pulsating through the show, and it’s very specific to how we were groomed in Detroit.”
Campbell explains, “The first act is a series of improvisational games, mixed with 5- to 7-minute short comedy films. Every week at the end of a show, we take a suggestion for a short film, then we have a week to make it, then we show it next week. We’re going to try to shoot a few in Detroit.”
Campbell is looking forward to returning to his old stomping grounds.
“I really miss Detroit,” he says. “I love the city, but when it comes down to my profession, L.A. just represented an opportunity. There’s only like 12 people who can say, ‘I pay my bills doing theater,’ in Michigan.”
And what does he think of Second City’s impending move to Novi?
“I’m sad to see any sort of business leave the city limit,” says Campbell. “I want Detroit, the city, to grow. I want it to be vibrant, and anytime you gotta go outside the city, it’s not going to help.”
Joshua Funk, member of The 313 and Detroit Second City alum, couldn’t agree more.
“The thing that set apart Detroit Second City was it was a much more multi-cultural cast,” says Funk, who left Detroit to direct Chicago Second City for three years. “We dealt with much more racial issues.”
Funk adds, “I think it’s going to be fine up in Novi, but it just feels like it’s so far away. The element of taking people from the suburbs and bringing them to Detroit, giving them a sense of uncomfortableness, that was a great source of comedy.”
And, he adds, Detroiters seem to have developed a unique sense of comedy.
“The people that came from Detroit and went to Chicago, I think they had more to give, more experience, and had dealt with more” says Funk. “In the last few years in Chicago, all the people getting the acclaim have been from Detroit.”
In an amusing twist of fate, The 313 was performing in Los Angeles the night the Pistons beat the crap out of the Lakers for the NBA title.
“We had a show that night, and the game ended before the show began” says Funk. “We were at the bar celebrating, and we all ended up getting on stage totally wasted.”
The 313 will appear at the Hastings Street Ballroom (715 E. Milwaukee, Detroit) on Fridays, Saturdays and Thursdays between July 23 and July 31. All shows are at 8 p.m. except the Friday, July 30, show, which will be at 10 p.m. Tickets are from $10 to $15. Call 313-365-4348 for more information.Sarah Klein is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail [email protected]