Born in Pontiac and raised in Cadillac, actor/comedian Larry Joe Campbell knows a thing or three about Michigan winters.
“You can drink, you can shoot your rifle and you can get someone pregnant. Those were the three things to do during the winter in Northern Michigan,” Campbell said of his time growing up at Pine River High School in Cadillac.
Displaying the sort of self-deprecating humor that has become signature to many Midwest comedians, he stayed out of trouble by staying home.
“I have two older brothers that are a lot of older and were a lot bigger than me for most of my life,” he said. “They would beat the hell out of me, so I would tend to use humor back at them. So I think (my sense of humor) developed that way.
“I had a bunch of nights with my brother Gary, when I should have been on dates as a teenager, but I was a nerd, and we just ate pizza and watched The (Three) Stooges a lot.”
Now a TV star in his own right, best known for his role as Andy for eight seasons on the ABC sitcom According to Jim, alongside his longtime friend and frequent collaborator Jim Belushi, Campbell credits his success to his alma mater: Central Michigan University.
“When I went to CMU, I had no idea about the theater program, he said. “In fact, I was thinking about maybe doing pre-law or sports medicine, but I thought that might be too much work. So I went into theater thinking I wouldn’t have to read, and then I ended up reading plays for days.”
CMU helped him land his first paid acting gig with its summer theater program, which he’s since helped continue by founding an endowment.
“When I got out to L.A., I heard rumors that they might stop doing it, and I definitely wanted to see that keep going because it’s like being at a regional theater,” he said. “You’re responsible for putting up shows, and being part of the crew if you’re not acting. That was a huge moment for me, spending two summers doing that. I don’t know if a lot of people know that you can do that at Central Michigan, but it definitely needs help.”
From CMU, Campbell went on to Wayne State University and landed at Second City in Detroit, where he performed with the famed improv group and had a chance encounter with comedian and beloved TV dad Bob Saget that led him to Los Angeles.
When casting for According to Jim in 2001, Belushi took a chance on Campbell, vouching for him and helping him earn the breakout part.
“Andy was a lot of fun because he was a lot different from me,” Campbell said. “He was single and always trying to date someone and it would never work out. And here I am during that time having kids and being married.”
He added that some of his favorite roles of his career have actually been the more serious ones, like his recent part as Greg Kavanagh, the helpless step dad in Netflix’s satirical mockumentary American Vandal. He’s also been seen recently in Seth MacFarlane’s live-action sci-fi series, The Orville on FOX, and in Comedy Central’s Detroiters with Sam Richardson and Tim Robinson.
“One of my favorite professors, Tim Connors, would say ‘the next one’ was his favorite role,” Campbell said. “So I think I look forward to all of them. They always offer something a little different.”
He’s also returned to the stage, occasionally touring together with Belushi as The Board of Comedy, performing improv and stand-up in an evening-long showcase similar to the night he has planned for when he returns to Michigan this month.
Billed as Larry Joe Campbell & Friends, his Feb. 9 show at the Frauenthal Theater in Muskegon will also feature his friend and fellow comedian Josh Funk, whom he worked with at Second City in Detroit, and L.A. actor/comedian Ithamar Enriquez, who has worked at Second City Chicago. They’ll be joined by musical director Trey Stone, and together they’ll perform some stand-up, take suggestions from the audience, and create a fun and interactive show.
“We’re really hoping to get the audience to have the most magical night of 2019,” Campbell said. “We wanted to do it early so that the rest of their year is a huge disappointment, because it won’t come close to what they experience on February 9, 2019.”
Larry Joe Campbell & Friends
425 West Western Ave. #200, Muskegon
Feb. 9, 7:30 p.m., $25-40
frauenthal.org, (231) 727-8001