By Tony Wittkowski | City Reporter | The Times Herald
Actor and comedian Jim Belushi is best known for his stints on shows like “Saturday Night Live” and “According to Jim.”
However, this Saturday he will take part in an improvised comedy show at the Macomb Center for Performing Arts in Clinton Township called “Jim Belushi and the Board of Comedy.”
The night will feature two performances with the likes of Belushi, Michigan native Larry Joe Campbell, Josh Funk, Megan Grano, Brad Morris and Trey Stone operating on audience suggestions.
The Times Herald was able to find out more on the improv comedy group through a Q&A session with Belushi.
Times Herald: In performing with the Board of Comedy, you are returning to your Second City and “Saturday Night Live” roots. What do you enjoy most about improv?
Jim Belushi: Every performance is different and unique, plus these improvisational actors on stage with me are geniuses. They crack me up every night. I’m just chasing the magic.
Everyone, including the audience, is fully engaged and participating. When there’s success in the scenes, there’s nothing like it. And it feels safe when you’re up there with an ensemble as your safety net. What’s great about this show is that it reunites me with Larry Joe Campbell. He’s the best partner I’ve ever had in my career.
The problem with improv is that it’s life or death. You either come off stage going, “I’m going back to being an apprentice printer or become a journeyman and do graphic arts because I’m terrible.” You go right into deep depression. Or you come off that stage going, “I am God. I am a gift to all.” And that’s the best part.
TH: What can people coming to your show expect from you and the cast?
JB: Magic. They’re going to see magic created in front of their eyes. We have no idea what we’re going to do. We do about nine different short-form improvisational games. We take suggestions from the audience, and we make stuff up on the spot.
This is not like watching TV or a movie or a regular theater performance. You’re a participant in the audience here. We are as good as the audience’s suggestions. When we have a good audience, it’s a great show, and we capture some magic that people will remember for a long time.
TH: How much will you be doing yourself and what role do you take with the show?
JB: We are in the show together. It is a true ensemble. I do take on the leadership of the group, I introduce the evening and explain what we’re going to do. But once we start improvising, I’m in the thick of it.
TH: What can you tell me about the other members of the show?
JB: Larry Joe Campbell is a stud, a true star. I believe that he truly was the star of “According to Jim.” He’s the funniest man I know, and he is effortless on stage to work with. I adore him. He makes me cry on stage, he’s so funny.
Josh Funk is on the same caliber as Larry: Heartbreakingly funny, and he’s got a beautiful voice. We improvise a lot of songs, and he is the master at it.
Megan Grano is the coolest woman I’ve ever worked with. She totally gets our male energy and still keeps the feminine power in these scenes. She’s physical, with an elastic face, and smarter than all of us put together.
Brad Morris is wicked sharp, plays many characters, and he’s fast. When he wants to, he can riddle you and leave you feeling like a lump on the stage. So you have to be nice to Brad or he’ll cream you with his wit.
The great thing about Trey Stone, our musical director, is that you don’t notice him. But he plays his piano the whole time, supporting jokes, and he’s a master at the improvised musical and the make-a-songs. I love him, and it’s not an easy job to improvise music behind improvised acting.
TH: You were part of The Second City in Chicago and “Saturday Night Live.” What was it like, and how did they change you as a comedian?
JB: Second City taught me everything there is to know about character comedy, social satire, comic rhythms, what it’s like to study the craft of doing eight shows a week. When I was 16, I went to Second City and saw my brother John and Harold Ramis perform with their group.
When that first act was over, I said to myself, “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. I want a piece of this.” When I got my first laugh on that stage, the adrenaline kicked in. I was dizzy, seeing colors almost. I was hooked. Second City is the foundation of all my work.
“Saturday Night Live” taught me how to maintain under immense pressure. It was like learning to be a surgeon in a MASH unit in Vietnam. It was the most difficult experience I ever had. Everything has been easy since then, including divorce. The only thing I’m frightened of now is when my wife drives.
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Feb. 4, 2015)