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Back Talk: Jim Belushi

Sep 30, 2013 10:29AM ● By Cate Reynolds
Photo by Molly Cranna: Jim Belushi, at far right, leads an all-star cast of comedians who will perform in Annapolis on November 1st.

by Jake Russell

On November 1st, Jim Belushi will make his first trip to Annapolis, performing at Rams Head OnStage during an improv comedy tour with the Chicago Board of Comedy. Joining Belushi on the road are his son Robert, former According to Jim co-star Larry Joe Campbell, Brad Morris, and Jon Barinholtz. We caught up with the native Chicagoan to discuss the tour, his comedy, and more.

Tell me a little bit about your show, who it involves, and what inspired you to get on the road.

I’m Second City trained, which is Chicago’s birth of improvisation, going all the way back to Viola Spolin, Paul Sills, and Nichols and May. And you know, Second City’s been there for 50 years. Everybody’s been through there, all the great comic actors. So my son, who’s 32 now, is a fine young comic actor. He went through Second City. He has a partner that he improvises with and so one day I went to see him and he pulled me up on stage, and I improvised with him. We had a ball. So they had another gig at Colgate College and he asked me to go and I had a ball. I go, “God we should put a little group together.” So we got a couple other great Second City veterans and Larry Joe Campbell—he was my co-star on According to Jim; he’s a Detroit Second City guy.

What can the audience expect from you guys?

Well, first of all, they’re going to laugh. Period. These are the funniest guys I’ve ever been with. I mean, it’s hard for me to keep a straight face and one of my pet peeves is I never want to see an actor crack up on stage. So it is the hardest thing for me to do now with these guys. But what we’re going to do is basically called short-form improv. We’re going to play improvisational games on stage; we’re going to make stuff up on the spot; we’re going to take suggestions from the audience and create scenes. So we’re only as good as the audience.

Where does improv fall on the diffi culty spectrum, in terms of mastering it?

I think the hardest comedy to master is stand up because you’re doing it all alone. I think you have to be a certain way in order to improvise because you’re on the stage, you don’t know what you’re going to say next, you don’t know what the next guy is going to say next, and the audience is holding their breath so the jeopardy is high. You relieve the audience of that jeopardy and they laugh.

How important is chemistry among the cast or crew and how does the chemistry, good or bad, affect your performance?

Chemistry is the center of anything that’s successful. You know, According to Jim was extremely successful because the chemistry that we had as a group was magic. We became bigger than we are individually. I saw Joe Walsh doing an interview the other day and he’s asked, “What is it about the Eagles?” And he replies, “I don’t know. There’s just a chemistry, a blend that makes us bigger than we are individually.” And I’m like, “Yeah, that’s like improvising.”

Do you spend time with the guys off the stage? Or are you guys just too busy and your schedules don’t always match up?

Yeah, we’re pretty busy guys. You know, Brad Morris is writing on Cougar Town and he’s an actor; my son’s an actor. He missed a show the other night because he was shooting a movie in New Orleans. Larry Joe Campbell is working all the time. I work, so sometimes we have to cancel a gig, but there are plenty of people to draw from that we’ve worked with before. So I mean there will be six of us but there’s really about eight of us and two guys rotate in when somebody else has got a job.

If you weren’t an actor or a comedian, what would you want to be?

If I wasn’t acting right now, I would probably be either running my dad’s old restaurant… or a cop. Cops have a ball. I’ve done a lot of cop movies and I’ve done a lot of ride-alongs. And on a Saturday night, doing a ride-along in a bad area—it is exciting [laughs].

What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen on a ride-along?

Oh, well, I was doing a ride-along in Florida and I got to follow a SWAT team into a crack house. It was exciting, like explosions and smoke. They wouldn’t let me come in right away. They wanted to make sure everybody was secure. And then I came in the middle of that smoke and the police captain looked down at the guy who was handcuffed on the ground and he said to the guy, “This officer would like to say something to you” and he points at me and I say, “You’re under arrest!” And the guy looked up at me and says, “Are you Belushi? Where’s the dog?” So even crack dealers are renting my DVDs, you know?