Jamie Campbell usually tells the types of jokes we’re used to. They’re good jokes — the footage I found of the Kansas City-based comedian is very funny. His standup tends to be based in self-deprecating reflections on his truth, and undoubtedly in truths that we all share. But in “The Devil On the Wall or, That Time I Got Kidnapped,” he dives into a darker type of truth, and his audience finds themselves grappling with it along with him.
The solo show, performed in storytelling format, was a rapid paced journey that was heavy on exposition. We learned about Jamie Campbell’s childhood, his relationship with his parents, and their relationships with each other and other people. Campbell opened up about the experience of living in poverty, dealing with abuse, and the unfortunate intersection of the two that defined much of his early life.
I met my boyfriend for dinner afterward, and he asked “So, how was it?”
“It was brutal,” I answered. It WAS brutal. In telling his story, Campbell shared some of the most challenging moments of his life. Myself, merely an observer, felt more than one gut-punch during the experience. The venue (OTR Community Church) was small and intimate, and that resulted in Campbell making eye contact with the audience members almost constantly. Moreover, although a bit of research revealed that he has performed this show many times, the energy he exhibited could have convinced me he was telling it for the first time. I was moved to tears several times, and I could see other audience members suffering the same fate. He, in turn saw us.
Please don’t get me wrong — the show also had a lot of funny moments. Jamie Campbell is, after all, a talented comedian, and the humor in the show ranged from nostalgic (remember Reebok Pumps?) to ageless (oh god, puberty was terrible). However, the overarching theme seemed to be focused on the passage of misery from one generation to another, specifically in terms of abuse, and also on methods of coping with abuse. It was unrelentingly honest about the cycles of abuse that can trap generations of families and individuals. Campbell expeditiously summarized the long years he spent under the thumb of abuse, which only revealed the vastness of experiences he felt he needed to cover. We grew older with him, carried the experiences with us, as he grappled with how those experiences would define him into adolescence and, finally, adulthood.
The show ended with a direct address to the audience. Campbell explained that he’s lived with the story for too long, but he doesn’t want to live with it anymore. He simultaneously apologized to the audience for lightening his load while thanking them for it. And then we left.
He was right. “The Devil On the Wall or, That Time I Got Kidnapped” was hard. But we were all lucky that he shared it with us, and we’re all better for it. So I, personally, would like to thank him for being there as well.
Hilly Kenkel is a former vocal performance major and lifelong lover of music, political science nerd, podcast junkie, and Cincinnatian. She goes through sporadic periods of obsessive sourdough baking, weight lifting, distance running, and gardening.