Dallas — Storytelling as a vehicle for comedy has sort of a new-ish history, perhaps popularized among the alt-comedy community by Mike Birbiglia, and more recently seen in Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix special Nanette. What sets it apart from a single-subject standup act is that while lots of laughs are to be had, there are too moments of sadness, anger, and joy—just like your own life story.
Comedian Jamie Campbell has quite a story to tell indeed in his national tour of The Devil on the Wall or, That Time I Got Kidnapped, seen this weekend at Stomping Ground Comedy Theater in the Dallas Design District. It’s essentially a retelling of his life from toddlerdom to when he was 12.
The cherub-faced Campbell grew up poor and itinerant, and his mother, although Campbell didn’t expressly say so, appears to be the type of woman who absolutely must have a man in her life at all times.
That’s how Campbell found himself at the mercy of a carousel of abusers; some physical, some emotional, all involved with his mother. And yet, at one point, Campbell’s mom makes a brave and loving decision on behalf of her son (and daughter), and later makes a brave and loving decision on behalf of herself.
Campbell gives a clear-eyed and detailed account of the abuse he suffered (thankfully none of it was too gory or mortifying), as well as his motivations, his triumphs, and his passions.
Laughs are plentiful along the way—I especially liked his account of discovering masturbation, and his hilarious knack for reenacting the bizarre, over-the-top way adults sometimes talk to kids when they have a point to make or a bonding commonality to share.
Ultimately, this is a deeply personal story of redemption. It’s been said that adult survivors of abuse of all kinds great and small emerge either determined to break the cycle, or with a narrow “I had to deal with this, so now you do too” sense of faux-fairness that perpetuates generations of abuse. Campbell uses some insights into the watershed moments that made him go one way instead of the other way. I really can’t recommend his show highly enough.
Nor can I recommend seeing shows at Stomping Ground highly enough. I’ll say it loudly for the people in the back: STOMPING GROUND IS A NEW COMEDY THEATER IN DALLAS THAT DESERVES A SLOT IN YOUR RADAR RIGHT ALONGSIDE THE OLD GUARD.
They’re as ambitious as hell and swinging for the fences, bringing in not just Campbell for two nights and a storytelling workshop, but later this year, Kevin McDonald from Kids in the Hall. They’re non-profit and serious about using comedy as a force for good applicable to daily life, and that’s besides their kickass headliners like Campbell and McDonald as well as their house sketch and improv teams, already as good as any in the area. Pay them a visit. Tonight, even: Campbell has one more show.