Over the past week at George Street’s Assembly Rooms, I’ve seen audiences emerging wild-eyed and dazed from Craig Campbell’s sold-out shows; the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has even added a few late-night shows to his run. A member of popular U.K. tour The Lumberjacks, he received a massive cheer when Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” ceased and the lights dimmed at the start of Thrilling Mic Hunt, an hour that flows as casually as his long hair and loose as his green cargo shorts.
Campbell jumped into crowd work early and often, the personal information the Canadian globe-trotter uncovered sending him flipping through the mental files to cull related stories from his far-flung adventures. Chatting with a history teacher reminded him of tourist sites he’s visited around Europe and the wacky accents he’s heard. A construction worker prompted him to ask if he’s ever checked out the Autobahn; Campbell’s driven on it really fast. A guy from Leeds? Campbell got really drunk the last time he was in Leeds, which reminds him of how potent different types of alcohol can be, which reminds him of this one time in Prague…
Manic, garrulous and undeniably magnetic, Campbell’s high energy and animated physicality evoke images of him sitting around in a pub, entertaining friends and strangers alike with his reenactments of mock-fellating a man who crossed the Niagara Falls on tightrope and subsequently tattooed the Canadian maple leaf on his stomach, the time he scared his friends with a Halloween chainsaw prank, the time he was fortunate enough to hear a German security officer bark, “You don’t have your papers?!” or the time, only two weeks ago, when he failed to successful cross an electric fence, effectively “fusing penis to leg.”
While his style doesn’t necessarily lend itself to memorable soundbites or obvious punchlines, Campbell is deceptively self-aware of small yet vital things like volume control—“Obviously I look like a guy who might have drugs on him!”–and spot-on self-criticisms, winkingly relating a story about an Irishman who once asked, “’C’mon, tell us the truth: When you go on stage, do you have a point?’ And I thought, ‘You cheeky monkey, of course I have a point! I don’t stand in front of a crowd for an hour without a point!’” (Turns out he misunderstood the word “pint,” which, yes, of course he has one of those, too.)
No two of Campbell’s shows are alike, and he’s certainly not a performer who spends hours meticulously crafting and testing material. But he’s clearly got joie de vivre to spare, and is an undeniable inspiration as someone unafraid to jump in and see where the currents take him, both in life and on stage. Whether rock-climbing in France, being accidentally in criminal possession of a hurley stick or planning next September’s “Stand Up on Everest” highest-elevation-ever comedy show in support of The Aid Fundraiser, Campbell not only takes his audiences along for the ride, he simultaneously motivates them to seize the potential for adventure in their own lives.