Jessi Campbell always knew she was going to be a standup comedian. “I actually started comedy when I was 18, and have been doing it full-time since I was 23,” she says. “I started right out of high school. I graduated in May, and I did my first open mic in August. I always wanted to do it and that was it for me.”
During those early years, she did purse an undergraduate degree. “My parents made me go to school, because they’re good parents,” she says. “I went to college, but that didn’t really work out. I was a really bad student, but I took some EMT classes and actually became an EMT. I worked in an emergency room in Tucson, Arizona, where I’m from. But I knew I wasn’t going to stay there. I knew I was going to be a comic.”
The EMT hours worked well with her comedy aspirations.
“I would work three 12-hour shifts a week. So I would do Sunday, Monday, Tuesday one week, then Friday Saturday, Sunday the following week. That left me eight days in the middle to tour.”
Campbell enjoyed being an EMT, but not as much as telling jokes. Still, she thinks the two careers have a few things in common. “Being an EMT is similar to being a comedian,” she notes. “You get instant gratification for the work you do. It just seems like the same type of people would do it.”
Unlike a lot of comics, Campbell found her voice early on. “I think I was very similar to how I am now,” she says. “I really just told stories and had fun. I was terribly honest, but I feel like I had my own voice already.”
Sometimes, however, that voice was hard to understand.
“I didn’t realize that I talked so fast onstage,” she recalls. “I had to think to myself to slow down. I’ll still do shows where I think I’m talking too slow, and people will say, 'Oh no, that’s normal.’ I do get really excited because I like being up there, but I have to slow myself down when I’m onstage.”
In the early days that was even harder, thanks to a pre-show ritual she has since abandoned.
“I used to get really nervous before I went onstage, and I used to drink two Red Bulls before I went on because I thought I needed the energy. When I stopped drinking Red Bull I was like, 'Hey, my stomachaches have gone away.' I feel like it was just Red Bull powering me for the first five years.”
Those early years also included a five-year stretch in Minnesota.
“My husband’s job transferred him up there,” she explains. “It actually ended up working out really well for me. The Midwest was very new to me when I moved there, but I got involved doing a lot of local stuff. It was a much larger community than Arizona. There was a lot of camaraderie.”
She and her husband have since relocated to Los Angeles, where she is pursuing several projects. “It’s great,” she says. “We moved to Minnesota for him and we moved to L.A. for me, so now we’re even.”
IF YOU GO:
The Joke Joint
801 Sibley Memorial Highway, Lilydale
8 p.m. Thursday through Friday; 10:30 p.m. Friday; 7:30 and 9:45 p.m. Saturday
For tickets, call 651-330-9078 or visit jokejointcomedyclub.com.