When the going gets weird, rest assured that actor Bruce Campbell won't flinch. Revered for his work in cult flicks like Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness, and Bubba Ho-Tep, Campbell (a Southern Oregon resident for 20 years, on a ranch with views of the Siskiyous) is again plumbing the bizarre for content—this time as host and executive producer of the Travel Channel’s reboot of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, premiering June 9 at 9 p.m.
“I read the Ripley’s book as a kid,” Campbell told Portland Monthly. “It was creepy and cool, and had all kinds of absurd stories that didn’t seem real, yet they were.”
The classic franchise launched 100 years ago when Robert Ripley debuted his cartoon in the daily newspaper. With the reboot, timed for the centennial, Campbell says his team aims to go beyond shock value and carnivalesque voyeurism.
“As an executive producer, I just want to make sure the tone is constructive, that it’s positive, that it isn’t a freak show, like pointing fingers and going eww. And it’s nothing like that. We’re going into living rooms and getting to know these people.... If you can get to know the reason why the guy wants to turn himself into a human parrot, let’s find out. Then when his story unfolds you’ll have more empathy for that. Because, look, it’s a big world. There’s lots of people. And that encompasses the entire range of desire, ambition, focus, talent, drive, courage. We’re really peeling back the layers of the human onion."
The ten-episode lineup includes talents like Twisty Troy, the “human pretzel,” and Rick Smith, a man who can toss playing cards at a lethal 92 miles per hour. “That’s what’s impressive, that guy would walk right past you in the street,” says Campbell. “He’s not from another planet, he was not bitten by a radioactive spider. It’s kind of like these people are like superheroes without the cape.”
Like Peter Parker, Campbell says the Ripley name has widespread popular recognition. “It’s a very well-known brand—like Ivory soap. It’s been around forever. People will totally get their basic cable money’s worth.”
While the show unfolds, Campbell the entertainer is also getting ready to hit the road: in part, to promote the September 17 paperback release of his book Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B-Movie Actor. Leading up to that eight-city tour, Campbell will surely be enjoying summer in the Applegate Valley. “It’s spectacular, I’ll never move anywhere else," says Campbell. "I can walk out the back of my house and go up to a trail and walk for 20 miles. Without getting in a car." But, he jokes, “I always tell people, 'don’t come to Oregon. You’d hate it here. It rains every day.'”