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Before Hollywood success, actor Marc Evan Jackson got his comedy upbringing in Michigan

Actor and comedian Marc Evan Jackson has appeared on Parks and Recreation, Reno 911!, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. He currently stars as an all-knowing immortal judge named Shawn on NBC’s The Good Place, which he describes as “the smartest, dumbest show on television.”

“Within an episode of the show, within the body of the show, within single lines of dialogue, this show deals with fairly deep and complicated aspects of ethical and moral philosophy, and also fart jokes,” Jackson said.

Jackson graduated from Calvin College in Grand Rapids with a degree in philosophy in 1992. He says that he made his way to the world of comedy through a series of happy accidents.

In the late 1990s, Jackson joined The Second City Detroit comedy troupe. Several members of that group went on to enjoy successful careers in television and film, a fact that Jackson attributes to Detroit’s lack of a tourist-based audience. Unlike Second City shows in Chicago and Toronto, which could use the same material for up to a year, Jackson’s group wrote new shows two to four times per year in order to keep the attention of their metro Detroit audience. 

“I really think that that taught each of us to be creative and to be prolific, to never let the kernel of an idea go, to file it away somewhere and say ‘It may not be right for this scene or for this show, but I’m going to use it somewhere.’ And it made us scrappy. It made us really hungry and prolific writers and creators,” Jackson said.

Although Jackson eventually left Detroit to move to Los Angeles, he has maintained his connection to the city over the years. In 2012, Jackson and his wife Beth Hagenlocker co-founded the Detroit Creativity Project, an improv program for students in Detroit's middle and high schools. 

“In 2011, we got together with a lot of our friends out here, a lot of Detroit expatriots who live in Los Angeles – and there are hundreds of them. We got together and said ‘We want to be a part of the renewal in Detroit. We want to be part of the renaissance and the rebirth of this great city that we all love so much,’” Jackson said.

Jackson said that the goal of the Detroit Creativity Project is not to create actors and comedians, although some of the students may end up in that line of work. He says that improvising helps students learn how to collaborate, embrace failure, and build confidence in themselves.

“It’s a really valuable, life-affirming, super confidence-building program that helps with interview skills for school, interview skills for jobs, and just makes your life generally better,” Jackson said. 

Listen to Stateside’s full interview with Jackson to hear how he got his start in comedy, and about The Good Place’s many unexpected connections to Michigan. 

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Isabella Isaacs-Thomas. 

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