For Funnyman Michael Jr., Comedy is Serious Business
- Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Michael Jr. is seriously funny. As a stand-up comedian, he does what few others can—be featured on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, or Comedy Central one night and then take his routine to a church the next. Wherever he steps up to the microphone, audiences agree Michael Jr. knows what it takes to keep it clean while keeping the crowd in stitches.
A sampling of his uniquely hilarious style is featured on, Thou Shalt Laugh 4, the latest DVD in the Thou Shalt Laugh series hosted by John Tesh. Michael Jr. says it was a treat to work with the Emmy Award-winning TV and radio personality: "He's really cool. Very open. Really, really giving and sharing. And he's funny, too. The dude is funny backstage. A funny, genuine cat. His wife is fabulous, too. I really like her a lot."
Michael Jr. is up to a lot of funny business these days. In addition to his work with Tesh, he's the author of numerous comedy CDs, including Funny for a Reason and a children's book called The Parts We Play. That title would be a fitting title for Michael Jr.'s comedy career as a whole.
His work takes him before a variety of people and according to Michael Jr., he assumes a number of roles—comedian, counselor, Christian ambassador, and therapist. "I want the audience to feel like they're just in a room with a guy and they're listening and funny stuff happens," he explains. "It also gives me an opportunity to talk to them about anything I want to talk about."
Keep It Clean, or Else
Preparation for these roles began with another role—as a child in a home where kids were to be seen and not heard. "I probably realized for the first time that I was funny in the 6th grade," Michael Jr. recalls. "I grew up in a household where the grown folks talk and you don't talk. My dad was really funny and there were always a lot of people that were funny. I'd never really say anything unless I knew it was going to make everyone laugh."
He was a quiet child growing up, but he enjoyed the attention when he got a laugh. "I used to see comedians when I was a kid and they were loud and they were screaming. And I was like, ‘I like making people laugh, but I don't want to be that goofy, wacky dude. I never wanted people to laugh at me, I just wanted them to laugh with me." Michael Jr.'s laid-back, shooting-the-breeze stage presence has stayed true to those early observations.
Another moment in his childhood has had a big impact on his career—literally. "If I hear you curse, I get to hit you in the chest as hard as I want to and you've got to stand there and take it." Those words from a friend, at age 14, sparked another key moment in Michael Jr.'s growing-up years. That is when Michael Jr. and this friend made a no-cursing pact. "I didn't know anything about God or any of that stuff. I have no idea why we made that pact," Michael Jr. says. "To this day, I don't know exactly why we did that." What started out as a way to avoid blows to the chest has become a way of life. "In retrospect I can see that it was like God was setting me up to do clean comedy," he says.
Michael Jr. looks to his experiences in real-life for his unusual and refreshing comedic inspiration. He credits challenges he faced early in his life for giving him his unique perspective. "I just have this ability to look at things completely different. When I was in grade school, I had a hard time reading. I wasn't a good reader at all," he relates.
On his own, he developed a personal system of questions and memory aids that helped him interpret what he was trying to read. "As an adult, I don't need to do that with words anymore. However, I still have that ability—that mental muscle—to look at a situation and have five or six different ways to approach it. Comedy," he explains, "is really about listening and watching and paying attention to people."
Michael Jr. pays attention to people, and people pay attention to him. Michael Jr.'s distinctive style provides him opportunities to let the principles of his faith to shine through—to both his audiences and his comic peers. "Sometimes comedians I don't even know will come up to me and ask, ‘How do you keep your act clean? How can I keep it clean?'" he says. "I tell them that you can't just be acting clean—you've got to be clean. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. So, I do get a chance to talk to people about comedy and other things, too."
Catch ‘Em with Comedy
And he's ok with that. While he might be funny, he's also very intentional about infusing his stand-up routines with substance. "Catch ‘em with the comedy, keep ‘em with the truth" is a guiding principle in his work, Michael Jr. says. "I thought that was a slogan, but God showed me that it was an assignment." The result is a natural, hilarious mix of laughter and spiritual lessons.
An example of this blend is Michael Jr.'s GPS navigation bit on the Thou Shalt Laugh 4 DVD. Without spoiling the joke, be assured that it makes you laugh and think all at once. "I love the contrast [in that bit]. Tension is comedy's best friend," he tells. "Some comedians are afraid of the tension, afraid of the silence. I am cool with the silence. That stuff does not get awkward with me at all because it just makes the ‘funny' funnier. And the ‘funny' just makes the truth really pop."
Michael Jr.'s toughest crowds might be the homeless shelters, prisons, children's homes, and tough neighborhoods like Skid Row in Los Angeles where he donates his time to cheer up those who are down and out. However, The time he has spent delivering his material to the homeless has inspired him to look at his career in a new way. "Most comedians go on stage and what do we want to do? We want to get laughs," he admits. "God said, ‘Don't go out there to get laughs, go out there and give them an opportunity to laugh. I learned a lot about myself through this process."
Lessons from Laughter
This process of growth and the ministry that's springing from it is the subject of a film featuring Michael Jr. scheduled for release in spring 2010. Interacting with his comic peers, his nation-wide TV audiences, and the crowds of people who laugh with him in churches and comedy clubs across the country has shown this seriously funny comic the power of laughter.
"One of these guys who's in the film who was on death row for eight years said that he needed laughter to open up his heart. Another guy said he needs to laugh to keep from crying," he states. "The Bible says, ‘Laughter does a heart good like medicine. Laughter bonds people. When two people laugh at the same joke, you're instantly connected. I just get up there and give jokes - that's my job. If God wants something to get said, it gets said. I just do it and have fun with it." Michael Jr. is a stand-up comedian who is content with his role in God's plan.
For Michael Jr., keeping the crowd in stitches is about more than merely generating belly laughter—it's open-heart surgery. His comedy represents a painless therapy for what ails his audience whether they're at a club, on the street, or in the pew. They come for laughs and they leave with something more.
For more information about Michael Jr., please visit www.michaeljr.com. To purchase or learn more about Thou Shalt Laugh 4, please visit www.thoushaltlaugh.com.
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