Comedy With a Purpose
About the Guest
Comedian Michael Jr. has a strict discipline to his comedy routine. It must be clean enough that he could say it behind a pulpit, and yet it must be funny enough it could be said in a club. Michael shares how he came to Christ.
Michael Jr.It's been said that laughter is the best medicine, and in our current climate where so much is grave, serious, and our health is a top priority, it's safe to say we all deserve some comedic relief. Beloved comedian, star of "Selfie Dad," podcast host, and author Michael Jr. does just that in his debut book, FUNNY HOW LIFE WORKS. Drawing on personal stories infused with humor and wisdom, Michael Jr. walks readers through his most career-defining moments and extracts impactful life lessons, all to...more
Comedian Michael Jr. has a strict discipline to his comedy routine. It must be clean enough to say behind a pulpit, and yet it must be funny enough for a club. Michael shares how he came to Christ.
Comedy With a Purpose
Bob: Comedian Michael Jr. says he runs into a lot of people who are doing life, but they don’t understand why they’re doing life.
Michael: There are a lot of people walking around who have a lot of money, or a big house, or feel like they have a really great town; but they know that something’s missing. I was the same person walking around but something was missing.
Now, no matter if I’m doing a The Tonight Show with Jay Leno again or if I’m doing a homeless shelter, I know I’m supposed to be there because God has a purpose for me to be there; whereas before, I was all about just getting laughs from people because, before, I didn’t even know that something was missing until I received something.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, July 30th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll talk to Michael Jr. today about comedy with a purpose. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. You know, it was back, I guess almost four years ago now, you and I were on the Love Like You Mean It® marriage cruise in February. On this particular cruise—I just remember it had been a long day / I was tired. I was not sure that I was up for staying up for some of the late-night stuff onboard the cruise because we have stuff that goes on at 10:00 or 11:00 at night.
Dennis: I know exactly what happened.
Bob: Then, before I could make the decision, we were in the main room. They said, “Let’s bring out one of the guys who is going to be doing one of these late-night things—his name’s Michael Jr.” They bring him out—there’s a little comedy—about two minutes of comedy. Do you remember what he said?
Dennis: Yes; well, I remember he walked by a room—
Bob: Let him tell the story!
Dennis: Yes, we should do that. Michael Jr.—do you have a last name, by the way?
Michael: Yes. [Laughter] So, what happened in the boat was—[Laughter]
Bob: We’ll just go right past the last name. [Laughter]
Dennis: Michael Jr.’s married. He and his wife have five children, live in Southern California.
Michael: I do. Yes.
Dennis: Yes. It’s all working; right?
Michael: It is.
Dennis: But you’re a comedian—so you kind of look at life through a little different lens.
Michael: I do, constantly and consistently.
Dennis: So you’re on the boat, you’re walking around the boat, and you ended up performing. Go ahead and tell the story.
Michael: I’m on a boat—
Dennis: Two thousand of us on—
Michael: Two thousand of us; and just for radio purposes, I’m a black man.
Bob: Just in case somebody was wondering. [Laughter]
Michael: Yes, just to get that out there. I’m on a boat. I’m already a little like, “I don’t know if I should be on this boat.” Then they had a room on the boat called “The Plantation Room.” I remember you making that announcement—I was like, “I don’t know if this is the right boat for me.” [Laughter]
Dennis: You weren’t real fond, I remember, of that.
Bob: Well, what was going on in the Plantation Room?
Michael: Yes; there was an auction going on in the Plantation Room—so I was comfortable. [Laughter]
Bob: So he gets up in front of the crowd and says: “I’m not sure—I’m on a boat. I’m a black man on a boat, and there’s an auction in the Plantation Room,”—and the whole crowd—I said, “I have got to stay up late and see what this guy has to say.”
Dennis: Barbara and I found our way down to the spot where he was performing—
Bob: —was packed!
Dennis: Oh my goodness! It was impossible to move through the boat in the mid-section where he was performing. But you performed all three nights to a standing-room only crowd.
Michael: It was awesome.
Dennis: And we want to welcome you to FamilyLife Today.
Michael: Thank you very much. This is fun. I mean, really—I’m glad to be here.
Dennis: Tell us where you came from—I mean, I’ve been wondering about this ever since I heard you perform—I mean, your family. Did you have a lot of humor, as a kid, growing up? Were you practicing?
Michael: I grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was a black kid when I grew up, [Laughter] and it was nice; and now here I am. [Laughter]
Dennis: That’s a real good answer to the question. [Laughter]
Bob: No, no, no, no, no—no, no, no.
Michael: Next thing you know—[Laughter]—I’m in a studio.
Bob: Was there anything going on, spiritually, in the family?
I mean, would you go to church?
Michael: Yes, I did go to church. My mom’s family were Jehovah Witnesses, and my dad’s family were—how do you say?—seven-hour evangelists—I mean, when I say seven hours, I don’t mean seven days. I mean, they were there for seven hours a day—
Bob: Oh really?!
Michael: —in church. So, when they got together, my dad was always forced to go to church. He said: “I’m not going to force my kids to go to church. I’m going to teach what I can teach them, but I’ll never force them,” because he had such a horrible upbringing in the church. So, I really didn’t even go to church, as a child.
Bob: Now, you did tell about one time—was it your grandmother who took you to church?
Michael: My grandmother would force me to go to church, and my grandmother’s church was this—I didn’t understand. I remember being seven years old; and I walk into this church, and nobody was teaching. This guy’s up on stage, and he’s yelling and screaming at everybody. I’m like, “Why is he so mad?” So it was just a miserable, miserable place.
We walked in one time, and there’s a dead body in the front.
I remember asking my grandmother: “Grandmother, what happened to the man in the box? Why is there a man in a box?” Her whole explanation was, “He in a better place.” I’m like, “What kind of box did he live in before?” [Laughter] There was no detailed explanation. [Laughter]
So, when I turned 14, she gave me the option to go to church—she said, “Would you like to go to church?” Instead of forcing me to go, she gave me the option. I was taller than her, at this point; okay? You know—
Michael: So she said, “Do you want to go?” I was like, “Let me think this over for a second—No!”—because the place was miserable / it was just a really bad experience. So, I wouldn’t go to church.
Bob: You checked out of anything spiritual at that time; right?
Michael: I don’t know if that was spiritual—I think it was ritual.
Michael: Really, it was just a bunch of people doing the same thing over and over.
Dennis: So, how did God get your attention, then?
Michael: At 15 years old, me and a friend made a pact that we wouldn’t curse anymore because we used to actually—I mean, you’re 15 years old / you know nothing about God—so that’s what you do. We made a pact that we wouldn’t. In retrospect, I can clearly see it was God setting me up to do what I do now.
What happened was—I was in New York, as an adult / a grown man in New York. I moved to New York.
Dennis: You’re how old?
Dennis: We did fast-forward.
Michael: We did. I’m getting ready to do this show at The Comic Strip Live. Now, The Comic Strip Live is this comedy club that’s really hard to get into. Comedians have an open mike on Tuesday nights. Comedians start lining up at six a.m. in the morning for a seven p.m. show, in hopes that the owner will pull their name out of a hat so the manager can take a look at them for three minutes of comedy.
Michael: So it’s a really hard club to get into. It’s finally my turn to perform at The Comic Strip Live.
Dennis: So your name got drawn; huh?
Michael: Yes, absolutely. I was able to—I actually kind of bypassed that process. I got blessed somehow. I didn’t know, but I bypassed that process. I just showed up and they’re like: “Okay, we’ve seen you around. We’re going to give you a shot.”
He gave me my shot, and this comedian named George Wallace walks in. Now, if you don’t know who George Wallace is—my favorite George Wallace joke—he says he was in China, and he bought a pair of shoes.
He looked at the bottom of them; and they said, “Made right around the corner.”
[Laughter] So George Wallace is hilarious and very respected in the comedy community.
Here’s the problem—whenever someone like that walks into the club, whoever’s next automatically gets bumped—I was next.
Michael: I knew I’m about to get bumped. The manager walks over to me; and he says, “Michael, listen. George Wallace is here.” This is where God shows up for the first time in my life—well, this is where I notice Him.
Michael: He was always there!
Bob: He’s been around.
Michael: So, the manager walks over to me; and he says, “George Wallace is here, Michael. Would you like to go before him or after him?” I was like [deep breath], “Let me go before him.”
They actually gave me the option of going before George Wallace; and then he comes in the show, and he sees me doing comedy, and making the people laugh. Afterwards, there are a bunch of comedians all around him; and they’re talking to him. He leaves them and comes over to me—he says: “You’re really funny. Let me ask you a question.” He was like, “Why don’t you curse?” I was like: “I don’t know—what if my grandmother walked in or something?”
My grandmother’s in Michigan—she wasn’t walking in there. I didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t have any reason not to be cursing—I just hadn’t cursed since I was 15. It just wasn’t in me anymore.
He said, “I’d like you to do a show with me and my best friend in a couple of nights.” I was like, “Really?!” So I’m all excited—I don’t even know who his best friend is—it doesn’t matter! They sent a limousine to pick me up. Two nights later, I’m doing a show with George Wallace, myself, and Jerry Seinfeld.
Bob: Oh my goodness!
Michael: After the show, my manager says to me: “Michael—would you like to go to church with me tomorrow?” I was like: “Church?! Why would I want to go to church?! I just got two standing ovations. Am I sick or something? Why go to church?” because every time I saw a church on TV, it would be some story where somebody almost died and they found Jesus. Somebody said, “I was on drugs, and I found Jesus.”
That’s not my story—I’ve never done drugs, I’ve never smoked, I stopped cursing when I was 15, and I wasn’t mean to women—so none of that stuff applied. I wasn’t trying to hear Jesus stuff: “He’s for people who are hurting. He’s not for me.”
Then his fiancé asked me to go—she was beautiful!
I didn’t even know pretty people went to church. She was like, “Michael Jr., would you like to go to church?” I was like—I nodded my head, “Yes”; but I said, “No.” I was like, “This is confusing!” [Laughter] So I went to this church; and this guy’s on stage, talking about Jesus. He’s not screaming / he’s not yelling—he’s got no perm—[Laughter]
Dennis: Perm! What kind of churches had you gone to before?
Bob: A lot of perm churches. [Laughter]
Michael: It was really bad.
Michael: So I walk into this church—Christian Culture Center—Brooklyn, New York. This guy’s on stage, talking about Jesus. He’s just talking about Jesus—he’s just talking! And I understand what he’s saying!—it’s like amazing. All these people are—then he said—I remember him saying this—he said, “Can I get a hallelujah?” It was almost like 5,000 people in this church; and 4,999 people said, “Hallelujah.”
I said: “I’m not saying that. I don’t know what it means.” Then he says, “In case there’s someone in the room that doesn’t know what hallelujah means…” I was like [whispering], “What is this place?
“It’s creepy! How does he know I’m thinking this?” So he told us it was the highest praise you can give. I was like, “Wow, this is so awesome!” And then I went on ahead and I didn’t say hallelujah. Then he did an altar call. He said, “If you want Jesus in your life, come on down.” I wanted to do it, but I thought there was some sort of catch / I was still skeptical.
I told myself I’d read the whole Bible before I went down to the altar. I didn’t even have a Bible, and I wasn’t a very good reader—like my reading was really, really slow. So, some lady I don’t even know hands me a Bible. So, I started reading the Bible—I read the whole Bible. I read the little giblets at the bottom that tell you about the top, and I’m going to church. I’m reading / I’m going to church. I remember getting to the part of Matthew, where it said that Jesus died for me. Twenty-seven years old, at this point; I didn’t even know Jesus died for me—so I read it.
Dennis: You had not heard the story of Jesus Christ.
Michael: I had not heard the story. People may have said it in some sort of crazy way or screaming—or the church I went to before—the assumption was everyone knew, but nobody taught it to me. I saw the cross—I didn’t know what it meant. I just thought it was something cool for rappers to wear around their neck.
I didn’t know what—nobody ever explained it to me.
So, when I read it right there, I was like, “I didn’t even know that Jesus died for me.” Then I turned to Mark, and remember thinking: “He died again!—what is going on?!” Then in Luke and John—I’m thinking: “Why do they keep killing Him? I don’t understand what’s going on.” Literally—that’s literally what I thought.
Michael: So then I keep reading the Bible. It took me like two-and-a-half months to finish the whole Bible because, at this point, I really want to go to the altar—but I told myself I’d finish the whole Bible first. I’m digging into the Word, and I’m putting in probably 12 hours a day, just reading the Bible. I’m digging in as much as I can. I get to Revelation and get all scared.
This is my theory: “Reading the Bible is like paying bills.” Hear me out—you’re supposed to pay attention to everything; but when they show it with some red ink, you have to do something—right?—before your lights get cut out or something. Anyway, [Laughter]—I finished up reading the Bible.
Then I remember going to the altar, like during the announcements at church. I was like: “Hey, look. I want to do this earlier instead of later. I’m ready.”
From that point on, after receiving Jesus, I understand that I’m not just funny—like I’m funny for a reason. There’s purpose behind this funny. It feels phenomenal just to know that—to be able to walk in purpose and be funny—to go on The Tonight Show or a Comedy Central and know that there’s a reason why I’m there—as opposed to—just because I’m funny, I make people laugh.
Bob: Talk about that reason. What is it that God has set you apart for?
Michael: He’s clearly called me to comedically inspire people to walk in purpose. I mean, He just absolutely has, without a doubt. I’m all about that—I’m all about His business and what He wants me to do. It’s kind of like—this is kind of how I say it sometimes:
God is like a navigation device in a car. If you’ve never been in a car with a navigation device, you need to find a friend who has a car with a navigation device. [Laughter] If you punch in the coordinates to where you want to go, and it says, “Go ten blocks and turn left,” then you go ten blocks and turn right—
—it doesn’t abandon what you’re supposed to do. It recalculates what you need to do to get to where you’re supposed to be, based upon where you are. The problem is—sometimes, we make the wrong turns, and the road conditions can be different, and we’re running out of time. So we need to be sensitive to listen to that voice so we can make the right choice about where we need to go.
I refer to it—I’ll tell my friends all the time—I’ll be in green rooms with some celebrities. I’ll explain to them that God has a lot of names. I’ll say some of the names, and a lot of times that stuff sounds creepy to people who don’t know God. I’ll say, “Jehovah,” and whatever; and they’re like, “What is that about?”
Then I say another name God has—is Something—S-O-M-E-T-H-I-N-G—Something. They always look at me like, “What are you talking about?” I say: “We always get a choice in life. We can choose ‘A,’ which is the right thing to do; or we could choose ‘B,’ which looks like fun. Sometimes we choose ‘B’ and then we have to deal with the consequences from choosing ‘B.’ One of the first things that comes out of your mouth, when you didn’t want the consequences—is: ‘Man! Something told me not to do this!’ It’s clearly God trying to tell you the right thing to do—you just can’t hear Him.”
Dennis: Yes. Your life radically began to change, at that point, when you met Jesus Christ. You were aware of what He wanted / what He expected of your life.
Michael: Wow! Are you narrating, right now, my life?—that’s amazing!— [Laughter]—seriously.
Bob: But that’s what happened; isn’t it?
Michael: Absolutely—yes—because before, I didn’t even know that something was missing until I received something. There are a lot of people walking around who have a lot of money, or a big house, or they feel like they have a really great town, but they know that something’s missing. I was the same person, walking around, and something was missing.
Now, no matter, if I’m doing The Tonight Show again or if I’m doing a homeless shelter, I know I’m supposed to be there because God has a purpose for me to be there; whereas before, I was all about just getting laughs from people.
Dennis: So, to that person, who’s listening right now, who’s said, “That’s me—something is missing.”
Dennis: What would you say to him? Introduce him to the One who changed your life.
Michael: If you know something’s missing—you can always tell when something is missing. This is how I kind of refer to God. This is how I kind of tell [about] God:
It’s kind of like we’re all a house. (God literally gave this to me, and I talk about it on stage.” It’s like everyone’s a house. (Just bear with me for a second.) Outside of the house is Jesus Christ, and He wants to come in. Now, He’ll never force His way in—He wants you to invite Him in.
A lot of times, people are okay with just having Jesus outside the house because, that way, we can open the door, talk to Him when we need to, and then we just go back in our house; but He really wants to be invited in. The reason some people won’t invite Him in is because their house is a mess, and they think they need to clean it up first; but you can’t clean it up.
Jesus knew it was going to be a mess before you messed it up. The only way to clean it is to allow Him in so He can clean it, but sometimes we just won’t do that. While your house is a mess, He’s standing at the door, wearing an apron, with a bucket in His hand, because He’s the only One who can clean it.
Then there are people who used to have Jesus in the entire house, but we just moved Him to one room in the house. Have you ever been in a house with a good room? It is like you have that one clean room that looks all nice. A lot of times, that room is the one right up front, with the big picture window, so when people walk by, they’ll be like: “Wow! That’s a clean house! That’s nice! They have Jesus!” but Jesus doesn’t have him. He doesn’t have access to the entire house.
So, He wants full access. Sometimes, maybe, Jesus is in the house but He can’t even sit down. You won’t let Him do the dishes, you won’t let Him make your bed, and you feel like you have to do a lot of work because He’s there—but because He’s there, it’s just the opposite—there’s no work for you to do. You just need to release and let Him do it, simply by saying: “Jesus, I need You in my life. Forgive me for my sins. Please be my Lord.”
Dennis: —and open the door—
Dennis: —and let the King of kings and Lord of lords come in, and let Him do what He does best.
He has been doing this for years. My life was transformed by a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, and it sounds like yours was as well.
Michael: Absolutely! If you would just open the door, and in case—there are always two people who are not quite getting it—the house is your heart—they both begin with “H”—I was hoping you would make the jump. So, you just open your heart and say: “God, come in. I need You.”
That’s where everything changed for me in a ridiculously large way. I’m a better everything as a result of having a relationship with Jesus. I’m a better father, a better husband, and I’m a better comedian for sure—for sure. Like me and God will be writing jokes together. I’ll be writing a joke—and He’ll be like, “Mmm…—the joke will be a little on the edge. Then, sometimes, God will be like, “Dude, that’s not even on the edge!”—I mean, He might not say “Dude” to you—but anyway—[Laughter]—like, “That’s not even on the edge.” I’m like, “Uhh.” And then some other ones that look perfectly clean—absolutely!—and God’s like, “No, not that one.” I just feel, in my spirit, that’s not the one to do.
I don’t even know why, but I love throwing them away because, when I do, something better comes along.
Dennis: There’s one last question I wanted to ask you.
Michael: You wanted to know what my website was—is that what it was? [Laughter]
Dennis: How did you read my mind?!
Michael: Oh, it is so amazing! [Laughter]
Dennis: It’s amazing!
Michael: Yes, well; it’s “MichaelJr.com,” as a matter of fact.
Dennis: Okay. That will take care of that.
You were on the cruise with us, and you heard the messages that were given there. You came up to me at the end and you said, “Dennis, God has used this in a strategic way in my life to re-direct me around family.” Do you remember that conversation?
Michael: Absolutely; yes, because He was already showing me that what I’m doing comedically is really, really about family. So any comedy that I’m doing—whether it be on The Tonight Show, whether it be Jimmy Kimmel, whatever I’m doing—it should be used in a way where it’s healing and building the family. If it’s not, then I’m off tilt—I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do.
It should heal and build families in some way, no matter what it is / no matter what. That’s really what I’m about. In doing so, I am to comedically inspire people to walk in purpose because, once people start walking in purpose, then they’ll understand the family—they’ll understand their role, as a dad/the father. They’ll understand their role—as a mom or as a son—they’ll understand their role better. So I’m all completing and entirely about family.
Dennis: And, you believe that comedy is a gift from God for us in the journey of life because life is a challenge / life is tough; and He does give us the ability to laugh in the journey.
Michael: Absolutely. The Bible, as you know, it says in Proverbs 17:22, “A merry heart is good like a medicine.” Well, sometimes, we get a little under the weather; and we need some medicine. I’m just glad that God has given me a doctor’s degree to administer the medicine He’s given me—so absolutely, yes.
Dennis: What I would encourage our listeners to do—pray for Michael Jr.—that he’ll be a good steward of the gifts God has given him, and stay linked up to get the right humor in tandem with God leading him, and use that for God’s purposes in the settings and the venues where He places him.
Dennis: You’ll take those prayers; won’t you?
Michael: Absolutely. This is the thing—this is huge—if you guys see that on performance somewhere at a church or wherever it may be, bring some people that think that you’re crazy for loving God because what is going to happen is this—comedy, not just the comedy God’s given me—but comedy opens up the soul and it allows for penetration. I’ll go do a comedy show and people will just open up in a way that I can’t even explain it because they’re laughing / their guards are down. So, I feel like what God is using me for is to catch them with the comedy, and keep them with the truth. So, if you see me at a church / if you see me anywhere, you need to bring some friends who don’t know.
Dennis: I watched it happen on the cruise.
Dennis: Standing room only—three nights in a row—people needed to laugh. It was a ministry of laughter in their lives, and it was done purposively.
Bob: You know, it occurs to me that we have not yet let our listeners know that Michael is, not only a comedian, but he’s a movie star. You’re going to be in the movie that is coming out next month, called War Room—
Bob: —that’s going to be in theaters, starting August 28th—the latest movie from Alex and Stephen Kendrick, the guys who did Courageous and Fireproof. This is a movie about marriage. It’s about fighting for your marriage on your knees, praying for God to do a work in your marriage. I just have to say—you did a great job in your role in the movie, War Room.
I want to encourage our listeners to plan to go see you opening weekend, August 28th, 29th, and 30th. The movie’s called War Room.
Michael Jr. is one of the actors who is going to be in it. If you’d like to see the trailer for the movie, War Room, we have a link on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. If you go there and click in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, where it says, “GO DEEPER,” you will see a link to the trailer for the movie, War Room. You can get an idea what it’s all about.
In fact, Priscilla Shirer, Tony Evans’ daughter, is also in the movie. T.C. Stallings, who was one of the gangsters / one of the thug guys in Courageous—he has the male lead. It’s really a fun movie. Again, see the trailer—go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” The trailer is available right there.
I should mention—folks got a chance to see War Room on the Love Like You Mean It® marriage cruise last year. Michael was onboard with us. Folks really responded well to this film—at the sneak preview we were able to do.
That’s always one of the fun things we get to do onboard the cruise—is do a sneak preview of an upcoming movie. I know next year’s cruise is—I’m pretty sure it’s sold out. I think they have a waiting list for the cruise, at this point; you might want to get on the waiting list or find out about the Love Like You Mean It marriage cruise in February of 2017. Again, look for the link for the Love Like You Mean It marriage cruise when you go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says, “GO DEEPER.”
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Now, tomorrow, John Freeman is going to join us. We’re going to talk about his experience, growing up—experiencing sexual brokenness in his life. He has a compelling story, and I hope you can tune in to hear what he has to share.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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