Comedian Michael Jr. has appeared on The Tonight Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and in the surprise hit film War Room. He commands laughs every time he takes the stage. But laughs are not nearly enough for the stand-up star. He is looking to be "more than funny."
The husband and father changed his approach to his craft about nine years, following one of his routine performances.
In an interview with CBN News, Michael Jr. said, "Normally when a comedian gets on stage, we want to get laughs from people. And I felt like a shift took place."
"I felt like God was saying, 'Instead of trying to get laughs from people, I want you to give them an opportunity to laugh,' he said.
Giving People an Opportunity to Laugh
"So, this changes everything. I go on stage that night. We have a good time. But it's different. I am way more relaxed. The audience seems to be way more responsive."
The changes followed Michael, even after that night's show was over.
Michael recalled, "When I walk outside, I see a homeless guy. I had never seen a homeless guy outside this club before ever, but that doesn't mean he wasn't there before. But see before my mindset was to get laughs from people. So, I asked myself about him and how could I give him an opportunity to laugh?"
Comedy at a Homeless Shelter?
"And then four days later, this lady at one of my events and she said would you consider coming to the homeless shelter where I work at to do comedy. And I was like, wow, no, I am not going to do that – never even thought of such a thing, why would you do that?"
"So, I actually went to the homeless shelter and did comedy, and then it was so powerful. So, what we started to do is we actually added that to our tour. When we would go to a city, we would find a homeless shelter, or a prison, abused children's facility and we would do comedy there before the big comedy show that night."
Prisons, shelters and children's homes are now regular stops on Michael Jr.'s tours. And it's been that way for more than nine years. He often sharing tough stories from those visits while telling jokes on larger comedy stages.
"And then when it came time to film my comedy special, I was like, why don't I take my camera crew [and] we go out and find the best three stories that we can and we put them in the middle of the jokes."
Michael's idea turned into a movie titled "More Than Funny."
"We filmed it in front of four thousand people at Hope Community Church in Memphis. But then, boom, suddenly you're in the woods helping homeless people. And then boom, we are right back to laughing."
Michael's Formula for Finding Humor in Life
The unique movie is now a movement with a challenge from Michael Jr. It comes from his personal formula for finding the humor in life. Michael shared that formula with CBN News.
He said, "A comedian will use any resource or talent he has to make an audience think in one direction. Well, the punchline occurs when he changes that direction in a way they are not expecting. And when they catch on to that change, that is actually them receiving the punchline and the results are revelation, fulfillment, and joy. But it is expressed through laughter.
"I feel like God has shown me that life is very, very similar. There's a set-up and there is a punchline. Your set up is the fact that you are married. You have a car. You have a house. Your set up is about what you have received. But your punchline is about what you are called to deliver.
Find Your Punchline
"And if you don't know your punchline and you just have all of this setup, you will think that what you need to be fulfilled is more set up, if I could just make more money if I could just get married if I could just get more laughs. But what you really need to know is what is your punchline."
And with Punchliners Michael has created an online community to help people find their own punchlines and then deliver them to people who need it most. It's a life-changing connection Michael has seen on stage – and following one specific show.
Recalling the night, Michael shared, "After the show, security says to me there is a guy who wants to talk to you and he is really adamant about talking to you. So, I go out to meet this guy. And you can tell his eyes are puffy because he's been tearing up or something."
"And then he says to me, 'I have to talk to you and he says the reason I came to this comedy show is because my life is so heavy right now.'
"He said, 'I didn't know what to do so I just came to this comedy show.'
"He said, 'I am a fugitive of the law and I feel like I should turn myself in. Would you go with me to turn myself in?'"
Recalling his own reaction to the man's declaration, Michael said, "I am blown back. I am just doing jokes and sharing a little bit of me, and as a result, this guy says, 'I think I need to get my life right and turn myself in.'
"Now the comedian in me is like, was the comedy that bad? But it was such a powerful moment. I realized that laughter opens up hearts and if I am opening up hearts, I want to make a deposit that is going to make a change."
**Originally published November 16, 2018