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Christian Living

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Michael Jr.: When Comedy Collides with Compassion

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

Comedian Michael Jr. has long been known as a comic with a conscience.  When attending one of his shows, it doesn’t take someone long to realize that there is something a little bit different about the way he tells jokes. 

Whether it be a raised eye brow, a long pause to let the joke settle in, or his hilarious view on life, the Michigan native truly believes that comedy should be more than just set-ups and punch lines. While it is great to get caught up in the swell of unbridled laughter, Michael Jr. simply wants to give people the opportunity to laugh no matter what their circumstances are.

The comedy veteran, who has appeared on several late night talk shows including The Tonight Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live, has a new comedy special called More Than Funny: Everyone Has a PunchlineIn this one night Fathom movie event, Michael Jr. not only dispenses a wealth of side-splitting humor but he also features three real-life stories that will motivate and call you to something greater.

Find a theater near you to view Michael Jr.’s More Than Funny: Everyone Has a Punchline live movie event this Thursday, October 18th.

I recently spoke to the multi-faceted funny man to discuss More Than Funny, his ability to sell a joke, and how he plans to use comedy to help those less fortunate than others.

For me, comedy is something you just can’t learn or teach yourself.  You either have the gift to make people laugh or you don’t.  Do you agree with that?

Yes, I would agree. But sometimes people will stumble on it sporadically. Then they will just go find out that they're saying something funny on a regular basis but not on purpose. That is always hysterical. Anyone who tries to do it on purpose it just doesn’t’ work out.

Who were your comedy influences as you were coming up through the ranks?  What comedian did you look to for inspiration?

I have comedians who I really like to watch who I think are very, very funny. I think these people are funny purely from an entertainment standpoint. I think Brian Regan is funny. Jim Gaffigan. I think Bernie Mac was hysterical. Ellen DeGeneres. When I started doing comedy I actually lost my desire to watch comedy. It's the weirdest thing. A lot of comedians will stay at the club all day and all night hoping for a spot. I would always just do my spot and then leave. I never understood why I was like that. What was happening is when I first started doing comedy, I really felt that I needed to find my own voice. Had I been soaking myself in comedy and watching all these other comedians it’s easy to be influenced by what they are doing. In fact, I look at some of my friends right now who are hysterical, but you can still see some of the influence of other comedians in them. My comedy doesn’t have any of that influence at all. But now that I have my voice and I clearly understand what it is I'm supposed to do and how I’m supposed to do it, I really, really enjoy watching other comedians.

What I love about your comedy is that it is just as much about your facial gestures in selling the joke as it is telling it.  Is this a conscious decision on your part or does this just come naturally?

I think it really just comes naturally. When I'm on stage, I'm reliving whatever moments I may be talking about. So all of that comes naturally. I didn't really even notice that that was going on until I was probably eight years into it People would say the funniest part is your facial expression. I wasn’t sure because I never got to see myself onstage. But now, I'm very conscious of it.

I read a book earlier this year called The Humor Code.  It’s essentially about two guys on a global search to find what makes things funny through a series of experiments. Where do you find your comedy?

When I was a kid I used to struggle with my reading a lot, so it was really hard for me. I could sound words out phonetically. I would even struggle through middle school and high school, but then what happened is my mind would start to scramble to look at words in different ways because I was taught phonetically to look at them. However, it didn't work for me. Then, I had to look at the font size and the color in a position what's in front of us behind it, so I actually developed this ability to look at words seven different ways to determine what it was. By the time I got to high school, people didn't know I wasn't really reading. I was actually just working it out really, really fast. Now as an adult I read just fine, but I still have this ability to look at words, people and situations seven different ways almost immediately.  Because of this, I now look at life that way. I'll see something and because I have a different view on it instead of just the one I will immediately find a bunch of different ways to look at it. Then I'll pick out the funny ones with this ability that I have. It's a blessing from God. This ability I have doesn't just apply to comedy, it just happens to be the main thing that people are most attracted to right now. The biggest key is I can anticipate what the masses will be thinking.  If I can anticipate was the masses are thinking and counter that with what I’m thinking then they'll probably laugh.

Your new concert movie is called More Than Funny.  What was the inspiration for producing it and what does it mean to be “more than funny”?

About seven years ago, I was performing at a club in Los Angeles and right before I got on stage I just simply had a change in mindset about comedy. We're all about getting laughs, but I felt like instead of trying to get laughs I really felt like this was God saying I was supposed to give Him an opportunity to laugh. That may seem really strange to a lot of people but it was huge. This is because I'm not looking to take; I'm just looking for an opportunity to give. This was a revelation to me. That same night I go on stage, I have a great time, but I'm more relaxed and the show is actually better because I'm not trying to take anything from this audience. So, I leave the club that night and I go outside and people want autographs. I look across the street and I saw a homeless guy. I should note that this club is in Hermosa Beach, California. This is not a place where you normally see homeless people. At any rate, I'm thinking to myself, well, what about him? How could I give him an opportunity to laugh? I thought it would be so cool if I could do that somehow.  And three or four days later, this lady says to me after one of my shows, ‘Hey, would you consider coming to this homeless shelter I work at and do a comedy show?’ And I was thinking, “Uh, no, not at all. I wouldn't consider it. I haven't been thinking about that at all.” But I said yes. So, I go to this homeless shelter, do comedy and some of my comedian friends were like, ‘Dude, what if they don't laugh? What are you going to do?’ But here's the thing. It was so freeing because I wasn't there to get laughs from them. I was simply there to give them an opportunity to laugh. So, I go to this homeless shelter on Skid Row in Los Angeles and these people are laughing, having a great time. I started adding this to my tours.  When I perform in a big city, we try to stop at a homeless shelter, a prison, an abused children's facility, HIV facility, and we take comedy there. As I continued to do this, I felt like I was supposed to tell them one of the stories that I just found out about earlier that day from somebody in their community.  It just didn’t make sense.  How in the world could you share one of these stories in the middle of some jokes? The contrast is too great. People wouldn't be able to take it, but I felt like I should. So, I went on and shared the story and these people are not laughing. They're locked in and listening really intently. And then I can't even tell you how to segue from that story back to the jokes, but I did. It was amazing. What happened was I was willing to be a little vulnerable and share myself and share about somebody in their community. So when it came time to do this comedy special, I'm thinking I want to do the same thing. I don't want people to just laugh, but I want to inspire them with some stories and some great stuff that people in this country are doing. So we picked three stories, we took a camera crew out and captured these three stories and put them right in the middle of the jokes. This is why we call the film More Than Funny because it features these stories. I don't want to spoil it for people, but there's something to actually do at the end of this movie that anybody can do. I want people to experience this call to action. And if they happen to take action, this could just create some good news.

After people see More Than Funny, as an artist/comedian what would you like audiences to take away from the event?  What is your greatest hope for the film?

I want people to have a renewed understanding or excitement about the fact that they have something to deliver. I'm hoping people leave the theater, look around them, and say, ‘Wow, what can I do for this person next to me? What could I actually do?’ And I think if that happens, even if we can't measure it or we don't necessarily hear of any of the stories, if just two people in each theater do something I know it will actually make the world a better place. Let's try to help each other. If that happens, my goodness, I can't even imagine. I can't wait! Maybe I won't even hear any of the stories or maybe I wouldn't even know what happened, but I'm just excited about the possibilities.

Find a theater near you to view Michael Jr.’s More Than Funny: Everyone Has a Punchline live movie event this Thursday, October 18th.

Watch a trailer for Michael Jr.'s More Than Funny:

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