CHICAGO (Christian Examiner) – If every comedian had the same standard Michael Jr. has, the industry would be a lot more family-friendly – and probably funnier, too.
Michael Jr., currently on an eight-city gig as part of his "Bringin' The Funny.... Stand Up & Be Encouraged" tour, has one standard: to put on a show that is clean enough for his entire family to watch.
"I made a deal with my kids: Anything that I say on stage, I want you to be able to repeat it," he told the Christian Examiner.
So far, it has served him well. Michael Jr., a Christian, has appeared on The Tonight Show, Comedy Central, Oprah, The Late Late Show, BET's ComicView and Jimmy Kimmel Live. He also is a staple for faith-based audiences and had a part in the 2015 hit movie War Room.
Michael Jr. says his career changed when he grew comfortable on stage and made the transition from someone who was "trying to get laughs from people" to someone who was "going up there to give them an opportunity to laugh." Such a perspective has a spiritual angle to it: Michael Jr. views comedy as his gift. It's also the reason he is comfortable performing at homeless shelters and in prisons.
"I literally am not there to get laughs," he said. "I'm there to give them an opportunity to laugh. If they want to take the opportunity, great, but if they don't, I still was obedient. I still did what I was called to do. ... [But] I've never been at a homeless shelter, I've never been at a prison, where they did not laugh."
The Christian Examiner spoke with Michael Jr. about the state of comedy in America. Following is a transcript, edited for clarity:
Christian Examiner: Comedy, in America, often gets branded as risqué or adult-oriented. At what point in your life did you decide you wanted to do a cleaner form of comedy?
Michael Jr.: When I started doing standup. I really, really enjoy being around my family, and I remember thinking one time: I want my kids to be able to come see me perform. I made a deal with my kids: Anything that I say on stage, I want you to be able to repeat it. And I remember being in a club in Los Angeles performing, and there were some really well-known, big-time comedians. I brought my kids down to the club with me, and we were in the green room. And one of the big-time performers – who you would know if I said his name – said, "Man, my kids have no idea what I do. I don't even know at what point I'm going to explain it to them, because I don't know how to show them what I do." I'm just really blessed that I don't have to have that experience. I'm the same person at home. Then when I became a Christian, it just made more sense.
Christian Examiner: So you were doing clean comedy before you were a Christian?
Michael Jr.: Yes, absolutely. Before I was funny just to be funny, and now I'm funny for a reason.
Christian Examiner:Why do think so much of the comedy nowadays is driven by low-brow humor and sexually oriented humor?
Michael Jr.: I was just talking to a comedian friend of mine about this. Here's what happens on stage: A lot of times a comedian does a joke and he wants to be clean. If the first joke doesn't work and the second joke doesn't work and they start to sweat, then they throw out a four-letter word. They think they're getting laughs, but all they're getting is a reaction. But what's amazing is something similar is true with Christian comedians. They don't go to cursing; they go the opposite way. If they do a joke and it doesn't work, then they will start to flow into their testimony. It's almost a diversion: You divert to something else that you know they can identify with. The value is in standing up there and knowing who you are and presenting what you have, and just trusting that the funny will be there. If it's not, then that means you're supposed to be a doctor with a good sense of humor.
Christian Examiner: So is it harder to come up with something that is appropriate for all ages, or is it harder to come up with the stuff you might see on HBO?
Michael Jr.: From what I hear it's harder to come up with the clean stuff. But here's the thing: All of those guys who are in comedy clubs doing really, really dirty comedy, when it comes time to do The Tonight Show – which everyone wants to do – they then have to clean up their act. And what they find out a lot of times is there's not much there [left over], because you have to pull out the verbiage. It doesn't get as big a reaction from the audience.
Following are the remaining dates on the tour:
Sept. 11 -- Dayton, Ohio
Sept. 18 -- Grand Rapids, Mich.
Sept. 25 -- Flowood, Miss.
Oct. 2 -- Peoria, Ariz.
Oct. 9 -- Visalia, Calif.
Oct. 16 -- Harleysville, Pa.
Nov. 20 -- Redford, Mich.