FIRST-PERSON: Christian comedian does more than tell jokes
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)--"Years ago in a crowded Grand Rapids, Michigan movie theater, the projector malfunctioned," the promotional material reads. "The house lights came on, and acting on a dare, a young Black comedian who simply goes by the name Michael Jr. jumped in front of the restless crowd and took center stage. When the theater manager tried to usher him out, the audience demanded he stay ... and Michael Jr. discovered his gift."
I first became aware of Michael Jr. by viewing "Thou Shalt Laugh 4," the most recent in a series of stand-up comedy DVDs featuring Christian performers. Michael Jr. immediately stood out because beneath his amusing and sly observations, I sensed a man who was at peace and truly cared for those in spiritual need. Later, discovered his passion is well documented in the upcoming film "The Road Less Traveled." Expected to be released in the spring of 2010, the documentary spotlights the comedian's work with those struggling to find themselves as they deal with life on skid row, and those trying to rediscover themselves while serving in reformatories and penitentiaries.
The comedian, like any missionary, has chosen a difficult field. While most stand-ups work "blue" and most audiences have come to expect crude or profane material from comics, Michael understands that he has a responsibility to his listeners. He calls it comedy accountability.
"If I'm in a club, my material has to be clean enough to work in a church," he said. "If I'm in a pulpit, it has to be funny enough to work in a club."
Recently I asked Michael a few questions concerning his career choice and about his deep desire to serve Christ.
BOATWRIGHT: When did you make a decision to follow Christ and what were the circumstances that led up to your decision?
MICHAEL JR.: I was in New York City doing comedy. I had just done two fantastic shows. My manager asked me if I'd go to church with him and I was like, "Uh, no ... I just got two standing ovations, why do I need to go to church?" I don't know why exactly, but I went anyway. The pastor was onstage that morning, and he spoke God's word clearly -- everything he said made sense to me. There was an altar call that morning, and even though I wanted to do it, I knew I wasn't ready yet. I wanted to understand more. So I went home and started reading the Bible. Every Sunday I went to church and I just kept reading through the Bible until I got to the very end. The next Sunday I went to church, I was so ready to make that commitment, I walked up to the altar during the announcements. I was like, "Is Jesus here now, do I have to wait 'til the end?"
BOATWRIGHT: You have to be on the road a lot, which can sometimes cause loneliness. How do you and your wife deal with the separation and the temptation that can come while on tour?
MICHAEL JR.: Actually I don't struggle with this. I'm hardly ever gone for extended periods of time. In fact, I'm usually only gone one or two days. We also try to stay in constant contact with each other; we pray together on the phone. Also, whenever possible I bring one of my kids with me on the road. The thing is, I am blessed with amazing kids and an amazing wife. For many years I have made my priorities in this order: 1. God 2. Family 3. Business. And that's where it's at. I do have friends who have a hard time on the road. When I talk to them and hear about their struggles, I suggest that they make a commitment to themselves that when they go into their hotel room they find a verse in the Bible and then pray it for themselves and keep it in their minds the whole time they are gone from home.
BOATWRIGHT: There are a great many ministries. What touched your heart for those incarcerated?
MICHAEL JR.: I had a change of mindset. Most comedians think, "I want to get laughter from these people." That was my mindset, too. But then I thought, "I want to give them the opportunity to laugh; I want to give them something not take something from them." Then I found myself wondering, "Who needs to laugh?" And it was the people on the streets and in prisons who came to mind.
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective and is the author of "Movies: The Good, The Bad, and the Really, Really Bad." To learn more about his work, visit moviereporter.com.