Punchline and Purpose
About the Guest
- Find resources from this podcast at https://shop.familylife.com/Products.aspx?categoryid=130.
- Visit Michael Jr's website for a free copy of his comedy special https://go.michaeljr.com/free-chapter1622921985138
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God designed laughter to open our hearts. Acclaimed comedian Micheal Jr. teaches us there’s always a punchline –something God is teaching us through our experiences.
Punchline and Purpose
Dave: Alright, honey, I have a question for you.
Dave: What do you think is the thing I love the most about you?
Dave: We’re not talking physical here, we’re just talking—
Ann: —that I laugh a lot.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: I love your laughter; it just brings joy to the house. You have the greatest laugh!
Ann: Well, it’s kind of irritating, so I’m glad that you like it.
Dave: No, it’s good.
Ann: Why is that important to you?
Dave: Because we’re going to talk to a guy that brings the funny/that brings laughter.
Dave: I mean, he is one of my/he is my favorite—
Ann: Mine too.
Dave: —and Ann’s favorite—comedian in all the world, Michael Jr. It is a joy to have you on the show. Many people know you’re, not only a comedian, but you have purpose behind your comedy. I mean, you’ve been on the Tonight show, the Late Late show, Jimmy Kimmel—you’ve been everywhere—you’re in Selfie Dad, the movie; More Than Funny, the movie; War Room—you were the star of War Room—yes, you were the star of War Room.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Michael: I love FamilyLife today, and tomorrow, and yesterday. [Laughter] FamilyLife is awesome! You guys are great.
Were you having a private moment right before you introduced me?—[sweet talking] “You know what I like most about you, honey?” I’m like, “Wait, what’s going on? Should I be in on this?” [Laughter]
Dave: I didn’t know if she was going to answer the right thing. I didn’t know you were going to say, “funny”!
Ann: Oh, you say that a lot.
Dave: Well, I do.
You know, it’s interesting—Michael, you probably don’t even know this—the first time we heard you was in Dallas. We were going to speak at the PAO NFL conference, and they introduced you to start the whole conference off.
Dave: I remember—I’m not kidding—I turned to Ann and I’m like, “They’re going to start this thing with a comedian? [Laughter] Are they crazy?! This is high-end; you have to be good.” Let me tell you, dude—do you remember it?—you killed it.
Michael: I do remember that.
Ann: It was a genius move; because when you were done, we said, “It just opened the room,”—all the fear, all the defenses, all of the arms—it became a room of peace and joy. You created that atmosphere to allow speakers to come up and really say what God wanted them to say, so thanks for doing that.
Michael: Aw, man, you guys are awesome. Your words are so kind.
Yes, comedy just has a way of opening people’s hearts in such a way that a deposit can be made. That’s why I always tell people it’s very important that they watch what they’re laughing at; because when you’re laughing, your heart is open. You need to be careful what information is around that as well.
Ann: Wow, that’s deep right there.
Dave: Yes; well, let’s talk about that; because you are an expert at funny. You wrote a book called Funny How Life Works. You’ve done stand-up; you’ve done movies; you have a podcast; why a book? What were you hoping to accomplish?
Michael: Yes, I was thinking the same thing. I didn’t want to write a book; I don’t even read books! [Laughter] Why would I… But I actually do read probably about 14 books a year.
I felt like there are a lot of people, who like this medium, who want to be able to sit back, and curl up, and enjoy some really great stories that are funny and heartfelt. And then, also, there are some call to action with each one—we don’t just laugh; we don’t just learn—but I feel like there are some pretty strong takeaways in this book too. The main reason I wanted to do it was really out of obedience, and then the second reason is so I can get paid. [Laughter] It’s comedy, people; I’m not getting paid—well, we’ll see. [Laughter]
Ann: You know, when I was reading your book—because it’s all stories that have occurred/that have happened in your life—
Dave: It’s like watching and listening to you on stage; it really is.
Ann: Okay—but I thought, “You know what this is?—it’s like the parables, because there’s great truth—
Dave: Wait, wait; did you just compare Michael Jr. to Jesus?
Ann: Well, the parables; yes!—
Dave: She’s never done that with me, Michael, ever.
Ann: —there’s deep truth in there. But it’s really good—that’s why it’s super entertaining—but the spiritual depth and truth have been really inspiring to us.
Dave: You did such a good job of telling the story and then driving home a point, all the way from the opening chapter, “Sixty Cents and an Orange.”
Ann: Let’s talk about that.
Dave: Yes, go ahead; tell us that one.
Ann: Fascinating story; take us through that. What happened and how old were you?
Michael: I grew up in this place called Michigan. My daddy’s one of those dads, who’s not just going to give you some money. I remember going over to a friend’s house once, and his mom/she gave him $5 and then gave me $5; and I was blown away by this. I must have sat there for probably 55 seconds, just looking at that money in my hand; because I didn’t understand what was supposed to happen next. Nobody had ever just given me money before.
I grew up in Grand Rapids. Everybody had a bike, but my bike was this Schwuffy; it was half Schwinn/half Huffy—it was just some stuff I put together—it was raggedy. My cousin had a Predator. I don’t know if you guys remember the BMX Predator.
Dave: Oh, yes.
Michael: It was the greatest bike ever. [Laughter] So my cousin shows up with a Predator, and his mom just bought it.
So anyway, the story is really about my dad saying to me—I said to him, “Will you buy me a Predator?”—my dad, as always, was like, “Buy you a Predator? What? Huh?” Even today, if I said to my dad, “Hey, could I have $100?” he would say, “Yes! Have $100 for me, too! Where are we going to get it from?” [Laughter] He just does not hand out money.
I wanted this bike, and I finally got the courage to ask my dad for this bike. Instead of saying, “No,” he actually said, “If you earn half the money, I’ll earn the other half of the money,” which blew me away. This was an opportunity. Keep in mind, I’m nine years old at this point.
Michael: So I go out, and I start shoveling snow. The first place I go to is my neighbor, and she was old. I mention in the book how she used to tell us stories/Bible stories—and it would include phrases like, “And then I said to Jesus…”—[Laughter]—she was crazy old. I shoveled her snow, and I’m working hard. I’m all proud, and I walk up to her door; and she pays me 60 cents and an orange. [Laughter] I was dumbfounded: 60 cents and an orange?
Ann: Let me just say this: Michigan winters are rough; we’re not talking probably like a little half inch of snow.
Michael: Not even a little bit; it was probably like nine inches of fresh snow, with some of that old snow and ice under that snow! I’m nine years old; I’m sweating/I have on my snow suit; I shovel this thing out. I remember her patting me on my head, too, like, “There you go, young man.” I’m like, “What?!” I didn’t know what to do. In fact, what I didn’t mention in the book is—when I left her, I kicked all that snow back onto her driveway—[Laughter]—I kicked all that snow back, because she only gave me 60 cents.
Then, later that day, after I raised $91 in one day—I’m nine years old—I learned so much through this story.
Ann: Well, wait. Go back—and tell your dad what had happened—because you were so discouraged at the 60 cents and the orange.
Dave: Yes, what your dad told you was a great lesson; wasn’t it?
Michael: Yes; he told me: “First of all, learn how to negotiate the right prices.” And then he inspired me to go out and get the rest of the money; he told me not to stop there.
But there were so many lessons that didn’t make any sense. But I went back out, and I actually kept shoveling snow even more. What I didn’t mention in the book—this is the thing I want you to catch—I ended up raising $91. You guys know my dad offered—“Okay, you have $91; that’s close enough,”—he says, “We’re going to go get the bike.” I was blown away. I get a BMX Predator; that’s what he said to me!
Then, as soon as he said that to me, I was like, “No, I’m not spending all my money on no bike!”—that’s the first thing I said—“Why would I spend all this money on a bike?” Before, money was just whatever; but when I had to go out and work for it the way I did, I learned so much from it. I, literally, never got that bike; instead, I fixed up my old Schwuffy, and then I was cool.
The next day, I went back to my neighbor’s house again—it had snowed again—and I re-shoveled her snow. I didn’t even knock on her door—I don’t know; I just learned something in that moment, even at nine years old, man. It was pretty cool; yes.
Ann: Did that influence you, as a dad, now? Do you just give your kids money/just throw it at them?—or do you make them earn it?
Michael: No, my kids have always had to earn their money. The one thing I did learn, and even tweak, is I used to teach my kids: “Any money you get, you have to earn it,” when they’re young. But then I changed it to: “Hey, make sure, when you get some money, you figure out a way to make the money work for you.” That little add-on was a pretty significant shift that I had to make in a really big way.
One story that you guys won’t remember from the book—because it’s not even in the book—
Ann: Oh, a little bonus!
Michael: First of all, let me just say my daddy’s amazing—awesome dad—I love, love, love my dad. I think I got the greatest dad in the world.
Now, let me tell you a story. My dad used to cut my hair when I was a kid. I feel like I should say this, because I think some of your listeners might be struggling with a relationship with their dad—maybe they’re struggling with it; they don’t understand—whatever. I want to tell the listeners: “This is going to be hard to hear at first, but you have to hear me out. Your dad actually did an amazing job.” I know/I know, some of you are wanting to tune off right now. So let me tell you this story.
My dad used to cut my hair; and when he cut my hair, he would yell at me—I’m talking about not just kind of yell—he would yell really, really, really loud. My dad is cutting my hair and, especially this little knot behind the ear, that stuff would hurt a lot; and I would flinch. When I would flinch, he would yell at me even louder. I remember crying, because he was yelling at me so much. I grew up with low self-esteem, because my dad would always yell every time he cut my hair.
Then, I spoke to my uncle one day. My dad’s dad used to also cut his hair, but my dad’s dad used to drink a lot and was very, very mean. My uncle tells me the story about how he walked in the house one day. My dad, probably 11 years old, was sitting there, getting his hair cut while his drunk father would cut his hair. If he moved, he would take the clippers and hit him upside the head with the clippers. He [uncle] said he walked in; and my dad was sitting there, with tears and blood running down his face, having to sit still while his drunk dad cut his hair.
The reason I say I have an amazing dad—that is just one of many stories, where my dad had taken some things that had happened in the past, and said, “No, I’m not going to allow this to happen to my son,”—all he did was raise his voice. He could have allowed all of that to travel down, generationally; but instead, my dad is so strong that all he did was raise his voice. Now, the load for me, with my son, I don’t raise my voice at all when I cut his hair! It’s 100 percent fun; we laugh and giggle when I cut my son’s hair. What is he going to look like when he cuts his son’s hair?
I suppose/I mean, just focusing on the fact that he [Michael’s dad] raised his voice—I just did a little bit of math on what he had gone through; found the answer to it—and I have so much love and respect for the man my dad is as a result.
Maybe some people listening right now, you’re probably only focusing on what happened to you; but did you ever do the math on what may have taken place to them?
Ann: That’s really good, because there’s always a story behind the story.
Ann: Your dad was yelling, but there’s something behind that. I think to find out our parents’ history, and what they’ve been through, and why they respond the way that they have is really big. A lot of times, we just never do that; because we’re angry or resentful. That’s big, and it’s important.
Dave: You know, I wasn’t a kid that really read the Bible, growing up. I was dragged to church by my mom/single mom—divorced dad—didn’t know my dad really that well. I come to Christ, going into my junior year in college. It was one of the first times I started reading the Bible.
I had no idea—because I always said, “I’m never going to be like my dad,”—he drank too much, had women, divorced my mom. “I’m never going to become like my dad.” I’m reading the Bible, brand-new Christian, reading the Ten Commandments in Exodus, Chapter 20. I never knew this was in the Bible—it said, “The sins of the father will visit down through the third and fourth generation,”—I remember reading that one day in my dorm room and thinking, “I am becoming just like my father!
Dave: “This is happening to me! I’ve made a vow I’m not going to be like my dad; and yet, I’m going to parties; I’m drinking; I’m picking up women. I’ve now given my life to Christ, and I want to stop that [behavior].”
It hit me right then and there—I wasn’t going to be married for years yet—but I remember thinking, “If I don’t intentionally stop this pattern, the sins of my dad are going to become my sins. Even though I don’t want to do it, I’m going to do it, unless I intentionally say, ‘I’m not going to do it,’”—just like your dad said, “I am not going to do what my dad did.” He started a legacy that, now, you’re continuing in a beautiful way.
I remember reading that verse to my nine-year-old son, who’s now 34 and married. I remember reading it to CJ, and saying, “CJ, what do you think of this verse?”—you know, he’s nine years old—“The sins of your father…” He just looks at me; and all he said was, “Dad, don’t sin.” [Laughter] He got it! Man, you just told this great story.
I have to get to—the theme of your book keeps coming up over and over—and it starts in this very first story. At the end of that story about the 60 cents and an orange, you write these words/you say, “If you have a mindset that is open to learn from your experiences, the obstacles of today can become the opportunities of tomorrow.”
Dave: As I’ve heard you on stage, and in your book, you keep talking about your punchline and your setbacks being your setup. Go ahead—tell us what that all means—because you began it in Chapter 1, and it’s a theme all throughout.
Michael: It’s funny how life works—in fact, that’s why we named the book Funny How Life Works—because there’s funny, and we explain how life works; but it really is funny how life works too.
Even in comedy, there’s always a setup—not just in stand-up comedy, but anytime you laugh—there’s a formula that takes place. There’s a setup and then there’s a punchline. The setup is when a comedian will cause the audience to think in the same direction, but the punchline occurs when he changes direction in a way they’re not expecting. When the audience catches onto this change, they receive the punchline; and the results are revelation, fulfillment, and joy; but it’s expressed through laughter.
Well, life is the same way; there’s a setup, and there’s a punchline. Your setup is what you have received—the fact that you got a car; you’re married; you have this disability—but your punchline is about what you’re called to deliver. If you know your setup, but you don’t know your punchline, you’ll feel like something’s missing. You’ll think what you need to fill that void is more setup: “If I could just get this…”; “If I could just get married,” “If I could just open this business…” What you really need to know is: “What is your punchline?”
Just like me, as I mention in the book, I used to struggle with my reading. Even your setbacks in life are part of your setup, so you can deliver the punchline that you’re called to deliver. What happens more times than not is people really actually believe, once they get some more setup, that’s when they’ll be happy; but it’s really about asking the question: “What can I deliver?”
Everyone has a question that’s always running in the back of their mind. That question either has to do with getting or receiving. You have to make a decision: “What question are you going to ask when you walk into a room? Are you going to be asking, ‘What can I give?’ or are you going to be asking, ‘What can I get?’” That is really the reason I wrote the book; I don’t even like writing! Once I sat down and actually put pen to paper—it only took me four years, [Laughter] but I did it out of obedience; I felt like I should—and now, I’m super happy with the results.
Ann: A great example of that would be when you did a show; and a woman came up to you and said, “I get it now.”
Michael: Oh, yes.
Ann: “I get it now.” Tell that story!
Michael: That’s one of my favorite stories.
Ann: Me too!
Michael: I had a comedian friend of mine, who read the book early, called me up; and she could not make it through Chapter 22, because that’s the one you’re talking about.
Michael: She said she made four attempts to get through that chapter, and she could not do it. And then we talked on the phone—and she was like, “I’m going to try tomorrow,”—she’s couldn’t get through it.
Here’s what happened. I’m doing my event; I think I’m in Peoria, Illinois, hometown of Richard Pryor, as a matter of fact—I don’t know why—that’s random information. Anyway, I’m on stage; and I’m doing my comedy. I’m asking a different question; instead of asking, “What can I get?”—I’m on stage, asking, “What can I give?”—not audibly; but in between the jokes, while people are laughing, that’s the question I ask sometimes.
I used to only ask, “How can I get more laughs?”; but now I’m saying, “What can I give to this audience?” I feel like I’m supposed to say something a little extra. I explain to them how life is: that there’s a setup; there’s a punchline—I said something a little extra—went on to the next joke. We started having fun; it was great.
Then, at the end of the show, we have an autograph line normally. This lady walks up to me; she’s in the autograph line, and she says, “I get it now”; and then she walks off. I was like, “You didn’t get anything,”—I have books and CDs—“You didn’t get anything. What are you talking about?” Then she just walks off; I was like, “Oh, whatever.”
Then I’m back in Peoria, Illinois, a year-and-a-half later. She says, “Do you remember me?” Weirdly enough, I kind of did remember her; because it was so weird the way she approached me last time. She said, “Well, I came to your event last year/a year-and-a-half ago. I came because”—she said she’s a school teacher, and her bank account was minus $130; she was negative in her bank account. Somebody gave her the ticket to my comedy show, because they knew she had so much pressure she was under; they just wanted her to laugh. She comes to the show and she said, “I really laughed; I had a great time. But then you started saying some things that really penetrated me, and I wasn’t expecting that at a comedy show.”
That’s just me, listening between the gaps—listen, all the listeners right now, you have gaps in your life—what question are you asking in between the gaps?
I said whatever I said to her; and then she said, “When you said what you said, I knew what I had to do.” She explained to me that earlier that day—she’s a schoolteacher—her favorite student had approached her and said, “Hey, I just want you to know I’m not going to be coming back to school anymore.” See, her mom was going to prison; she never met her dad before, didn’t have any other family; and she did not want to end up in a foster care system. She said she was just going to work it out.
Well, this teacher, after going to my show, realized that she had a setup, a punchline—something to deliver, part of the message—she said, “I went on ahead and I called that student up. I said, ‘Listen, I don’t know what this looks like, but why don’t you come stay with me for a little while?—and we can just figure this thing out together.’”
She said she takes the student home; and then over the weekend, they start unpacking her clothes; because they’re just going to figure this thing out together. She let her move in with her. While she’s unpacking her clothes, she found a suicide note dated for that weekend that she’d contacted her. Then she says to me—she’s looking at me, telling me this, and I’m trying to hold it together—I have tears welling up. She says to me, “Since then, I’ve adopted that student; she’s my daughter now. Would you like to meet her and her sister? I adopted them both.”
I couldn’t even turn my head to look at them without losing it! What a deal! All I did was say whatever I felt like I was supposed to say in that moment, after asking the question, “What can I give?” As a result of it, that story blesses me so, so much. It just really does.
Ann: It’s so possible that that girl wouldn’t be here today had this woman not ended up at your show! I mean, that just shows God. If we just open our ears and listen: “God, what do You want? What do You have? What’s the punchline? What’s my part?” And “listening in the gaps,”—I love that.
Dave: You know, as I look over at Ann right now, she has a tear in her eye. I’m thinking everyone listening has a tear in their eye right now, because—and you know this, and you said it better than anybody in your book, Michael Jr.—is we were made for purpose. That’s why God created us; we have a purpose in us.
When we hear a story like that/like, “Wow, look at how God used you,” and even comedy! That’s one of the things I love about you—is you’re not just a funny guy, getting up there, trying to make money and make people laugh—you’re like, “No, there’s something bigger. There’s a purpose bigger than just the funny.” That story highlights/that saved somebody’s life.
Ann: And there’s a purpose bigger than just teaching kids; you know?
Dave: Yes, exactly. Even for the listener listening, it’s like: “What’s your purpose? What has God made you to do?” As you say, it probably has something to do with the setbacks in your life—the obstacles/the hard things in your life—the adversity is probably part of what God allowed you to go through so that He can use that to put you on your purpose.
Bob: Conversations, like the one we’ve heard today with Dave and Ann Wilson and Michael Jr., always remind me of Ephesians, Chapter 2, verse 10, which tells us that: “We are God’s workmanship; we are created in Christ for good works that He prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Do we understand God has a punchline for us, and do we understand how our setup affects that punchline?
As Michael Jr. said, he’s written a book that deals with this subject. The book is called Funny How Life Works, and it’s a book that we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, to find out more about Michael’s book. You can order it from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number. Again, Michael’s book is called Funny How Life Works. Order it from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call to order: 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
I think many of you already know about the new book that Dave and Ann Wilson have just completed, a book called No Perfect Parents. It’s a great guide for all of us, who are in the process of raising our children—a great reminder that there are no perfect parents—but there are things we can do to point our kids in the right direction, as parents.
We are making Dave and Ann’s book available this week, as a thank-you gift, to those of you who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife—help us reach more people, more often, through this daily podcast and radio program—FamilyLife Today is being heard by hundreds of thousands of people every day, people who are getting practical biblical help and hope for their marriages and for their families; and you make that possible every time you donate.
If you’d like to help support the ongoing work of this ministry, and get a copy of Dave and Ann Wilson’s new book, No Perfect Parents—either for yourself or to give to someone you know—go to FamilyLifeToday.com; make a donation to support the ministry; and ask for your copy of Dave and Ann’s new book. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You can also donate by phone; just call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear from Michael Jr. about how he, as a comedian, deals with hecklers; because comedians have to figure out how to do that, and how that applies to the obstacles we face in living lives on purpose. I hope you can tune in for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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