Michael Jr: “Pay attention to where you’re paying attention”

Pay attention to where you’re paying attention. For example, if you’re looking for the color red in a room, immediately, you’re going to start to notice red because you’re looking for it. So, if you choose to look for negative things or choose to think that the world is a bad place, you’re going to […]

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Pay attention to where you’re paying attention. For example, if you’re looking for the color red in a room, immediately, you’re going to start to notice red because you’re looking for it. So, if you choose to look for negative things or choose to think that the world is a bad place, you’re going to walk into every room and find something bad about it.

As a part of my series about how to live with Joie De Vivre, I I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Jr.

Gifted comedian, actor, podcast host, and author, Michael Jr., lives life with the punchline in mind. His laugh-out-loud stand-up shows, paired with his remarkable humility and candor, have landed him appearances on shows including The Tonight Show, The Late-Late Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, BET’s ComicView, and more. A touring comedian, Michael Jr. uses comedy to inspire audiences to find their purpose and live a life fulfilled. He believes we al l have a gift to share and encourages us to appreciate the lessons we learn throughout our journey. Out on April 13th, 2021, Michael Jr.’s debut book, FUNNY HOW LIFE WORKS, shares pivotal, often hilarious stories from his life, punctuated by self-reflections, universal truths, and earnest encouragement for readers to pick up the same threads and lessons in their own lives. Michael Jr. currently lives with his wife and five children in Dallas, Texas. For more information, please visit www.FunnyHowLifeWorksBook.comhttps://content.thriveglobal.com/media/d09239757c85346fc34f0c759aba9362

Thank you so much for doing this with us Michael! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I have an innate desire to make people comfortable. I couldn’t recognize it when I was young, but I have always tried to make people comfortable and help them in any way that I can. Even when I was a kid — if I had company over, I would get out all of my toys, spread them out and make sure that everyone had access to them, so everyone had fun. Most kids fight over toys, but I never saw anything to fight over. Once I understood that I had a sense of humor, my world changed. At first, it was just my cousin laughing. Then my cousin and his friends. Then a room full of people. Then I’m on a stage at a movie theater, and people were laughing, and now I get to do this thing called comedy for thousands of people at a time. I’ve been on The Tonight Show, where I did this for 12 million people. But my comedy is really about helping others. In my new book FUNNY HOW LIFE WORKS(April 13, 2021)I explore that it’s all about asking, “how can you go deeper than just to laugh?”

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Whether they realize it or not, most comedians are always asking themselves, “how can I get laughs?” So the story really starts when I started asking a different question, which is, “how can I give people an opportunity to laugh?” That question led me to found my own non-profit, Funny For the Forgotten, where I go to places like homeless shelters, prisons, and abused children’s facilities and give people a chance to laugh. We go to Skid Row in Los Angeles, and we take comedy there because it’s so rewarding to get a lot of people to laugh. Even more so, it’s more rewarding to make a few people who are really hurting laugh.

Because I started asking myself that new question, I’m always looking to make people think and go deeper. There was one time that we were doing an event in Sacramento. I had just finished my set, and I asked myself, “what can I give to my audience?” I transformed the question from “how can I give them an opportunity to laugh” to “what can I give them?” So as I’m doing my set, I’m always asking myself that question as people laugh. I closed out with something deep that really made my audience think. I was already in my green room, winding down the night when the security team said someone wanted to speak to me. I’d already done autographs and was getting ready to leave, but I decided to see who was out there and chat with him. I walk out, and there’s a White dude with short hair, tatted up, and looked like he’d been crying. He asked if he could chat with me for a minute. He started talking about how much stress he’s under and how much pain he’s in. He just came to the comedy show to try and get away from it all, but when I got deep, it made him think. He said it really made him think about how he needs to get his life together. Just like that, he tells me he’s a fugitive of the law, and that and he’s been running for a while now. He said my set made him consider turning himself in to the authorities, and after a few more minutes of conversation, he decided that’s what he wanted to do. He wanted me to help him turn himself in. I was blown away, but I was trying not to react like I was. I talked to him, and we prayed together, and then the security team (who were also full-time officers) came out and put cuffs on this guy. He gave me a hug (which was hard since his arms weren’t really available) and got in the back of the police car, and they drove off. I have a lot of similar stories to this one, and they all come from me just simply changing the question — “how can I give?” That’s where I find true fulfillment — from helping others.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

I talk about this extensively in my new book, but the story that comes to mind is when after one of my comedy events, a lady approached me and asked if I’d be interested in performing at a children’s birthday party. I immediately said no. I mean, what do I look like? But then she says that Will Smith, Eddie Murphy, and Michael Jordan, and his family will be there. Then, I understood what she was saying. She was telling me it would be a good opportunity for me to be in their presence. Now, before this, I’d already gotten the clarity I needed that my career path would not be the norm, but children’s birthday parties wouldn’t be the path I was taking. However, I threw that to the wind when I heard all these incredibly famous people were going to be at this party.

So, I get there, and the party is already not looking too good. The party is great for a party, but in regards to having a comedian perform during the party, it was not set up for stand-up comedy. The party was at a bowling alley with no stage. They put two end tables together, a light bulb above me that was burning my scalp, and the speaker system was going through the PA system. It was miserable for comedy. I knew that God clearly wanted me to go a different path for my career, but I was like, “no, maybe this is it?” So I promised I would do 10 minutes of comedy. And it was pretty awful. The guy who introduced me literally said, “this next guy might be funny, and we’re going to find out, I guess,” and handed me the microphone.

As I walked up to the makeshift stage, I actually rubbed shoulders with Eddie Murphy — like THE Eddie Murphy. And all I could say to him, as I noticed some mounds of embarrassment were about to come flooding my way, was “we’re both about to find out that this is not the place to do stand-up comedy.” He didn’t even know what I was talking about. He was just there to support his family and friends. I climbed up on the makeshift stage and started my set. The nice people actually tried to hear me, but with the sound going through the PA system and the kids bowling and being noisy, no one could hear me. Eventually, everyone sort of broke off, and there were about eight people left listening to me — including my wife. But it was at that moment on stage that I learned that this wasn’t how my career would grow. And if I didn’t take that different route, I wouldn’t even be doing this interview right now. I also learned that I wasn’t a clown, just to be clear about that. No more kids birthday parties for me.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’m grateful for my dad. My dad would do this thing where he managed to have serious, essential talks with me without making them feel serious. I didn’t realize what he was doing until recently, and now I do the same thing with my kids. My dad never sat me down at the dinner table and said something uncomfortable like, “look, this is how sex works,” making it awkward. He’d take me fishing, and while we were fishing and I was focused on watching fish, he’d break down a challenging topic for me and give me information and insight that I needed. It’s almost like he was doing a Mr. Miyagi thing where it was getting into my heart, and I didn’t even know until it showed up later. He’s also where I got my sense of humor from, and he’s always pushed me to follow my dreams.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently rated at #18 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low?

We have so many people comparing themselves to other people’s highlight reels. No one puts their lowlights on social media. Therefore, we assume because of what we see that that’s how it must actually be. So I really believe that if we could take a time out, like just sit down and think about two things that are amazing in your life right now, it could be a gamechanger. For example, during this interview, my niece is screaming in the background. She’s eight months old, and she’s beautiful. If I just sat down and thought about her, I would start to feel amazing immediately. But if you’re always focusing on the negative, by default, that’s where your energy will go.

That’s why I do things like write this book and put out the content that I do. My content is really transparent, and I want people to laugh. Because when you laugh, your heart is open. That leads me to my next point. People need to be very mindful of what they’re laughing at because regardless of when you laugh, your heart is open, which means a deposit can be made into your heart. So, if you’re laughing at things that are negative and hurtful, that’s no good. You’re giving that negativity direct access to your heart. But, if you decide to laugh at things that are uplifting, encouraging, and good, naturally, that’s the direction your life is going to take.

Can you share with our readers your 5 strategies to live with more Joie De Vivre? Can you please give a story or example for each?

  1. First, you need to know what Joie De Vivre is. I mean, how are you going to live with more of it if you don’t know?
  2. Pay attention to where you’re paying attention. For example, if you’re looking for the color red in a room, immediately, you’re going to start to notice red because you’re looking for it. So, if you choose to look for negative things or choose to think that the world is a bad place, you’re going to walk into every room and find something bad about it.
  3. Ask yourself, what’s the other side of this story? Whenever you see a negative story, there’s always something positive on the flipside. For instance, in Texas, there were recently many people who lost power or even their homes because of the snowstorms here. Now, it’s easy to find the negative there. But let’s do a little work to see what the positive is. So, because you don’t have power, how much more appreciative are you going to be when the power comes back on in your home? When you can just hit a switch, and the whole place lights up. Or maybe taking that one step further — the fact that you weren’t aware that we’re living in a pretty dark world right now, but when that light comes back on, you can recognize how bright the world really is.
  4. Take two minutes and 42 seconds, five days a week, to be grateful. Like literally just grateful. Just sit back and write it down for that short period of time. You’ll be shocked at the difference it makes. Even if some people don’t feel like they have anything to be grateful for, I have a question for you. Do you have all your fingers? There’s something.
  5. Find a nice Bible verse or quote — whatever you’re into, and meditate on it. Say it over and over again. Read it backward and forwards and one word at a time. Let it sink into your heart.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that most inspired you to live with a thirst for life?

The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict by The Arbinger Institute. It’s a powerful, powerful book. I think it’s something that everyone needs to be reading in schools. It teaches you how to find peace and recognize when you’re at war with someone. I also love The Blessed Life: Unlocking the Rewards of Generous Living by Robert Morris.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that relates to having a Joie De Vivre? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Life will present you with people and circumstances to reveal where you are not free.” There are areas in life where we’re just not free. Maybe something happened to us as a kid, or maybe you were in a bad relationship. Maybe in school, you got beat up by a dude with a checkered shirt on. Now every time you meet someone with a checkered shirt, you have a bad attitude and don’t even realize why. Those reactions are revealing where you’re not free. For example, let’s say you’re married and have problems with your spouse because there’s just something you don’t like about him or her. Many people will think, “okay, well, this must be the wrong marriage.” So you move on and go ahead and marry someone else. But you’re going to have the same issue because it’s not about them — it’s about you. It’s about becoming better and finding freedom in that area of your life so you can have a successful partnership. So when you don’t like something about someone, don’t look outside; look inside. That’s where the real healing is.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I measure my success by how many people I can help so they can go on to help people. Right now, I’m working with two people — one’s a professor at Harvard, and the other is at Oxford. We’re actually trying to figure out how to measure fulfillment. Ultimately, I want to help people so they can help people. That’s why I started my nonprofit — we ideally want people giving from the heart, not the hip. Meaning, what’s your skill? Your talent? How can you leverage it to help someone else?

I’ve leveraged my success in comedy to bring more good into the world. People show up at a comedy show because they want a laugh. But often, the real reason they’re there is that they probably need something else. Laughter can seemingly fill a void, but only for a moment. I want to see how else I can help them or show them what void needs to be filled.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

In my new book, FUNNY HOW LIFE WORKS, I use personal stories infused with humor and wisdom to extract impactful life lessons. I walk readers through some of my most career-defining moments, including being noticed by comedian George Wallace and getting my big break in comedy to emphasize the importance of living life with the punchline in mind. I hope people will laugh when they read this book and go deeper into the stories and insights. I believe that many people will start to look at their own circumstances a little differently. I think that because that’s what happens with comedy. So I hope that this content will stick in a big way to cause people to take action.

In the book, I tell a story about a school teacher who came to one of my comedy shows. She had -137 dollars in her bank account — someone had given her a ticket to the show. And as a result of something I said on stage, she ended up adopting two kids from her community. It’s a crazy story, and you’re going to have to buy the book to hear it all! But she was moved by what I said in the midst of the jokes at the show. My desire is that people will read the book and be moved by the stories to do good in their lives. I mean, you don’t need to adopt a bunch of kids — whatever your calling is. At the risk of sounding like a Nike commercial, just do it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

It would be a punchline movement. And what I mean by that is this — the way that comedy works is that there’s a setup when there’s about to be a punchline. A punchline occurs when you change that direction in a way that the audience isn’t expecting. So when they catch onto it, they received the punchline. Results are revelation, fulfillment, and joy. Well, life is the same way, isn’t it? There’s a setup. Your personal setup is all you’ve received in life — you’re married, you’ve got a house, you’ve got a car, you’ve got this degree. But if you don’t know your punchline, you’ll feel like something is missing. And then you’ll think you need more setup. Things like “if I could just get a bigger house,” or “if my marriage was right.” Your punchline is about serving other people. So I’d create this punchline movement where people were seeking opportunities regularly to deliver their punchline.

And it doesn’t have to be something amazing or super complex. You could be sitting at the department of motor vehicles, and there’s a three-hour wait, and you’ve been there for two hours. And a pregnant mom comes in with two other kids who are whining, and you switch tickets with her. That’s the punchline. Or just letting the person in on traffic when nobody else would — or asking your coworker how they’re doing — how they’re really doing. Adding the word really on its back is delivering a punchline because the entire audience is moving in one direction. But you decided to take a pause, take a beat and actually find out how that person truly, really is doing and make eye contact with them; that’s delivering a punch line.

I can continuously deliver my punchline no matter what — I don’t have to be on stage. I can be at a hotel talking to the lady behind the counter. I can make her laugh, and I can ask her a deep question. And every time they answer the question, thoughtfully, answer the question, and I leave them with something to think about even more. So eventually, you get to the point where you can deliver your punch line, wherever you’re at, but it starts just somewhere.

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