Michael Jr.: Laughter is the tangible evidence in hope. Like no matter where a person is, if they could just laugh, you know that there’s hope, but more importantly, they know it too. And from that position, I can now deposit some words of encouragement and maybe even some tactical plans on what they can do to get to and stay in a better place.
Grace That Is Greater Than All We Do: Michael Jr. and Jordan Matthews – Episode #243
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. As we look to whether we’re making a difference with our lives or in the lives of those around us, we can tend to measure ourselves based on our performance, whether we are reaching for accolades in our careers or comparing ourselves with others on social media. In Ephesians we are told: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves.” No matter what we achieve, or don’t achieve, God’s grace is given to us all the same, and at the end of the day, our performance can only get us so far. Our guests today spend a lot of time “performing” for others—one on a stage and the other on the football field―we’re talking to comedian Michael Jr. and NFL player Jordan Matthews.
Known as one of today’s most gifted comedians, Michael Jr. believes that laughter can bring understanding, and he takes being funny very seriously. Though he’s had the opportunity to perform on the same stages as legends like Jerry Seinfeld, George Wallace, Chris Rock, and others, he now tours the country using comedy to inspire audiences to activate their purpose and live a life fulfilled. Michael’s mission is to make laughter commonplace in uncommon places such as homeless shelters and prisons. He shares how he got his start and why he believes encouragement in the form of laughter is life-changing.
Michael Jr.: I am Michael Jr., and I actually get to use comedy to inspire people to walk in purpose.
Answering the Call Toward Comedy
So I’m eighteen-years old and everybody is thinking about what you’re going to do after high school. And they had to explain—one guy had this full ride scholarship, this other guy was going to art school, and somebody is going into the service or something. And people asked me what I was doing after school, I was like, “I’m probably going to go make a sandwich or something.” So, I didn’t have like a plan plan.
We went to the movies after graduation. I made a bunch of friends, just went to the movies and we’re at this movie theater, and in the middle of the movie, the screen goes blank, like literally just goes blank. And my friend, a German exchange student, he says to me, “I dare you to go tell a joke.” That’s what he said, that’s my best German accent. Anyway, so he’s like, “I dare you to go tell a joke.” And at the time, you dare me to do something, I’m going to do it. I’m like eighteen years old. So the only joke I knew at the time that I could just tell people was a dirty joke. But me and another friend who also was in attendance had this deal that we wouldn’t curse or use any sort of certain language. If we did, he could hit me in the chest as hard as he wanted to in that deal we made at age fourteen. And he was in the audience. And I’m like, “Yo, I don’t want to get hit in the chest. I’m not trying to start MMA.” So on my way down to tell this joke is actually a stage in front of the screen, and it went blank and they turned the house lights on. On my way down there, I had to rewrite this joke in my head. I’m like, Okay, I got to remove this stuff and take this out and change these words. And I’m doing all of this math in my head.
So I go down there and I present this joke and this whole audience falls out laughing and I feel a high for the first time ever in my life. I’ve never done drugs and alcohol before. Well, I have had some Nyquil once. That stuff is bananas.Then the audience wanted more comedy, but I don’t have any more. So I go sit myself down because I know when to get out. And they’re all applauding and they’re excited, and then security comes looking, comes running down and looking for me. Where’s that kid at? Where’s he at? And they’re going to kick me out.
And this lady stands up. I never met her before. I don’t know this lady. She stands up and says, “If you kick that young man out, I want my money back.” I don’t even know this lady. And then there’s these bikers with long hair and tattoos [that say] “If you kick him out, we want our money back.” It was amazing. All these people who I never even knew before gave me all this love because I gave them a part of me.
“All these people I never even knew before gave me all this love because I gave them a part of me.” – Michael Jr.
Now, in retrospect, I can clearly see that was really like God giving me a glimpse of what He called me to do. But I used to just think it was me getting a glimpse of making people laugh. But the glimpse I really got was me using comedy to bring people together for something bigger than themselves, which is what I do now.
Michael’s Big Break with George Wallace & Jerry Seinfeld
I moved to New York City from Michigan and on New Year’s Eve of 2000, it was about to turn to 2001, and I remember doing a show at Mark Rutledge’s comedy castle in Detroit, and my whole car was packed up with all my belongings. Everything I owned in life was inside of my 1997 Chevy Lumina, and I remember it was 11:43. It’s like sixteen, seventeen minutes before the new year. I got off stage, probably got a standing ovation because that sounds like a better story. And then I got in my car, started it up and headed to New York City and drove through the night till I got to New York City. And then I thought I was really going there—because in New York, like literally, I know Frank Sinatra said it, but if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. But I was like, I just want to find out if I’m funny, if I can handle these stages.
A comedian named George Wallace came into the club one night and he saw my show and he was like, “Man, you’re funny and you’re clean.” He said, “Why don’t you curse?” And I was like, “I don’t know man, what if my grandmother walked in or something?” But the truth was I didn’t curse because it kind of stuck, that deal me and my friend made when I was fourteen years old.
So I just didn’t have that part of my show. And he liked the show so much. He said, “You know what, you’re funny. Why don’t you do a show with me and my best friend a couple of nights? I’d like to have you.” And listen, I was broke. It was only like three weeks—I was probably there for about a month before I couldn’t afford my apartment anymore. But here’s the issue with doing a show with him—he said to me, “Would you like to do a show with me and my best friend?” I didn’t know who his best friend was. And then I find out his best friend is Jerry Seinfeld. I mean, you think about the show, Seinfeld, what was Seinfeld’s best friend in the movie? His name was George, named after his true best friend in real life, George Wallace, who sees my show, says I’m funny. “You want to do a show with me and Jerry?”
I don’t know if I would get paid, because you can’t say, “Yeah, I want to do it,” like, I’m a starving artist. Anybody would pay him to be able to get on stage with him, but I don’t know if I’m going to paid. And I had approximately fourteen dollars to my name. I would buy a footlong Subway meatball sub for five dollars and split it, and eat half of it, about eleven o’clock and the other half later. The issue is the show was in New Jersey. So I’m excited about going, but the problem is if I go there, I have enough gas where I could probably get to the show. And I’m all excited to do the show. But then I realized I got fourteen dollars. I can get to New Jersey. I got enough gas. But if I’m not getting paid for this show, there’s an eight dollar toll to get back. I’d already bought a sub and I had to put gas in my car to get there. I only had six dollars. So if I would have got to New Jersey, not gotten paid, I wouldn’t be able to get back to New York. Literally, I was in that position, I’m like, What am I going to do? I get to the club and it’s beautiful, and the thing I remember most about the club was the smell, because they had this stuff there called food. Like it was warm food. And I was like, What is this?
And then I go there and I can eat, and then there’s George Wallace and Jerry Seinfeld and I do a show and I got two standing ovations and I rip and I’m tearing up. Right after the show was over, the club manager walks up to me, said, “Michael, hey, you got a great set. Would you like to go to church with me tomorrow?” I was like, “Church? For what?” Like only time I went to church when I was a kid and it was miserable and it lasted nine hours, my grandmother forced us to go do yelling and screaming, got some phlegm in his throat. What? No. So I’m like, “Why would I go to church? Nor do I want to go to church.” And then twenty minutes later, his fiancee, who was beautiful, asked the same question. She was like, “Michael Jr., would you like to go to church with us?” I was like, “I was just looking for a church the other day. Yes. I want to go to church.”
So she gives me the address to the church. And she writes on a napkin, and I had this great show, the crowd has all filed out, and everybody’s gone and then reality starts to hit me. I’m on my way back to my car. I have not been paid. I don’t know where I’m going right now. And what I didn’t mention is on my way in, there was a bouncer at the door who wouldn’t let me in at first. Then when I said my name, he was like, “Oh, George Wallace said you were coming through.” And he did let me in. So I’m leaving, walking to my car. I don’t know where I’m going to go from here. I don’t have enough gas to get back to Michigan. I don’t have enough—I don’t have, like, I got nothing. I’m walking in and that bouncer said, “Yo, Michael,” and I said, “Yeah, what’s up?” And he gave me a five, like we kind of slapped hands, but it wasn’t as crisp as it was on the way in the door because there was some paper in his hand when he touched my hand. And you don’t look at it, when somebody hands you some money, you don’t look, but you can know it’s money. And we just made eye contact, I walked to my car and I was hoping—because in New York, you don’t get paid much money to do a comedy. You just don’t. It’s not unlikely for you—at the most, New York, you’ll get twelve bucks or something for doing a show, literally super low. So I’m hoping. I know it’s two bills in my hand, I could feel those two bills. But I’m hoping, If it’s two tens, that that’d be awesome. I can get back to New York, do a couple of shows and stay there as long as I can and hopefully get some. But if it’s two twenties, I’m gonna be ecstatic. So I go to my car, I shut the door, and I remember closing the door and I looked down and I opened my hand slowly. I did one finger at a time. I don’t know. I opened my hands slowly. And as I look, it’s hard to see the bills because my eyes start to water as I notice it is two 100-dollar bills.
I am done, and when my eyes are done watering, the next thing, I look over at the seat next to me, and that napkin with the address to their church is there. And I’m like, “I am going.” And I go to this church and this dude is up on stage talking about Jesus and he’s just talking, he’s not yelling and screaming. He ain’t got no perm. Dude just talking about Jesus. They had an altar call and he said, “If you want Jesus in your life, come forward,” and I was like, “Oh no, I’m cool. I’m not doing that.” I wanted to.
I told myself I’d read the whole Bible first. I don’t even have a Bible, and then out of nowhere this lady just handed me a Bible. We don’t even exchange words, she just hands me the Bible. So I read the Bible. I told myself I’d read the whole Bible first, so I read. So I started reading the Bible and going to church, reading the Bible, going to church. And I really wanted my life for Jesus. But I told myself I’d finish the Bible first. So I’m digging into the Bible, reading, I’m putting in like fourteen hours a day. All I’m doing is reading the Bible, hitting the clubs, going to church. It took me thirty-six days to read the Bible. I remember going to the altar after I finished reading, like during the announcements, I was like, “Hey, I know y’all got a picnic, but is Jesus here right now? I don’t know how this works.” And I give my life over to Jesus. And now I realize I’m not just funny. I’m funny for a reason. Like there’s purpose behind me having a sense of humor, like God wants me to use this to help his people in a significant—so it’s just super exciting to be able to see this and notice and feel it that Heaven is real, that God gave me this gift not to serve me, not so I can do a bunch of shows and get a bunch of people and just laugh. No. It’s so much more to do than just laughter. Comedy is that is the vehicle. It is not a destination.
“It’s super exciting to be able to see this and notice and feel it—that heaven is real, that God gave me this gift not to serve me, not so I can do a bunch of shows and get a bunch of people and just laugh. No, it’s so much more to do than just laughter. Comedy is the vehicle. It is not a destination.“ – Michael Jr.
Spreading Hope Through Laughter
So I have a nonprofit called A Red Blueprint, and what we do is, our slogan, literally actually I should say our assignment is to make laughter commonplace in uncommon places. So we’ll go to homeless shelters and prisons and abused children facilities and we take comedy there.
And the reason we do it is because I understand that laughter is the tangible evidence in hope. Like no matter where a person is, if they could just laugh, you know that there’s hope, but more importantly, they know it too. And from that position, I can now deposit some words of encouragement and maybe even some tactical plans on what they can do to get to and stay in a better place.
We just went to this women’s prison. And it’s so amazing because at the beginning, their faces are frowned up. But then I went in there with the jokes, and this whole room just exploded, like it’s just a room full of women. They all got on these white jumpsuits, and they’re just exploding in laughter. It’s just so awesome, and they’re in prison.
The reason people are so attracted to what we’re doing is because of laughter, like people are attracted to laughter. And what happens is there’s a neurological association that happens with information when you have an emotional response attached to it. So what I mean is, is if you’re laughing and learning, because of the endorphins that are released while you’re learning, after you’ve learned what you learn, you will still be attracted to more of that information.
I know I’m called to help people understand their purpose. So we’ve been digging into understanding purpose and what tactics it takes to help somebody understand their purpose and what we’ve decided—and I’ve been studying this for probably six years now, and I’ve went on ahead and we took to the purpose, understanding I have.
“I know I’m called to help people understand their purpose.” – Michael Jr.
There’s one lady in particular, I can still see her face. She said to me, “I had God in a box. I did not know that God could use such a thing to open up so many hearts. But it’s opened mine.” I want to make laughter common in uncommon places. I’m just doing what I do and sharing these stories. And it’s amazing the effect it gets to have on people. And I have, along with obviously the Bible, which God gives us. He’s the one who gave us the purpose.
“I want to make laughter common in uncommon places.” – Michael Jr.
Narrator: Learn how you can support the work Michael is doing by visiting michaeljr.com.
Stay tuned to Jordan Matthews’ story after a brief message.
Jesus Calling®: The Story of Easter from bestselling author Sarah Young uses vibrant illustrations, storytelling from throughout the Bible and short Jesus Calling® devotions to show children how Easter was part of God’s plan from the very beginning. Available in both a picture book and board book format, Jesus Calling: The Story of Easter can be found wherever books are sold.
Our next guest is San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who was living life on his own terms and measuring himself by how well he did in the sport of football until he noticed how some of his fellow NFL players seemed to have a different way of handling the ups and downs in the world of football, and seemed to have peace in their lives—and Jordan became curious as to how this was possible. When he realized that it was Jesus who transformed the way they viewed the world, he wanted in—because a relationship with God, unlike a career in the NFL, isn’t performance-based.
Jordan: I grew up in the south where, you know, Mississippi, you know, growing up, if my grandma would go, “You can go out Saturday night, you can hang out as long as you want, but you getting up on Sunday.” So that’s just how we grew up. So it was like six days a week. So just say, “Oh, I grew up in church,” like, I don’t do it justice, like we were in some aspect of learning about the gospel or being around the Bible six days a week, every single week that I was growing up. So it was definitely a huge part of my life.
Exemplary Lives of Faith
I knew a ton about the Bible, like I knew, you know, by that point in my life, I could—if somebody said a verse or said a story, I could kind of at least map out the story for you, or know, Okay that’s old, or that’s new. So I can sound smart in discussion, but the relationship was not real at all. You know, what I knew about the gospel had not shaped who I was as a person, did not shape how I felt about the sin in my life. It didn’t contradict my way of living. I was still 100 percent lord of my life.
And so it was probably my second year in the league. I had a really good first year. I played really well, you know, and as a rookie, it’s a lot coming at you. Well, when I started having a bad second year early on, I finished good with the early part. It was bad.
I had this autograph signing that I would do, like this Philly Expo every year. So my first year I go, I had a line out the door. I’m talking about, you know, it was literally out of the building and wrapped around, so many fans that were coming to get things signed by me. The start to my second year, I go to the same Philly Expo and at that point I might have like ten people show up. Now, like, this is not a knock on Philly fans, this is just a story, just the truth. At that point, you know, it rocked me at the time, you know, because I was a very, very vulnerable person at the time. I was just a person that just believed everybody loved me like, Okay, they see how hard I work and they appreciate what I bring to the team. And I start to realize that no, like, football is just almost like any other institution in the world, it is performance-based. Everything [humans make is] 100-percent, always going to be performance-based. If you don’t meet this criteria, you’re out, you’re done.
“Everything [humans make is], 100-percent, always going to be performance-based. If you don’t meet this criterion, you’re out, you’re done.” – Jordan Matthews
And I had that sad revelation, you know, as a second-year player in the NFL, I was only like twenty-three. Well, while I was that, you know, around the building, I just sometimes watch guys. I was always an observer of people and their character. And I would notice, you know, when we were winning, there were guys who were like this. When we were losing, a lot of guys were like this. Individual guys would be injured, they’d be down here. They’re playing well, they’re up here. And there were a couple of guys that were just like this. No matter what, whether we were winning or losing, they were injured, maybe a problem at home, Coach didn’t like them, undrafted, new contract, no new contract, contract dispute didn’t matter. There’s like this, a couple of guys, Trey Burton, another guy was Chris Maragos, Nick Foles was another one. And then I started spending time on these guys. I’m like, Man, what makes these guys so different? You know? And I realized that those pages in the Word, they weren’t just words on a page. Those things meant something to them. They were in the Word and it transformed the way they looked at life. It transformed the way they parented, the way they were as husbands. And so they were like, you know, “Okay, well, we lost the game. Who cares? Y’all know He’s still on the throne?” Like, they had this mindset that was eternally focused and they knew that you know, the savior came down and did all the work. So, yeah, it’s a performance-based institution. But at the same time, I at least don’t have one relationship where it doesn’t matter how I perform. There’s freedom in that.
“I realized those pages in the Word, they weren’t just words on a page. Those things meant something.” – Jordan Matthews
And I was like, “Look, you know, Lord, like, I know I haven’t been doing this thing right. I know that I’m probably still going to mess up at times, but I know this whole thing is about you. And I can’t save myself, so it’s up to you to do it, and I feel that happening right now.”
“And I was like, ‘Look, Lord, I know I haven’t been doing this thing right. I know that I’m probably still going to mess up at times, but I know this whole thing is about You. And I can’t save myself, so it’s up to You to do it, and I feel that happening right now.’” – Jordan Matthews
A New Type of Faith
Then at that point, I said, “This thing is real, and it’s now on me to tell as many people about it as possible, about how real it is, to try my best to live it out every way possible and just to walk in the spirit.” Man, it’s my favorite thing about Galatians 5, my walking in the spirit. I think a lot of times we’ll go to that one, you know, Christian conference and we leave and we try to run the spirit and then we trip and get a bad scab, “Ah that hurt, man this ain’t worth it.” It’s like that’s why you’re meant to walk because none of us can do it on our own. It’s going to take a lot of people, it’s going to take a village, and it’s going to take that constant effort, you know, making every effort. And so I’ve been walking in the spirit ever since. There’s good days, there are bad days. But at no point has my faith ever been rocked again. And I know that I have a foundation that I can stand on and a relationship that can’t be taken away no matter my performance. And that’s something that’s very freeing.
“I know that I have a foundation I can stand on and a relationship that can’t be taken away, no matter my performance. And that’s something that’s very freeing.” – Jordan Matthews
You know, like a lot of people always ask me, “Man, why don’t you have an Instagram?” And really, I feel weird if I post up to put up a facade like I’m perfect. Like if I post pictures, I have this whole grid and you see me smiling with my family and you see me making a catch in a football game and you see me in a picture with somebody famous and you see another picture. Meanwhile, you’re going to think, “Oh, this guy got it, he’s got it.” And I never want to put off that persona because I was like, “No, this is the daily grind every single day. I’m not going to act like it’s easy.” And that’s why I don’t post a quote unquote, life that looks like I’m just like this Christian walk is just easy. I’d rather you call me, we have a conversation and say, “Hey, this thing’s real.” There’s nothing better than doing this walk. And so it’s been great.
Faith As A Constant in a Career of Unknowns
I just can’t tell you enough about how much just the Gospel has been able to shape my career and being able just to keep me on a solid foundation, no matter all the ups and downs. And I moved like four times last year. Man, I was a starter. I ended last year with the Eagles. I caught a touchdown in the second round of the playoffs in January. I signed with the 49ers in March. I moved to San Francisco. Okay, so I’m in San Francisco ‘till June. After June, I leave, I go to D.C. My wife plays professional soccer in D.C. I train in D.C. there, so I move all my stuff to D.C. Then I moved back to San Francisco for training camp in August. I’m in training camp the whole month from August to September. I get cut from the 49ers. I leave, I go back to D.C. I had to move all my stuff back to D.C. Then the 49ers sign me again. Okay, after three weeks, I go back to San Fran. I’m with the 49ers like for four weeks. They cut me again. So then I’m in San Francisco for a week, and after my family moves down there, then the Philadelphia Eagles signed me for three weeks. I move up to Philadelphia, move all my stuff to Philadelphia. I play two games with the Eagles. I finally moved into this place. I moved into both cars, moved my wife, my son, and the Eagles release me. As the Eagles released me, I finally moved into this place in Nashville where we’re sitting right now.
And at that point, honestly, I was content. I was like, “Hey, you know, this is obviously what you have for me, Lord. So it’s all good.” And we get set up. We’re chilling. The 49ers call me back. So they had to move all my stuff back to San Francisco again. And they were there till the Super Bowl. That was my last year. That was in one year. And, you know, if I don’t have the Gospel, I would’ve gone off the rails, you know, but that time I was still able to be fruitful. I learned a lot of stuff. There were some great parts. There were some high points. There were some low points. But at the same time, we came out of it. Me and my family, we came out of that stronger, and I came out of that, you know, a lot closer to the Lord. I’m thankful for it after all that.
I was like, Wow, God, like if I didn’t have all this movement, I wouldn’t have the tools right now to go into a class and completely understand what Super Bowl teams look like in three different places. And at that time, I was like, I’m way too blessed to be in the hole about getting traded from an NFL team. There’s so much more work for the gospel that I can be doing. There’s a reason why the Lord allowed me to come here, and I ended up finding out that reason is I’ve got a really close relationship with a guy who plays for the Raiders now. He was a young rookie and we had to do a Bible study together, and he said that Bible study meant the world to him, you know, just diving in the Word with somebody who was older.
But, you know, I just felt like the gospel was able to give me perspective. You know, I don’t serve a God who sat on a throne and didn’t know what suffering was. He came down and He did the work. And He suffers, like, if He can go through that for me, I can go through this for somebody else.
“I just felt like the gospel was able to give me perspective. I don’t serve a God who sat on a throne and didn’t know what suffering was. He came down, and He did the work, and He suffered. If He can go through that for me, I can go through this for somebody else.” – Jordan Matthews
Narrator: Jordan wraps his time with us by sharing the October 16th passage of Jesus Calling, which underscores the message of how he was able to find peace, even in the midst of tumultuous times.
LOOK TO ME CONTINUALLY for help, comfort, and companionship. Because I am always by your side, the briefest glance can connect you with Me. When you look to Me for help, it flows freely from My Presence. This recognition of your need for Me, in small matters as well as in large ones, keeps you spiritually alive. When you need comfort, I love to enfold you in My arms. I enable you not only to feel comforted but also to be a channel through whom I comfort others. Thus you are doubly blessed, because a living channel absorbs some of whatever flows through it. My constant Companionship is the piѐce de résistance: the summit of salvation blessings. No matter what losses you experience in your life, no one can take away this glorious gift.
I sought the Lord and He answered me, He delivered me from all my fears, those who look to Him are radiant, their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called and the Lord heard me. He saved him out of all his troubles. Psalm 34:4-6.
Look to the Lord and His strength. Seek His face always. Psalm 105:4.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. Comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.
Narrator: You can look for Jordan Matthews on the football field during the regular NFL season this fall.
If you’d like to hear more stories about how we can find peace over performing, check out our interview with rodeo champion Trevor Brazile.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we talk with British singer Mica Paris, who shares how growing up in church shaped her life, and the simple truths she learned from her grandmother and grandfather about prayer—which kept her grounded in the difficult times of her life.
Mica: Every single disappointment that I’ve been through, it’s my faith that’s got me through it, because that’s what Grandma used to say and Grandad. And so whatever you’re going through, get on your knees. Just get on your knees, girl. And I swear, I don’t care if you don’t believe in anything. I have to tell you, if I never had that, there’s no way I could still be here thirty-three years later and still have my faculties intact.