Comedy in Prison

I'm in this prison, I'm scared for real, and I'm looking for some sort of guardrail. See what I did with the guards? That don't make sense, I just said it because it was there.

Today, I'm going to show you how to face your fears. To illustrate this, I'm going to tell you the story about the situation I got into when I was in prison. Let me explain. I decided that I needed to take comedy to people who also need to laugh, as opposed to just those who want to laugh. So, we decided to go to this prison and do a comedy show.

I get to the prison. I don't know what to expect when I go in here, and I'm scared for real. I meet the warden and he says to me, "Hey, you can't have a belt, somebody might try to hang you." Can't they just boo me or something? Why they got to hang a brother? I mean prison, now my pants loose, this is a bad idea, bro. And when you walk into prison they have bars in front of you, right. You take a few steps and the bars close behind you. Take a couple more steps, they open, they close, you know what I'm talking about. Some of you have been there. Welcome home.

I'm walking in, I need a joke immediately and I got nothing. Only joke popped in my head was, "You know what? You guys are a captive audience?" I just want to start with that. Got to be real. I didn't feel peace in my spirit about starting with that joke. So, I'm walking in this prison and I'm scared.  Then I noticed that some of the guards who are with me, slowly start disappearing. Then we get to a certain point in the prison where I only got two guards left with me, and they explain to me, that, that's as far as they go. They gave me this black box with a pin in it and they said if anyone tries to attack you, just pull the pin out, we'll come in and help. I'm sorry what? That's the plan? This might be a group of dudes in there who ready to do something, and one of them, his job is to keep the pin in.

And I notice that when I walk in, right, all the prisoners got on pink jumpsuits. So what? I ain't saying nothing about them jumpsuits. All the prisoners are in like this big circle and then there's an opening and that's where I'm supposed to walk to do comedy. There's no stage, there's no glass. We not doing comedy on the phone. Cats are right there expecting funny and I don't have anything. And, by the way, I look cool on the outside. I look like I got this whole thing completely figured out, but I'm scared! And I'm walking, I'm stepping, and I figure I got two steps left before these cats know I've got nothing. I got one more step and I settle this foot and for real, sitting right up front, is a white dude with a white beard named Moses. Thank you, Lord!

When I said these words to Moses, the place exploded in laughter. I said, "Moses, here's what I want you to do. When you see the prison warden, I want you to look him in his eye. You look him right in his eye and I want you to say, ‘Let my people go.’" Boom! Place exploded in laughter and we had an amazing time.

Here's what I want you to catch. A lot of times when we have to face a fear, there's not going to be some protection like there normally is. It's going to probably look a lot different than it normally does. I didn't know what I was going to say, or what I was going to do, until I got my feet where they needed to be. Stop doing the math on what step number two, step number three, and step number four should look like. Because when you take step number one, the next step becomes step number one. Your job is just to take the next step. So just do that.

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The Rudest Heckler Ever

So, today I'm gonna show you how to deal with the negativity that people seem to throw your way on any given day. I am going to share with you about a time I got heckled. This ain't just any heckle. This was a really big, superhuman sized heckle, and I had to deal with it.

I have to back up to one of the first times I had ever done comedy in front of a large audience. I'm in Flint, Michigan.

By the way, Flint, Michigan at the time was the murder capital of the world. And they were proud of it too. They was like, "Yeah, baby. Number one." Like cats was happy they were the murder capital.

So Flint, Michigan has this thing called the Super Show. I don't know if they still have it, but this was back in 1999 or something.

Anyway, the Super Show is basically a talent show for the people who live in Flint, around Flint. People all over from Detroit, everywhere go to the Super Show. Because I'm new at doing comedy and I just really want some stage time, I go to the Super Show. But here's the thing. It's Flint, Michigan. There's 3,000 people there. And they are booing cats. It's not like the Apollo where they are just booing grown people who know they don’t have any talent. Little kids is going out there with their tap dancing shoes on and coming off the stage crying.

This singer was going on next. She's like, "I don't want to go." She's backstage crying. Well, something welled up in me and I said, “Alright. Let's do this thing.” I walk out and I get heckled. It's 3,000 people there. First words I hear is "You better be funny, bleep, bleep!” Yeah. You can fill in your own “bleep, bleep.”

And this is what I said back then. I was like, "I can't believe this. I just got heckled by the darkest dude in the room," I said "He's so dark skinned I bet if you ride a motorcycle, you'll get a ticket for tinted windows." Which at the time, it wasn't cool to be dark, but now you know.

The whole room laughed. 3,000 people. I go ahead and do the rest of my set. People laugh. After the show somebody said to me, "You know what? You're really good. At what point in your career will you be a professional? A police officer gets a badge. Doctors get to practice. At what point as a comedian will you be a professional?” Like, I had no idea. I didn't know how to answer that. I thought I would be a professional after I made $500 for one event. At that point, I would be a professional. I made the money and just didn't feel like I was a professional. So, the question was kind of still in my mind.

Fast forward some years later. I'm in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I'm not even headlining, yet. I'm a feature act at this club called Snickerz Comedy Club.. I get up on stage. It's a mostly white audience. I'm probably ten minutes into my set and I get heckled from this dude in the back of the room. And he got more twang that I can explain. He says to me, "Michael Jr., I was wondering why do all black people look alike?" At this point the whole crowd freezes. They don't know if I'm going to get mad or throw a chair. They have no idea what's going to happen. I don't know what I'm going to say or what I'm going to do. When I said these words, I was hearing them for the first time. He said, "Michael Jr., why do all black people look alike?" And I said, "We don't all look alike. You've just got to cut the eye holes in your sheet a lot bigger."

For real! The crowd explodes in laughter. And the dude who actually said that to me stands up on his chair and gives me a standing ovation with the rest of the room. It was an amazing experience.

I was at a turning point where I could have gotten upset. I could have went off and no telling how that would have even affected my career. Ok it's Fort Wayne, Indiana...I don't know how much it really would have affected it. In that moment, just by instinct, I decided to carry on with the gift that I have instead of stopping, putting the gift down and then showing up in another way.

But let's think about this real quick. What is a heckler? First of all a heckler is someone who is trying to shake things up in a way so you can't handle it. You are the comedian, like myself, or performer. And you have something that you're supposed to perform for an audience. Not just to entertain, but actually to help them get somewhere. You are on your platform, whether you are a stay at home mom, a doctor, you're on your platform presenting what you have to present to your audience.

And a heckler will come along trying to deter you from what it is you're called to do. And you're going to have them. In fact, if you don't have any hecklers at all, you're probably doing something wrong. So a heckler is actually confirmation that you're moving in the right direction. But you can't listen to the heckler. “You're not going to be able to pull it off. You should stop it right now. Just stop it. You could say goodbye to your dreams.”

Sometimes the heckler is actually you. So what you have to do to knock that heckler out of the way is you've got to be steadfast and know who you really are. You've got to address the heckler. Shut him down and then push on. That's all I'm saying. Because I'm telling you. You can get it done, son. Or daughter. You're not my child. It's just a phrase.

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This Was So Uncomfortable

Today I'm going to share a story with you...

So let me tell you what happened.  I was living in New York. I had a great time living in New York. It was fun, the people there are awesome and I was just hanging out chilling, “hanging out and chilling” means broke and pretty much homeless.

I was able to successfully break into some clubs. When I say "break in," I wasn't going in there and stealing stuff.  It’s hard to get into clubs in New York, but I was able to get in some while I was there.

So, I move to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles is opportunity and when I say "opportunity" I mean my cousin got a couch I can sleep on. And he got four kids. I love them but still four kids, right? I'm on the couch asleep all crunched up.

But in Los Angeles, in my opinion, is the number one comedy club in the country, called The Comedy Magic Club. This club is so prestigious that I can't even get inside the club.  But there's a comedian in town named George Wallace. He saw me in New York and told me I was funny and clean. He's like "Yo if you ever need anything from me, give me a call." But here's what's crazy, I didn't even have to call him. He happened to call me. Guess what he said? How'd you know? He said "Hey, you want to go to the Comedy Magic Club with me?"  After I got off the ground from crying and whimpering, I said "Yes!"

Comedy & Magic Club

Comedy & Magic Club

We go to the Comedy Magic Club together. Now, he can't get me on stage but he can at least get me inside the club and into the green room.  Now I'm in the green room with some soldiers in comedy--George Wallace, Gary Shandling, and Jay Leno. I'm in there and I don't even know if you can call me a comedian at the time. Like I'm doing my thing, but I'm hungry. Not hungry as in "Hey let's get this thing done", I'm talking about ...I was literally hungry.

So here’s what happens with these cats in the greenroom.  Maybe you remember the football player who got hit in the eye with a flag.  He was suing the league for like 400 million dollars. Now all of these guys are helping Leno on that subject for the monologue on the Tonight Show. I’m just sitting there. I ain't saying nothing. I'm just happy to be in the room with these dudes, sharing french fries. But your gift will make room for you. Then they got quiet and they looked at me and I was like "Okay, let me see if I got this right. He got hit in the eye with a flag. He lost his vision in one eye and he's suing the league for 400 million dollars.” So I say, “He’s not gonna see half of it." For real, the whole room laughs.

Success is when preparation meets opportunity.

A month or so later, the owner of the club, Mike Lacy -- awesome dude calls me up. He says "Hey, the Tonight Show team is down here. I don't know what it is but I'm wondering if you'd like to come down." I said "Yes.”  I go to the club and they're doing auditions to find a new comedian to do the Tonight Show live via satellite. And here's the thing, it's never live, but this is supposed to be live via satellite from the Montreal Comedy Festival.

They're looking for one comedian. Well there are 10 comedians that they're looking at for the audition. I'm number 11. I’m in the green room. 10 comedians all there. You can feel the nerves in the room. Nobody wants to go on first.

The reason you don't want to go on first is because then you don't have an opportunity to read the room. You gotta see what the audience is like and you gotta get a feel for the room.

Then, out of nowhere I said like, "I'll go on first." So I go on first and do my set. I do four and a half minutes and try to bring the news. And then the next guys go on. Afterwards, the producer says to me, "Hey, we want you to be the one." I was like "Obi-Wan Kenobi?"

What's that dude's name from the Matrix?  Oh, yeah, Neo. You want me to be Neo? (He didn't say Negro because that would have been a different show.) I get to be the one. He picked me!

So here's the thing, I'm getting on a flight. I'm headed to Canada. So I get there, right? It's time for me to do the Tonight Show. Now, listen, you gotta understand—THIS IS LIVE! If I walk on the stage and trip and fall, the entire country sees Michael Jr. fall. If I stumble on a joke, everybody sees it. And that's what they wanted. They wanted to build it up, pressure the new guy. Is it going to work? So I go up on stage. I do my set and smash it.  I had a great time! Afterwards, the producer walks up to me in the green room. He said "Michael, I have to be real with you. When you went up on stage that night at the comedy club, I was actually irritated because I hadn't heard of you before and I was ready to go home. I just wanted to see my top three guys and go." He said "But because you went on first, I had to watch" and he shared with me the reason why he chose me. He said “and that's why you got on the Tonight Show." I was blown back!

Here's what I want you to grab from the story. You have way more potential than you probably think. I mean you have a lot of potential but you have to be okay being uncomfortable. You don't know your potential so you have to be uncomfortable to grow your potential. That is dope I should put it in a book or something.

Yes, in those moments I was afraid.  You have to make sure that you're not choosing to let fear make some decisions for you because fear never makes a great decision at all.  You might say, “Oh no, I don't want to take that call. I'm afraid of that.” I'm telling you, if you just look for opportunities to be uncomfortable in your gifting, it's going to cause you to expand to another level in a good way. Otherwise, if you're not okay being uncomfortable, as far as potential is concerned, you're only going to see half of it.

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