Only a few days after he recorded a live DVD at Stardome Comedy Club in Birmingham, Alabama’s Mickey Bell was named Comedian of the Year by the Inspirational Country Music Association.
The award was announced Aug. 26 and comes just a few years into Bell’s decision to do stand-up comedy for a living. Comedy has always been part of Bell’s life, a strategy he used as a defense mechanism during childhood but now uses to share hope.
“I had a lot of insecurities, so I reverted to comedy so that I could take away the possibility of getting hurt or picked on,” recalled Bell, pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Bessemer. “I would go ahead and pick on myself to deflect what I thought would be coming from others. It was almost like I was trying to take away their power from hurting me.
“So being funny, being the life of the party, being that comedian, was someone I tried to be even before I ever started thinking that I would ever make a living out of it. It was simply to protect my feelings and protect myself from being hurt.”
Becoming a stand-up comedian wasn’t Bell’s goal though. He has been on stage in various capacities since he was 10. He began by doing a short comedy set along with music — he also is an accomplished pianist. Out of the blue, he started getting calls to perform his act at various events.
At first, Bell’s wife was cautious, taking vacation days to support him on the road. After seeing his packed schedule, she decided to quit her job, saying, “You may have stumbled onto something here. Let’s do this!”
Bell also deals with clinical depression and shares the struggle during performances. Audiences respond to his honesty. Responses like these help keep him going: “‘I tried to commit suicide last week. I thought no one understood what I was going through until I heard you share your story. Your story has given me hope to continue, hope to fight for another day,’” Bell recounted. “And, ‘I read your book while I was lying in the psych ward, and you have motivated me to fight another day.’”
A new creation
“Those are the moments that cause you to remember why you are doing what you are doing,” he said. “Yes, I’m a comedian. Yes, I’m going to work on being the best I can be to make people laugh. But I’m a little bit different in the sense that I’ve got an underlying reason for doing what I’m doing — to encourage people.
“It’s more than just the laughs — it’s what happens after you quit laughing,” Bell explained.
He identifies with Jeremiah 18, feeling that the account of the Potter and the clay is his life story.
“I was that piece of clay that was sitting on top of the wheel when it started spinning out of control. My thoughts and my emotions and my attitude started going berserk,” Bell remembered. “I fell off that wheel and broke into many pieces. But God reached down and put me back up on the wheel.
“That verse said He created something new. He wasn’t taking something broken and trying to fix it or piece it together to be what it was. I feel like with my comedy that’s exactly what God has done. Comedy is my ‘something new,’ even though it’s still serving the same purpose of giving people hope.”
Being a comedian isn’t all fun, Bell admitted. He loves meeting people but has a hard time in large crowds. He loves the feedback he gets, but has to take care of everything in the business.
Coming full circle
“I get the praise, but I also have the pressure,” he said.
“I am who I am, mistakes, scars and all. I guess I’ve come full circle with this,” Bell added. “I’m still doing what I did as a kid. I’m walking into a room of people who have bought a ticket and I’m exposing my scars, but I’m causing them to laugh about it before they have an opportunity to point and laugh at me [first]. Everything I’ve been through in my life has contributed to who I am — and I really like who I am right now.
“We are not defined by our mistakes,” Bell continued. “God can take what we have messed up, and He can literally turn it around to not only something good but something profitable. He has taught me that if I will lean on Him, He can take all my past mistakes, and even though people still refer to them when they talk about me, He’s turned my life completely around and my whole family is the better for it.”
Bell has honed his craft as an opening act for various Christian artists. In September and October he’ll join Unspoken and Josh Wilson for a tour, and is releasing a new comedy CD with parody songs — it and his DVD will be available on streaming services such as Spotify and iTunes as well as on Amazon and at concerts. Find out more about Bell at www.themickeybell.com.
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