A unique virtual comedy performance is taking place in October with comic, actor, author and inspirational speaker Michael Jr.’s online Laugh Your Mask Off Tour.
“It’s going to be strategically inspiring,” Michael Jr. said. “For sure, we need to laugh these days, but people need to be inspired. … People laugh [and] your heart just naturally opens up. If the heart is open, it’s a great time to make a deposit of some inspiration that can help people in these times.”
Wanting more time with his family, Michael Jr. began considering a virtual event a year-and-a-half ago, well before COVID-19 restrictions canceled live performances. So when the pandemic arrived, his “digital comedy shows [were] already in position to go.”
Michael Jr. had filmed a special to be released in theaters for one night but wasn’t able to follow up with it. When stay-at-home orders began, he met with fans virtually but found that comedy and Zoom were not compatible.
Creating a hybrid
Using the two ideas, he decided to create a hybrid. The special was divided up, and between film sections he will interact with the audience via Zoom, with game-play possible through an interactive app. The result is a fun evening of laughter.
During the pandemic, Michael Jr. said he learned that he likes being at home with his wife and five children. He loves everyone being together, telling stories and playing games. He added, “It’s fun to watch [my children] clean. I just have them clean up all the time!”
Change of mindset
It’s a different pace than the comedian was keeping before, he admitted — he got his big break on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno — and it’s a different life than his early years of comedy.
In the beginning it was “all about getting laughs from people,” Michael Jr. said. “When I made people laugh, it meant that they accepted me. … About 13 years ago, I had a change of mindset. Instead of asking how could I get laughs … I started asking the question, ‘How can I give the audience an opportunity to laugh?’”
Focusing on answering that question, everything changed. “Once I understood how I was accepted by God, I didn’t really need the acceptance of men as much.”
Michael Jr. prioritized finding ways to give. Urged on by friends and family who wanted to be involved, he started a nonprofit, redblueprint.org, which enables him to go to prisons, shelters and halfway houses to provide an opportunity for those who rarely laugh. His documentary, “Comedy: The Road Less Traveled,” shows his impact at some of these venues.
He has influenced others through comedy. He recently received a letter from a man who was extremely depressed because his wife fled the country with their daughter. The man put plastic sheeting on the floor, got his gun and turned on YouTube while he had a final drink.
The video he played was one of Michael Jr.’s. He laughed a little but still planned to finish what he had started. But then the comedian’s words caught the man’s attention.
“In the middle of my stand-up comedy, I [had] said, ‘I want you to understand that wherever you are, there’s probably been some setbacks. But your setback is only a setup for a punchline you’re going to deliver. The setback is like a slingshot — the further you’ve been set back, the further you can reach.’
“He realized he’s got so much to live for,” Michael Jr. said. “If I had only done comedy in that moment, who knows what the outcome would have been.”
He said the words weren’t really intentional.
“I don’t know what it is; I don’t have a plan,” the comedian said.
“I’m just sensitive to what that audience needs. That’s what I’m going to do with the Laugh Your Mask Off tour, especially because there’s a lot of people hurting right now.
“If they decide to participate in [this] tour, I’m going to be sensitive enough to listen to what might be needed.”
Laugh with neighbors
The virtual nature of the events means everyone can enjoy the show from the comfort of their own living rooms. But Michael Jr. hopes neighbors will get together and enjoy the show together.
“They might meet someone they never knew before and … if they meet face-to-face, they have that laughter in common,” he said.
Even if someone isn’t able to “attend” the tour, Michael Jr. encourages everyone to find some clean comedy.
“Consume some laughter. Allow yourself to take a break from all the bad news and just get caught up in some laughter because it truly is — Proverbs 17:22 — ‘good like a medicine.’”