By Jacob Sahms
Some comics can’t turn off the need for the spotlight, the desire to be adored and applauded. Michael Jr. is not one of those comics. Instead, the seriously funny man has adeptly navigated international stages, late shows, college campuses, and the cinema (War Room), while also proving to be the kind of husband and father who wants to be integral at home. The latest project for the comedian finds him in front of the camera as the story of Selfie Dad unfolds, but don’t think that means he has surrendered his desire to tell the truth from his illuminating perspective or entertain. In fact, even a global pandemic can’t thwart Michael Jr.’s immeasurable optimism and drive.
Since COVID-19 struck, Michael Jr. says that he and his team have been releasing even more comedy on Youtube because people are scared, and he says, “Fear and laughter have a hard time occupying the same space.”
With that in mind, Selfie Dad’s release has changed a few times, but it is still going to arrive right on time in his mind, on Father’s Day 2020. Sharing the story of Ben Marcus, a reality TV editor whose mid-life crisis sends him toward comedy, Michael Jr. says that the comedy tells a version of a story he can relate to without being someone he really is.
“I love doing comedy and I don’t really want to play a role that isn’t close to me. My character likes his kids but isn’t as interested in his kids as I am,” Michael Jr. mused. “It was hard for me acting disinterested. It’s a flip from being on stage making thousands of people all over the world laugh, versus a guy who’s losing his family while he’s chasing laughs.”
“My favorite place to travel is home. I love being home. I enjoy doing comedy but my main thing is being a dad – it’s the greatest thing.”
Celebrating faith and fatherhood with a movie about a dad coming out on Father’s Day leads to reflection on his own life and where he learned how to be a father. Thanks to an amazing dad of his own, the comedian-turned-movie-star can see the way that his dad made changes to his own familial pattern to be a better father to him. “He broke generational things before they could get to me,” offered Michael Jr. “His dad was emotionally, verbally, and physically abusive, and my dad broke all of those chains. He would verbally be aggressive with me which initially hurt, but it made me stronger. I realized later what he had been through. We made a video on Facebook about it, me talking about cutting my son’s hair versus the way his dad cut his hair. He would have blood and tears running down his face while dad cut his hair drunk, while now my son and I are laughing the whole way through. I don’t discredit my grandfather because he distilled some of the good things that are in my dad. I honor that there’s good in there, too.”
With five kids of his own, the comedian knows that his children are watching the different moments of his career on stage and off. He admitted that there were times his kids were proud of what their dad was accomplishing, and other times, where they begged to not watch a scene again. But he always strove to make the film realistic to his experience, while also showing a story his kids would be able to see.
Written and directed by Brad Silverman, Selfie Dad proved to be a collaboration, where Michael Jr. had the chances to hit the marks he was given and also record the same scenes with flexibility, the opportunity to improv. “A lot of portions of the film are those takes and scenes from improv,” he explained, citing an opportunity Marcus has to relate to his daughter’s role in a school production of Grease, with an ending that even surprised the producers in a positive way. But it wasn’t just the funny moments that were adaptable: “When Ben makes the decision to do a video for millions of fans about the Bible, where I’m holding the Bible doing the video, and I take a breath – the realization of what the Bible could do for me was a real break, a real breath by me, not just the character. It’s so true to my life.”
Michael Jr. has always wanted to reach more people than just those in the room watching him on stage, and film has given him the opportunity. He already knows he’s connected with people he can look in the eye, but he’s working to connect with people on the other side of the screen.
“When you’re live in front of an audience and you connect by eye – you’re dependent on the physical connection you’re making. That is your confirmation. The truth is that if you’re really speaking God’s word, then you rely on what God is doing to do, because you’re not dependent on man. It’s not horizontal, but a vertical relationship, to truly connect.”
Those connections happen on set, and as he shares the story of Selfie Dad. He’s aware that as a Christian, as a comedian, and as a black man, he’s constantly trying to close the gap between himself and other people, to reach understanding and reconciliation. There are always teachable moments.
One scene in the film stands out as a moment where suddenly, it wasn’t just a comedy or even just a Christian comedy, but a moment. In the original script, Marcus has become upset, and driving he gets pulled over. He’s angry, gets out of the car, and approaches the police officer.
“I’m like, ‘nope, I’m not angry,’” said Michael Jr., knowing that there are too many situations where being pulled over is not a moment of equality. “We worked out how it’s more realistic and true to what would happen, and what we made up on the spot works.”
Still, he says, “There’s a gap people don’t understand. I had a white friend of mine tell me, and another black guy, how upset he was because he got pulled over. He wasn’t going over the speed limit. ‘I got out of the car – and the police officer started yelling.’ He’s still upset about the cop after he’s done telling the story. But we’re standing there, and we knew where the story went wrong. I went home and told my kids, the three of them are eighteen to twenty years old at the time, and when I said he got out of the car, they all took a deep breath. I’ve never talked to my kids about not getting out of the car; they just understood. There’s a lot of prejudging and prejudice, judging people before they know them, not as human but as an item or a threat. It’s important to work through that.”
Get ready for a truly entertaining time for the whole family, with Biblical truth as the foundation, and be prepared to have Michael Jr. ask tough questions that will expand your awareness of yourself and those around you.
Selfie Dad debuts June 19. Visit SelfieDadMovie.com for more details.