God’s Smart Aleck Michael Joiner Riffs On The Film Business, Clean Comedy and Faith
in this in-depth interview exclusively for Actors Talk.
The discussion with Michael via Skype was conducted a couple of weeks prior to distribution of this podcast episode. To be honest, it’s been a chore to pare our conversation, which lasted over an hour, down to a manageable time for the podcast.
God’s Smart Aleck Michael Joiner On Stage
It takes very little effort to locate video of Micheal Joiner doing stand-up. Do yourself a favor when you’re in need of a laugh and check out his YouTube Channel. Here’s a sample of the comedy videos you can find there.
The difficulty for me has been that there is so much I wanted to share with you that it’s been hard to cut anything out.
So, I’ve decided to make minimal cuts to the material and to expand the conversation from one episode into a two-parter.
In this first episode, Michael and I talk almost exclusively about comedy. We go into his beginnings in the business, not as a comic but as a movie extra and as a photo double for actor Bruce Willis. Michael took some advice that Bruce Willis offered and he left Hollywood to return home and begin to study acting and perform in live theater.
Michael Joiner’s Acting Reel
Below is the trailer for a new Michael Joiner film called BROKEN FAITH.
On Short Cuts To Acting Success
I asked Michael what kind of training he had before he moved to L.A. to pursue acting:
“…I was a total wannabe. That’s why I have a bit of compassion for folks who fall into that catgegory of ‘wannabes’ ’cause there’s ‘wannabes’ who stay ‘wannabes’ and there’s ‘wannabes’ who…don’t know any better…someone needs to school them…That’s why to this day when anybody asks for my advice, I tell them they need to study. If they balk at that, I don’t have much more to say…there’s no shortcuts… ”
He moved back to Indiana in 1988, feeling a spiritual calling to return to that area. I asked Michael if he had to choose to be involved in only one area of the entertainment business, would it be as a comedian or would it be as an actor? He wasted no time in answering: ACTING.
That question elicited the story of how Michael began doing stand up comedy. Many people might assume a stand up comic, especially a very successful one would have been driven from an early age to pursue the field. No so for Michael Joiner. In fact, he had to be persuaded to perform in a church talent show by a friend who saw in him something he didn’t see in himself.
“The comedy came by accident. I was one of the youth pastors at my church… I was doing a lot of comedies at this theater ..he would come to my plays and…saw I had potential to be a comedian I guess and he said ‘why don’t you do some comedy at our [church] talent show? I said, ‘no, I’m not even into that.’ So he begged me some more and I did it. I just got the bug right there. I fell in love with it. Soon after I started making a living…not only as a Christian comedian. My style is very ‘un-churchy…it’s just clean comedy. And so I started doing secular gigs as well and it really started paying the bills… “
IMPROV – A Valuable Tool for All Actors
During our conversation, Michael suggested that actors should take some improv classes and even try stand-up comedy. At which point I confessed that I had in fact taken a whirl at the stand up comedy scene back in my days in Dallas, TX. I related to Michael how I had participated in a ‘Gong Show’ type open mic at a disco and that I had actually been gonged by a monkey who was one of the judges. Apparently the monkey was a pretty good judge of talent. My stand-up ‘career’ didn’t last very long.
On The Road
Michael talks about doing a lot of ‘hell gigs’…many in Texas as it turns out….as he learned the craft or becoming a successful stand-up comedian.
“You go on the road and you do what’s called ‘one nighters’…you just have to pay your dues that way. And you get better.”
Michael talks about the insulated nature of doing only Christian venues as a comedian. In retrospect he can see that he really grew as a comedian when he began to also work in secular comedy clubs. He was then performing for audiences that weren’t necessarily ‘on his side’ or predisposed to think he was funny. He was working on bills with comedians who were doing hundreds of nights of stand up per year whereas he had been doing 15 or so gigs a year at Christian venues.
I related to Michael that back in the day some of my favorite comedians were guys like Woody Allen, Franklyn Ajaye, Robert Klein, Bill Cosby. Michael speaks about working with comedian Vic Dunlop of ‘Make Me Laugh’ fame. He goes on to mention other comedians he enjoys such as Brian Regan, Jerry Seinfeld, Sebastian Mancuso and the Hamner Barber Show from Branson, MO.
” I just admire any performer that practices, that has his chops down, that just gives you a good show… It’s tough. It’s not as glamorous as people think…My favorite comedian is the just the guy that’s out there paying his dues, he really is funny, he’s learning and he writes every day…”
Michael told me about working with the late comedian Mitch Hedberg in Minot, ND on a string of one nighters and of advising Hegberg to go to Los Angeles.
The Acting Business
At about 14 minutes into the interview, after talking solely about comedy, we transitioned into a discussion of acting and the movie business.
I asked Michael if people are surprised that as a comedian he is also a very accomplished dramatic actor?
Michael talks about the value that comedy and especially improvisational comedy adds to an actor’s toolbox. Then we got into a bit of a discussion about some of the ‘old guard’ comedians: Bob Newhart, Henny Youngman and others.
I mentioned a very good book on the history of comedians called THE LAST LAUGH by Phil Berger that details stories bout
comedians such as Milton Berle, Henny Youngman, Rodney Dangerfield, Lenny Bruce, Dick Gregoy, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, George Carlin and many others.
In that discussion I erroneously referred to SOMETHING WONDERFUL RIGHT AWAY by Jeffrey Sweet.
“If I were ever mentoring an aspiring comedian I’d say, ‘watch the new guys, but watch the old guys too, man, all the way back to Rodney and …. Henny Youngman….watch them all because they’ve got something that you need.”
And that’s where we end this first part of my conversation with Actor-Comedian, God’s Smart Aleck, Michael Joiner.
Please subscribe to the podcast and you’ll be automatically updated when Part II of this conversation picks up.
In Part II we’ll go into more depth about Michael Joiner’s acting career and the part how his faith guides his career in show business.
All audio and video media used with permission of Michael Joiner.