A New Beginning

by | Sep 5, 2023 | Life Advice

The first time I went to my accountant to do my taxes, he said, “Congratulations! You qualify for the poverty tax credit.”

“What is that?” I asked. He said we were living in poverty and for that, we got a tax break.

Poverty? Really? Who says so?” He told me the federal government said so. Cool . . . I Think.

On my way home, I called Tami on our cell phone from the front seat of one of our two cars. She answered the phone in the three-bedroom home we were renting, where she was watching one of our two televisions.

“Did you know we were impoverished?” I asked.

“Who told you that?” she said. Honestly, I can say I didn’t feel very poor. As a matter of fact, Aaron had asked me once if we were poor. I corrected him and said, “No, we are broke.” Apparently, I had been misinformed.

There was a time when Tami and I really were flat broke. I’m talking zero money to pay the bills, and nothing in the cupboard except saltines, peanut butter, and a box of mac and cheese.

But strangely enough, I wasn’t panicking. A few years earlier, I would have been slamming doors and yelling at my sons for no reason or brooding in front of the television, but now I had peace even with an empty checking account. We knew God would provide. We didn’t know how, but our job was to pray and trust while He did his part.

Not long after that, Tami also came home with a smile on her face.

“Guess what I have?” She said it with an impish grin, so I knew I had no chance of guessing. And I didn’t really feel like playing the guessing game while we were still bouncing off the bottom of our bank account. Without a word, she handed me a check made out to her—for five thousand dollars.

“Are you kidding me?” I asked. It was nothing short of manna from heaven. Well, not actually Heaven—it was Atlanta, and it was Tami’s canine expertise that brought in the money. One of her wealthy friends wanted to put a Boxer back on the winner’s list at the Westminster Kennel Dog Show. He intended to start a corporation and hired Tami as a consultant.

Then I signed with a manager in Nashville. I had known Lenny Sisselman longer than I had known Tami. He had run a Nashville club where I performed twice a year, and we played a lot of golf together. He had witnessed me at my worst, even remembering how I would go up on stage with dried blood around my nostrils from the cocaine. When Tami and I got to Nashville in 1997, Lenny noticed the profound changes in me.

Shortly afterward, he left the club to pursue artist management, and my new management company hired him. Without even thinking about it, God had brought me a business man to handle my business; all I had to do was tell jokes. Finally. We’ve now been together over twenty-five years. Tami calls Lenny my other wife.

Too many things aligned that never would have if God had not been orchestrating them. 

Over and over, all I could say was, “Thank You, God, thank You.”

All the promises I kept reading in Scripture were coming true, being affirmed as reality in our lives. “Do not worry about your life,” Jesus said, and then He got specific: “What you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear” (Matthew 6:25). Was he reading our minds?

Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? (Matthew 6:25–27)

Jesus continues His Sermon on the Mount to describe how God takes care of the flowers and the trees. Everything in creation trusts in His provision, and that meant I could, too. The more I saw Him provide, the less I worried, and the more faithful my prayer life became. “Just show me what I need to do, God, because I have to pay these bills one way or another.”

We were learning to refocus our lives to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). We certainly knew from our years of misery that “each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Let Them See the Light

Not only were the “God things” showing up in my career, but the difference Christ was making in my character also was drawing people’s attention to me and opening more doors. I was getting invited to some of the biggest comedy festivals in the world—the Montreal Just for Laughs Festival and HBO’s Aspen Comedy Festival, to name a couple. (Name a famous comedian, and I guarantee you that at some point they performed at those two festivals.)

From those showcases, I picked up an agent in Los Angeles who “shopped” me around LA looking for a development deal. From that, I was invited to a showcase of about two dozen comedians at the famous Improv club in Melrose, performing for studio execs who were looking for talent to possibly develop into a sitcom.

Every top comedian has done these, from Tim Allen to Roseanne Barr. They are not pleasant for the performer, if for no other reason than that the audience really doesn’t want to be there. Most of those execs were forced to attend by their bosses.

I did the show and flew back to Nashville. A few weeks later, I got a call saying I had a meeting with a studio head, which is a rare opportunity. But I tried to downplay it when Lenny and I walked into the man’s office in LA.

“So, I’m just curious,” I asked nonchalantly, “why am I here?”

“I was at that showcase you did at the Improv the other night,” he said. “But I don’t even remember if you were funny or not.”

“I know I wasn’t,” I replied. “That’s why I’m curious.” In fact, I had bombed.

“I don’t remember what number you were,” the chief stated. “All I remember is that you were the only one smiling. I asked my assistant, ‘Remember when comedians used to be relatively happy? What happened to that?’”

I didn’t even have a show idea to pitch at that point, but that meeting turned into my first development deal. It really stood out to me that this studio head could see a difference in me—not just in my jokes, but in the person I had become. Thanks to my relationship with Christ, I actually enjoyed my comedy—and all of life. My prayer before I go on stage, both then and now is, “Lord, let Your light shine through. Let them see not the darkness in me, but the light in You.”

In the course of that development deal, Lenny and I went to different studios to pitch my idea for a sitcom about comedy in the midst of family life. At one point, we met with a guy from HBO.

“I’ve saw your comedy years ago in New York,” he told me. Then he asked, “I just remember you were so angry!”

You know a guy has anger issues if HBO says that to him. But now a studio chief was remembering me for being happy.

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