Every Tuesday morning, you’ll find Jeff Foxworthy at the Atlanta Rescue Mission.
The internationally known comedian has served as a small group leader there for 12 years. This happened because he felt called by God to be on mission there.
“I think the only thing we can do for God is to say ‘yes’. When he whispers an invitation to us, that’s all we can do,” Foxworthy said. “Whatever he wants to get done, he’s going to get done anyway. Wow! He’s inviting you along because he knows it’s going to be good for you.”
His face lights up as he explains his role with the men with whom he shares Chick-Fil-A biscuits once a week.
“In 90% of the cases, something really bad happened to them. So whatever their addiction is that makes them where they can’t work, that’s not what that is. It’s the symptom, but it is the hurt that they can’t deal with. So, you know, if you ever get to the point you can get them to go down to the basement, unlock that door, and drag that hurt up the stairs and pull it out into the front yard and call it what it is, whether it’s sexual abuse or physical abuse or whatever it is, then they have a chance to get well.
“And anybody on the street is no different than you or me. We all want the same thing. We all want to be significant, and we all want to be loved.”
Foxworthy wants to be known for love and significance. He wants to be known for giving to others, whether its people who come to hear him tell jokes or the men he encounters at the mission. He is on a mission to lift people up.
And whatever gifts he has that come from God, he said. “Anytime I get an award, it’s almost embarrassing to me, like I don’t have an ego about it because this is the gift I was given from God to make people laugh.”
Some people have the gift of cooking, some people have the gift of nursing, some people have the gift of building, “and this is my gift,” he explained.
He comes from a humble, blue-collar upbringing. Before being a comedian, he worked as an IBM copy machine mechanic. “I couldn’t imagine you could do something creatively,” he said. “I carried a tool bag, and I fixed machines.”
But his coworkers saw something more in him, he said. “Guys I worked with kept going, ‘Fox, you’re funnier than most of the people that perform at the local comedy club,’ and they entered me in a competition, not an amateur night, but a competition for working comedians. And my first night on stage, I won the contest. And I remember I was scared to death, but a minute into it, I was like, ‘This is me.”
He won the contest and met his wife the same night.
Five years later, he was invited to appear on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, and the rest is history.
Now, he loves what he does, but he also understands he bears a tremendous responsibility.
“I’ve spoken to other comedians about this. You know, 20 years ago I just wrote. I just wrote with the idea of making people laugh,” he said. “Now I find myself writing, and then I look at it and go, ‘Is there something in here that somebody would be offended by?’ We look to be offended. We’ve kind of lost the ability to laugh at ourselves. We have become a society where people will not give up the need to be right.
“And here’s the truth in all of us: We have things we’re just wrong about because all we know is what we know. And so, when you can’t laugh at yourself, you begin to think you’re beyond air. It’s like people think they have God figured out. That’s an immediate red flag to me.”
Unlike many influential comedians, Foxworthy has managed to stay funny without coarse and crude jokes.
And he speaks of a genuine Christian faith that drives him.
This time of year, he makes jokes about his own family traditions.
“We started a tradition almost 35 years ago of taking our mom and going to Christmas brunch. Of course, back then it was me, my brother, my sister, my wife and my mom. And now, because of everybody growing up and getting married and having kids, it’s gotten very expensive for me on Christmas Eve.
“My kids always laugh at me. I have to play, ‘O, Holy Night’ with Martina McBride singing. And I cry.”
There’s a serious side to the season, he admitted. “My kids always laugh at me. I have to play, ‘O, Holy Night’ with Martina McBride singing. And I cry.”
In the biblical story of Jesus’ birth, this renowned comic identifies most with the shepherds keeping watch in their fields by night.
“If I could go put myself at any point in history, I would love to have been sitting with those shepherds on that hillside because all they’re doing is they finished their day of work, it’s a regular night, they’re sitting there probably talking about their day and finishing up eating, and the heavens explode with angels that just appear to these guys saying, ‘Hey, I know God’s been silent for a long time, but he’s not silent anymore. The Messiah’s here.’
“Can you imagine the fear and trembling and the heavens exploding? It must have been something because it made them leave their sheep, go and find this baby, leave their livelihood, leave everything they owned in the world and go find this baby and fall down on their knees in front of him,” Foxworthy explained. “But the line in the song is ‘the thrill of hope’. It’s what people need. Whether it’s at a homeless mission or it’s you or it’s me, people need hope.”
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