Matt Jernigan Guitar Comedian
Christian Man, Clean Comedy!
Comedian Matt Jernigan is a very funny Christian who performs comedy — not a Christian comedian. He considers himself more an entertainer than a comic, a “Guitar Comedian” who offers a myriad of song parodies. Matt’s material is funny, and all ages will find something to enjoy in it. From Elvis to Lady Gaga, he offers something for everyone without losing the short attention span of audiences today. He considers himself a combination of “Weird Al” Yankovick, Jimmy Fallon, and Adam Sandler all rolled up in one. That’s a big comparison. However, Matt delivers the goods, and he has a resume to back it.
Matt has performed in some of L.A.’s top comedy clubs such as the world famous Comedy Store, and The Improv. Matt Jernigan has been featured on many television shows including The X Files, Days of Our Lives, and Comedy Central’s Make Me Laugh.
I caught Matt Jernigan at his home in Michigan for a phone interview.
Matt, I watched several videos of you impersonating some of the music greats such as Bon Jovi, Elvis Presley, and Michael Bolton…but Lady Gaga. How did that come about?
Lady Gaga is so popular I had to imitate her, and basically I don’t listen to Lady Gaga. [laughing] My daughter, who’s only three, heard one of her songs and was singing it her way, singing nonsensical “goo-ga” lyrics to a Lady Gaga’s melody. So I was just poking fun of how ridiculous the lyrics of songs are, and that my three year old daughter could now have a hit!
Why do you incorporate music into your performance? Were you a musician?
I grew up singing in choir and playing piano. I learned guitar in college. It all started when I auditioned for an “improv troop” because I wanted to be an actor. The way to get into it, the group, was to do stand-up before their show to see if you were any good. I decided to do music because everybody loves music! So I put together some jokes of people who sounded like each other. I matched Axl Rose with Kathrine Hepburn and assembled a five minute set. My idea was to do an impression: if you’re even close people love it. So music and the impression gave me a leg up, and it worked. Everybody connected to it.
Have you acted?
Yes, I moved to Los Angeles in 1996. I auditioned for commercials and bit parts here and there, but I was making a living doing stand-up comedy. I did the Comedy Store, the Improv, Laugh Factory, all those, but I was doing those to get connections with people in the sitcom industry; but nothing ever clicked. It took about ten years of doing stand-up for me to realize maybe I’m a stand-up who should be acting on the side. Acting is such a tough racket. I kinda had to figure out what I really wanted to do and what God was allowing me to have a career at.
I look back after wanting to get into acting, and look at television now, and wonder if there’s any television show I’d be comfortable with, and there’s really nothing. It’s either not good, quality talent, or so over the edge, I would have a problem saying I’m a Christian and be on the show. I believe it’s God way of keeping me out of it.
How does a comedian end up on “Days of our Lives?”
[laughing] That’s probably the funniest part of my resume. When you’re out there trying to act, you take whatever you can get. I often got calls from Days of Our Lives for a few one-liners. The good thing for me was that I played piano and could dance. I did more of the Renaissance man, a little bit of everything. They’d hire me to be the piano player, dancer or something like that. It was funny! It’s on five days a week and everyone loved it. So I thought it couldn’t hurt me too bad.
You’re now living in Michigan. What brought you there?
I’m originally from North Carolina. My wife’s family is from Michigan, and most everything I was booking from LA was all over the country. So I made the move to Michigan. It’s been a good move. I work Chicago, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and all the big cities around the Midwest. I miss LA’s weather, but not the smog or the headaches from it for several months of the year.
How long have you been a comedian?
About 18 years.
Were you a Christian when you started?
Yeah, I grew up in a small town in North Carolina. My family attended a small Baptist church. However, my faith grew when I moved to California. I saw the worst of everything, but one of the best things that happened occurred when I was doing a show in Toronto, Canada. Christian speaker and author Francis Chan from San Francisco was speaking in Toronto when we met. He and I became very good friends. He’s one of those Christians who lives what he speaks. I was always challenged by the things he did. I led worship and became part of his church in California. We’re still good friends. I had to move to Hollywood to make my faith grow stronger.
How does your family feel about you as a comedian? Do you pull the family into the routine?
No. The kids love it when I’m doing it with crowds, not so much when I’m doing it with them. Our sense of humor in the house is a lot different. They ask for me to give them a break some times. [laughing] They’re very funny too. It’s very fun living at my home.
Have you always performed clean comedy?
Comedy has become so filthy over the years. When I first started I was working clubs and bars on “open mic” nights in North Carolina. I never used foul language. I would not want for my mom to show up, and I have to watch my mouth. I would not want to embarrass her. I never heard her swear. That’s not how she raised me. The more I performed clean comedy, the more other comics would tell me to become edgier. Telling me to use the language everybody uses, put the guitar down, and stop doing impressions. Those are the things I kept which made me successful. The places I play will never get mad for using clean comedy. A lot of times they don’t realize I’m that clean!
The first company I worked for was called Clean Comedians. We couldn’t say sucks, crap or anything of that type, and it worked. Especially the corporate gigs I perform. The corporate attendees want to know if they bring their wife, husband, and kids, they’re not going to be embarrassed.
Whenever you perform for churches, do you perform Biblical-themed comedy?
There are plenty of Christian comedians who will attempt church-themed comedy when they perform. I started out in clubs, therefore my stuff is a little more edgy, and more like you would see in a comedy club. It’s not church humor, it’s clean humor in a church setting.
I think it’s great for churches to offer a comedy night as an outreach. Many of those invited are usually skeptical because they’re all expecting jokes about Noah and Moses. I do a show like they would see in a comedy club. They’re going to laugh, enjoy, and relate to it. At the same time, the Christians present are surprised they can listen to a comedy show without having to worry about all the innuendos and drug references. God has allowed me to give a gift to make people laugh and forget about their problems for a small period of time.
Tell us about your current CD.
I released it in May 2014. I had a CD/DVD before this one which was about 35 minutes long. Much of the material was from the 1990s to about 2000. This current CD/DVD has everything from the previous project up to date. Combined, it’s about an hour and ten minutes long. I didn’t want my audience to buy several CDs. I wanted to offer everything I had into one. I have another one scheduled for February 2015.