Series 06: For the Love of Laughter | Episode 05
Eat Cake & Be Brave: The Funny Formula For Life With Melissa Radke
We close out with a last laugh in our “For the Love of Laughter” series with none other than one of our own. We asked you: “Who’s funny? Who is that funny person we should absolutely have on the podcast?” And you responded–Melissa Radke! Melissa is that funny friend who wryly observes all the things in life that we face as women and moms, and takes them to task–hilariously head on. Whether it’s struggling with “Mom Guilt,” or trying to make logical the complexities of “Red Ribbon Week”–140 million viewers of her videos can’t get enough of her side-splitting soliloquies. You’ll also hear Melissa’s amazing mom hacks for everything from kids’ costumes to a “nutritious” lunch. If you’ve been labeled as “too” much of something–too big, too loud, too vocal, too much–you’ll find courage in Melissa’s message of pushing aside what some people might say you are, and believing in who you’re made to be.
Text the word Moxie (M-O-X-I-E) to 313131 to get the first chapter from the audiobook plus bonus recipes.
Narrator: Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly likes talking to amazing people, every week, on this podcast. Thanks for listening. We hope you enjoy the show.
Jen: Hey everybody, Jen Hatmaker here. Welcome to the show. Welcome to the For the Love podcast. We are wrapping up what has been the most delightful series, and I’m so sad to see it go. It’s been “For the Love of Laughter” and we’ve had amazing comedians, and stand-up comics and viral sensations on. It’s just been so much fun. Today is an episode that I’ve always loved. As you might know, in every series, we crowdsource the final episode.
So, in other words, we come to you, our community and say, “This is our theme. Who should we have on? Who do you love? Who’s in your life? Who should we all know about?” And so we came to the community and said, “Who’s funny? Who is a funny gal that we should absolutely have on the podcast?” And en masse, you guys said, “Have Melissa Radke on!” You guys, I am so happy that we chose her because you are going to enjoy this next bit of your time so immensely. We laughed so hard during this conversation. Plus, there’s some really tender, precious moments too, that are vulnerable and so inspiring that I cannot wait for you to hear.
Melissa is absolutely delightful. So, she just kind of started this random way. She was posting little videos on Facebook. She’s just naturally funny. You’ll see. But at this point, the videos she has created have been seen by over 140 million people. So, if that tells you anything about how sharable and how funny and how contagious they are … they’re just going everywhere. And now her career is just lifting off. We’re gonna talk about that a lot. I’m so excited for her, but she is so sincerely funny.
Melissa is also a singer. She graduated from Belmont over in Nashville. She’s done a lot of session work for Christian and Country artists. She’s been a worship pastor. She’s so legitimately talented, but now this humor bit is taking flight. She’s married. In fact, she calls her husband David, the “Attorney General,” and this cracks me up, because this is what she said, “I do not imagine real life attorney generals to be a lot of fun, wear silly things, do impulsive acts of tomfoolery and let the rules slide, and now I have described him perfectly. I mean, he’s funny, but in a very rigid, legal kind of way. And yet, I can find my car keys, my birth certificate and my pants because of this man. I adore him.” Hysterical. I need 10 attorney generals in my life.
She’s got two kids, and she’s got Remi and she has Rocco. Remi is also adopted, like my Remy as well, and they all live in Lufkin, Texas and you guys are gonna love, love, love this interview. So, I’m so happy and thrilled to welcome Melissa, Melissa, Melissa to the podcast.
Okay everybody, welcome Melissa to the show, whoo!
Melissa: Yay for me!
Jen: You are here!
Melissa: And I wanna say, Jennifer Marie Hatmaker, I did not think I was gonna meet you this side of heaven. Was I even sort of close on the name, even a little bit?
Jen: You know what? I think you and I are about the same age. How old are you?
Melissa: We did not pray about that this morning.
Jen: I’m so sorry. That was aggressive. That was aggressive. Let me just … I’m 43. Are we near the same..,
Melissa: Yeah, you know what? Here’s the truth. Please don’t think I’m lying. I am either 43 or 44, I am not for sure. Clearly, I’m going to lean towards 43.
Jen: I completely understand this.
Melissa: Do you not forget sometimes?
Jen: Who even cares? When you turn 43, who cares? I don’t even want anybody to say happy birthday to me because it’s just 43.
Melissa: That’s exactly right.
Jen: Here’s my point. For those of us born in the 70s like us, Marie is good…you reach for a good middle name. That was a good choice. However…
Melissa: I thought so, too.
Jen: My middle name is what all the Jennifer’s middle names are. All of us, our middle name is Lynn.
Jen: It’s Lynn, all of us.
Melissa: Oh, Jennifer Lynn.
Jen: I promise. Every single Jennifer born in the 70s is Jennifer Lynn, all of us.
Melissa: Jennifer Lynn, absolutely. Marie is my go to middle name when I am mad at someone, or I wanna be emphatic or dramatic for effect. So, I’m like, “Ashley Marie! Carly Marie!” Like all of my friends are like, “You know that’s not even in the ball park, right?”
Jen: It doesn’t matter. It’s for effect.
Melissa: I’m just so happy to be here, because I really thought that you and I would get to, we’d get to talk, like in heaven. Just like, shoot the breeze. Look at us doing it now. Heaven come to earth Jen, heaven come to earth.
Jen: That’s what this is. I’ve said it a hundred times, this podcast is heaven come to earth. You’ve nailed it, that’s our branding. That’s our branding.
Melissa: You’re welcome.
Jen: Now listen. You have a very distinct honor on this podcast, because every single series we do, and this one’s my favorite, we crowdsource the final episode. In other words, “this is our theme, Facebook? Instagram? Tell us who you know that we need to have on this podcast.” This is obviously For the Love of Laughter, and I asked the world, “World, who’s funny? Who’s funny that you love, that we need to have on the final episode,” and everybody said, “Melissa.”
Melissa: Melissa! Bless your heart.
Jen: It’s so awesome. You won it hands down. Have you ever won anything before? Are you a winner?
Melissa: Jesus says I’m a winner so I am, but, however, I won a cakewalk in the fourth grade.
Melissa: I’m not gonna lie, it was a pretty long drought after that. I won a cakewalk … Listen to this, this is the truth. I won a cakewalk in the fourth grade, and I was so excited. I brought the cake home and I showed it to my parents. It was something called a hummingbird cake.
Jen: I don’t know what that means.
Melissa: All I know is, it had little pieces of fruit and nut in it and I was like, “You know what? The earth hates me.”
Jen: That’s depressing.
Melissa: I didn’t win anything else, and then last year, bought a $10 ticket at a raffle. Won a Louis Vuitton purse.
Melissa: Yes. I know.
Jen: That’s amazing.
Melissa: I thought that was pretty cool. Now when people in town see me with my purse, they’re not like, “Oh, there’s Melissa and her fancy purse.” They’re like, “There’s
Melissa and her $10 handbag,” but, I don’t care.
Jen: Oh. Please. I’d be proud of that. I’d be like-
Melissa: I am kind of proud.
Jen: “I’ve managed to get a Louis Vuitton purse for $10. Bow at my feet.”
Melissa: I know it.
Jen: That is something.
Melissa: I’ve just gotta say, things are looking up for me.
Jen: I just feel good about your streak.
Melissa: Things are turning around.
Jen: Yeah, yeah. It’s time for The Voice. That’s next.
Melissa: That’s right.
Jen: Listen, they put moms on their show, that’s your space. ‘Cause you can actually sing, we’re gonna get to that in a minute.
Jen: So, let’s talk about how you got started here, being this funny gal. I like it because, you and I started, kind of in some similar spaces. You were blogger, vlogger, and we actually have a lot in common. Your video about Mom Guilt made me laugh so hard.
First of all, that’s real. Everybody, stop it universe. Stop it. Mom Guilt was one of my, that was a tipping point for me too. I wrote about, just all that absurdity in a blog called, The Worst of…
Melissa: It was the first thing I ever heard of you! That was it. That was how I was introduced to you.
Jen: Oh, seriously. Worst End of School Year Mom?
Melissa: That was it.
Jen: I was just telling our truth, that’s all I was doing.
Melissa: That’s right.
Jen: I was sitting down talking about how dumb the end of the school year is for moms who are over it, and you, kind of, you picked up that thread too. Tell us about the Mom Guilt video. By the way, everybody listening, we’re gonna have all this linked, so don’t worry about it. You’re going to get to see all this hilarity.
Melissa: Because, no doubt, no doubt, they have to see this right?
Jen: It’s hilarious.
Melissa: It’s so ridiculous, as I like to say, “It’s ridonkulous.”
Jen: It is.
Melissa: That this little video just went off, but here’s the deal, we call it the signs video because I’m holding up these pages of notebook paper with words written on them. I don’t understand what that whole appeal is.
Jen: What is that?
Melissa: You know, where people hold up what they’re trying to say, instead of just saying it.
Jen: Oh, I know. You know where that came from right?
Melissa: No, what?
Jen: My least favorite movie of all time.
I literally hate it, and I mentioned this, just in December on Facebook, and I think like, 1,000 people unfollowed me because they were so mad about it.
Jen: You remember that movie, Love Actually. You know about that movie? I freaking hate it. It’s sad.
Melissa: Let me tell you something. I was very unhappy with you. Over Christmas…
Jen: Oh my gosh. I’m really sorry.
Melissa: I prayed to God. I talked to God about it.
Jen: You did.
Melissa: I love, Love Actually.
Jen: You forgave me in your heart?
Melissa: I did, but here’s the deal, you were like extreme.
You said something like, “I hate Love Actually, and if you like Love Actually, we’re done, see ya. It’s finished, it’s over.”
Jen: You know what? That was mean wasn’t it. That was mean. It was December. I’m sorry for what I said in December.
Melissa: I said to myself, “Melissa, let’s regroup. Let’s regroup on this.” So, I’m back and I’m okay with you.
So, anyway, the signs video, I have never really, truly understood that, but then I put this video up of me writing down my feelings. They’re all so melodramatic. I did this video about the fact that, I had literally missed my daughter’s, dentist appointment that very day. Now keep in mind, she had braces on, so every time you miss those braces have to stay on like a month longer, but I had not missed my root appointment with my hairstylist.
Jen: I deeply understand your priorities. Deeply.
Melissa: I just was kind of doing it for fun. People thought it was staged. People thought my kids were awake in the bed beside me. They were most definitely not awake. They were sleeping like logs. It was just kind of meant in good fun, but yet it was truth about my life. I put on one of ’em “my kid went to school today with a hardboiled egg and a bag of cool ranch Doritos.” That was truth, but he came home alive, so I don’t see the problem.
Jen: Seriously. Show me where you’re a bad mom in that. Show me. That is a lie.
Melissa: He lived.
Jen: Plus, they trade away whatever healthy thing we give ’em for garbage, food from their neighbor.
Melissa: That’s exactly right.
Jen: So, don’t everybody be smug. Don’t be smug about your cut up vegetables. Your kid is not eating that.
Melissa: They’re trading it for a Honey Bun, you and I know it.
Jen: You know they are. You know they are. Little Debbie Honey Bun. I promise you that’s what your kid, like, hand over fist, ate, from their neighbor Jared.
Melissa: That’s exactly right. The package was half open, we’re not even gonna ask about that. Not even gonna ask if Jared had like, left it open for three days.
Melissa: Nonetheless, my kids eat, they’re fine, they’re loved. They know we love ’em. They’re warm at night. So he had cool ranch Doritos.
Jen: Listen. The internet will find a way to be mad at you no matter what you say.
We’ve got to be more free than that. We’re just gonna have to go ahead and say what we’re gonna say and live our lives.
I am like you, I love satire, and I love humor. I love it when that’s applied to motherhood, and let me just tell you, everybody is dear. Everybody is loved by God, they’re created in the image of God. However, some mommas are so precious, and they are so earnest that they simply cannot deal. So, when we say, “I hate the end of the school year, and I wanna pull my kid out in April and just like, float the year,” they’re like, “How dare you. Education is a treasure.” I’m like, “You know what? I don’t think this is your venue. I don’t think this is your genre.” It’s satire. I don’t actually mean it. I’m actually not gonna pull my kids out in April, but thank you for being here, and thank you for commenting.
Melissa: I feel the same way. So, literally next week, we are leaving and we are taking our kids to Disney for the entire week. We’re taking them out of school and we’re going to Disney.
Jen: Oh my Lord.
Melissa: Here’s the deal with that. Number one, we saved up that money for a hella long time, okay.
Jen: Yeah, totally.
Melissa: Secondly, we’ve never been. This is a first for us.
Jen: Oh my stars.
Melissa: And, I wanna go in February when people, you know, February, March, when people aren’t … there’s not a jillion people. So, we’re doing it, and I’m already feeling the heat. Feeling the heat from these mommas. Like, “Oh, it’s a bad time.” What is bad? They are in the third and fifth grade. There’s no better time.”
Jen: Thank you. This is not Harvard. Okay, we’re not at Yale.
Jen: So, it’s gonna be okay if they miss some math fact for five days. All those teachers are like, “Shut up ya’ll.”
Melissa: I know.
Jen: I’m with you. I am so with you. I am just not very precious about anything, so it always surprises me when everybody finds a way to be offended about, you know, holding up your signs. There’s just a way to be offended. Have you developed some thicker skin for this, because your stuff…I mentioned it earlier, but your stuff’s been seen 140 million times. That’s a lot of eyeballs, and those eyeballs are attached to opinions. Some of those come back and they can be sharp, and they can be harsh, and you could be misunderstood. Are you like, figuring out how to deal with this, as somebody who’s on the internet being funny?
Melissa: I am, and it’s taken me a bit. It really has, but I think it’s the grace of God, I learned it pretty quickly. Here’s the deal, if I put out a video and it starts to get traction, let’s just say, and there’s a couple hundred comments. I usually kind of read through ’em and chuckle with everybody. When it reaches past a couple hundred comments, then I know I am in a much larger space, and they aren’t really my people, so I don’t read the comments. I stop.
So, there’s a lot of my videos that have gone viral. I’ve had several go viral, and my girlfriends, who are super protective will say, “Did you read this comment?” I’ll say, “No, no, no.” ‘Cause when it’s past like 188 comments I’m done. I don’t know them, so I’ve learned to do that pretty well. There’s been some pretty harsh things said about me, but still to this day, I don’t even know about ’em.
Jen: That’s so good. That is so healthy. How dare you be so healthy. I’m mad at you. I’m so mad at you. I love that you’re already figuring out how to deal healthy.
You know, I just interviewed John Crist. Do you know who John is?
Melissa: Oh yeah. I did not want to come after him. I did not.
Jen: I’m sorry. He is really funny too. He said something really amazing on the podcast. He said that his agent, or manager said to him, “if you are going to respond to a negative comment online, or some sort of critic that comes at you in that space, then I’m gonna also require you to respond to the 250 people who said the most beautiful, wonderful, kind things to you. So, you gotta respond to them first, before you’re gonna respond to that one.” And I was like, “Oh dang, that’s so good, because it’s a numbers game here. It’s a numbers game.” Where those four disproportional, really mean critics somehow manage to usurp 10,000 people who were so entertained, and so enjoyed what you put out in the world–something’s wrong with our brains if that’s where we decide to spend our attention.
Let’s talk about another one of your videos, because I love it. I saw it when it first came out and I died, because I have made the exact commentary, like, fix it, Jesus.
Let’s talk about Red Ribbon Week.
Melissa: Oh my God. The video that will end up on my tombstone. “Here lies the Red Ribbon Week mom.”
Jen: Yes. A bunch of us obviously already seen it, but can you just talk us through it, because I want to talk about Red Ribbon Week too, and I have thoughts. I have ideas. I have reform.
Melissa: So, Red Ribbon Week, it is really well known in the South, but from what I understand, there are some places, like maybe up North, that don’t really know what it is.
I’ve had some people comment and say, “I’m from Idaho and I don’t know.” So, I don’t know where all it reaches, but I know it’s in Texas.
It is a week designated to drug awareness and prevention. What they do is, the schools decide that they will make it fun for the kids, and they’ll let them dress up in a different thing every day for this theme week. one day’s wear red. One day is, “don’t let drugs find you, wear camo,” #onlyinTexas, am I right?
Melissa: Anyway, that’s what it is, and I can’t keep up with the madness. I can’t do it
and feed them, so something had to give. I go to a Mexican food restaurant on a Monday night with my best friend. We’re eating dinner and these three guys come in dressed, head to toe in camo, and I look at ’em and I say, “That reminds me, I’ve gotta go to Target after this and get some camo for my kids, ’cause it’s Red Ribbon Week.” She goes, “Oh my word, is it really?” I said, “Yeah. You know what? I’m gonna make a video about that tonight. I’m just gonna rant.” And that was, honestly that was one of the first videos I ever … I mean, I put up little bitty ones here and there, but that was the first one. Then, by the time I got home from work the next day, it had already been viewed like 7 million times.
Melissa: So, we knew we had a problem.
Jen: It’s just not gonna do it. What is today? It’s the 15th. On February 13th, I had to say on Facebook, “World, I just need you to know something about me.
This is my first February 13th, since 2001 that I have not sat at the dining room table with whiny, fussy, distraught children doing valentines. The reason is, because I graduated from elementary school. I no longer have an elementary school student.” Y’all elementary school is out to kill us.
Melissa: That’s right.
Jen: It is. The hundredth day of school, Red Ribbon Week, science fair projects.
Jen: Stop it.
Melissa: Who in your community, let’s dress up like people we respect in our community. Nobody’s dressing up like me. You know what I’m saying?
Jen: Thank you. Same.
Melissa: The police officers are wonderful, I love ’em, but somebody dress up like me for the love of God. I get those kids there on time every day, so I’m serving the community
Jen: Thank you.
Melissa: Honestly, I think I read that you posted that on Facebook, so I kind of had that mentality, and I went into my daughter’s fifth grade valentine party.
Jen: Oh yeah, of course.
Melissa: When I was standing in there, I was standing beside another mom and she said, “Do you realize that this is the last,” … If she’s listening to this podcast, she’s gonna know I’m talking about her. “Do you realize that this is the last party we will get to come to, because they’ll be moving to sixth grade next year, and this is the last one.” And I said to her, “High five it, bring it up high lady.”
Jen: Let’s go get margaritas.
Melissa: She looked at me like I had grieved her.
Jen: God bless it.
Melissa: I’m friends with ’em, but they know I don’t align. I don’t align with them.
Jen: No. We’re unequally yoked.
Melissa: We are, we are.
Jen: I’ll tell you right now, I do not miss elementary school. I don’t miss it, and the moms will say it, “You know what? You’re gonna miss this and you’re gonna be sorry that you fussed.” I’m like, “No ma’am. No, I will not be sorry, and no, I will not miss it. I don’t want to come up with 100 things to bring on the hundredth day of school. I don’t want to dress my kid up like he’s 100 years on that day also.”
Melissa: I’m not counting out 100 cheese puffs. Not gonna do it. Not gonna do it.
Jen: I don’t wanna do it. I don’t want to win another science fair. Well, my husband has won a couple of science fairs. He’s the project dad. I don’t know how you and your husband divvy out the responsibilities. My husband is the project dad, and I’m the daily grinder. I’m the one who just hammers out the like, Ugg, the daily homework. Which to me, is way worse. When it comes to science fair, when it comes to we’re gonna dress up as an American hero figure, we’re gonna have some kind of market days project … that’s off my plate. I can’t. I literally cannot muster up the energy. Do you do all the homework? Do you do all this?
Melissa: No, no, no, no. I don’t do a good portion of any of the homework, because I … I don’t wanna say I’m not smart enough. I’m smart enough, but I’m just …they’re already passing me in third and fifth grade. They know that.
Jen: It’s weird.
Melissa: Here’s what I have done. I bought one of those monkeys that are stuffed…
Jen: I don’t know where this is going….
Melissa: There’s this stuffed monkey and it’s the kind where the legs Velcro around the kid’s waist, have you seen those? Then the arms can Velcro around their neck, so now whenever they have to dress up like anybody, they have to be Jane Goodall, ’cause she worked with monkeys. So, even my son’s like, he’d just yank it off. I’ll be like, “Put the monkey on go to school.”
We’re just making things simpler, that’s what I’m…
Jen: No, I know. I really applaud that. I mention this, we mentioned the Worst End of School Year Mom, and I remember we had, dress up as a colonial, or dress up like a character … In the second to last week of school, and I’m like, “Why, why? Why Lord? Why this oppression?”
I remember that this one kid comes walking down the hall, and he’s just wearing regular clothes. He’s in jeans and a t-shirt, and around his neck is a pair of goggles, just stuck to his shirt with tape is just a piece of printer paper with marker on it that says, “Michael Phelps,” and I’m like, “Where’s your mother, because she’s my hero, and I want her to be my new best friend.” This is the most we can do, it’s the most we can muster, and I still want a prize for it. “You know what? I dug those goggles out, didn’t I?” So, I’m with you.
Melissa: I totally agree. It’s not that I don’t want … A lot of people say online, “Red Ribbon Week, I’m so offended by this, it’s just to help our kids have fun.” My kids have a freaking good time all the time. They don’t have a worry in the world, so I’m not concerned about it, but also, I have found, and I don’t know if this is the case for you. I have found too that with my … I’m trying to get a kind of career off the ground, and I’m doing it a bit later in life, that a lot of moms don’t have the patience for that. So they think I’m really just taking away from my kids, and I feel like that’s unfair too. They’re like, “Of course you don’t want to dress them for Red Ribbon Week.” It’s just a whole thing, so listen to what I did for Red Ribbon Week this year.
Melissa: See it was coming back around.
Jen: Every year.
Melissa: It comes around every year. I knew the school, all the teachers were gonna be watching to see what I would do, ’cause I maybe offended ’em last year. I didn’t, they were wonderful. This year I made my kids t-shirts and I put my face real, real big on the front of it. Huge. My face was huge, and on the back, it was a pledge. I pledge to never do drugs, ’cause if I do my mom will spank me and take away my Xbox. If you pledge to also never do drugs, you can sign my shirt. Then they wore that shirt every single day, with my big fat face on it.
Jen: I can’t. This is amazing.
Melissa: When all of the kids at school signed it, and everybody wanted a Miss Melissa shirt. I said, “I’d like to say, Red Ribbon, I won.” Red Ribbon, zero. Melissa Radke, one.
Jen: I nominate you as Mayor, as Mayor of all of elementary school.
Melissa: That’s right. What an honor.
Jen: Of all of it. Of all of our elementary schools. Please apply this level of genius to all the things.
Melissa: And, you can’t wash the shirt, ’cause God knows it would fall apart. So yeah, they wore it every day, and they stunk to high heaven, but they had a great time.
Jen: I want to go back to something you just said, because … Listen, I’m not here for this low-level mom shaming when you have the audacity to build a career, how dare you. Some moms, I know this is crazy, but some moms have to work. This is one of the touch points that drives me bananas, that it is somehow an indicator of your commitment to your children, to build a career outside of their daily and momentary happiness. So, let’s talk about your career, because this portion of your public life is new, which I love, but this isn’t how you started. In fact, you went to college at Belmont right?
Jen: In Nashville, and you studied music, and music was gonna be your career path. Can you sort of go back and tell us, this is where I started, this is what I was thinking my life was gonna look like. Then sort of, how you found your way to where you are now.
Melissa: Well, I come from a very musical family, and I don’t just say that, I actually am really surrounded by extremely beautiful vocalists, especially the women in my family, they can kill it. They are very good. I grew up traveling and singing with my family in four-part harmony. That was always what I was gonna do I was the kid that would come home after school, and I would take my jam box, remember those?
Jen: Of course.
Melissa: I’d take my jam box outside. When the wind would blow, that would be the applause, and then I would be CeCe Winans, and then I would just sing all the CeCe Winan songs that had ever been recorded, and the wind would blow and the people were applauding me and I would bow. That’s what I had lined up for myself.
Jen: I like it.
Melissa: I met my husband, we met in college. We moved to Nashville to finish college there at Belmont, because that’s where you go man. You go to Nashville.
Jen: That’s right.
Melissa: It wasn’t happening for me, and it wasn’t just that I kept hitting brick wall after brick wall. It wasn’t feeling right, I was wearing shoes that didn’t fit. What do you do though? What do you do when you have banked your whole life on this process and then these shoes don’t fit? I went to Nashville, we lived there for 16 years.
During the 16 years I did a lot of chin work, and in the studio with country artists, or Christian artists, but ran into some really heartbreaking things there. One of which was this, I don’t look like Carrie Underwood. If you wanna look me up, you’ll know that I don’t weigh what Carrie Underwood weighs, or wear the same size, or look like her. Yet, I always felt a little bit more comfortable in my skin than people maybe wanted me to. Does that make sense?
Jen: Oh wow. Totally.
Melissa: I had a couple of situations. One of which was, I had professor in a class at Belmont my senior year. This was in a required course, so there were about 110 students in there, everybody had to take it before you graduate, and one particular day, and I write about this in my book. One particular day, he says, “I want everybody to look out that window right there.” We all looked out the window and it was looking down Music Row, where all of the record labels are. He said, “I’ve come to all your senior recitals, I’ve heard all of you sing. There’s only one person in this room that can truly make it on that road right there, and that’s Melissa Radke.”
Jen: Oh my gosh.
Melissa: Everybody just sat still, nobody said anything, ’cause it’s very cutthroat, and in an instant I felt really honored. He goes, “She has the vocal chops, but unfortunately, nobody will ever listen to her because of the way she looks.”
Melissa: No one moved. No one…
Jen: I can’t take a breath.
Melissa: So, to go from this, you know, being admonished like this, and being so encouraged, then just to drop. I ran into things like that. I was singing backup in the studio one day, and the producer, when I was done … I was done for the day, I was getting my stuff together and he goes, “Melissa Radke I wanna tell you something. It’s a shame you can sing like that girl, ’cause people just don’t buy ugly.”
Jen: Golly. I could throw a coffee cup through the window right now.
Melissa: I know. It’s like, I just knew that it wasn’t fitting for me, it didn’t-
Melissa: One of the very last things that happened was … this was back in the day of, American Idol was new. That was really one of the first vocal competition. Well, there was one on VH1, okay, called, Divas Live. And, Diva’s Live, they were gonna have these auditions, it was gonna be all females that were auditioning, and it was gonna be in Atlanta, Georgia. That was about a four-hour trip from Nashville. We saved up our money, we got me a hotel, and I took off. I drove there, and I thought, “You know what? If they’re gonna look at me this way in Nashville, maybe this’ll be different.” I was just looking for validation, I just needed a little validation.
I get to this competition, there’s about 800 women in the room. All of which, want me to fail. I know this because I too, wanted them to fail. I mean, you know-
Jen: Of course, I get the game.
Melissa: We’re going up one at a time, and we’re walking to the stage. We’re singing for three judges that are sitting at a table right in the center of the room. It’s my turn to go up. I get up to the stage. I get behind the mic, and I bust out, “He’s leaving on that midnight train to Georgia.” And I start singing. When I’m done, the judge in the middle of the table stands up. He has not moved all day. He stands up. He walks to the stage. He turns and he looks at all of the women, and he points to me and he says, “If you wanna be on my show, you better sing like this, but you better not look like this.”
Jen: No. You’re kidding me?
Melissa: I am not kidding.
Jen: You’re kidding that he said that.
Melissa: I walked off that stage, and Jen, the only way I can describe it, I took those words, “Better not look like this,” and I just tattooed them. Well, not literally, ’cause I’m a big chicken, but figuratively, I just tattooed them on my skin, again. Along things like, you’re too loud, you’re too big, you’re too much. That’s what it was for years, I just allowed all of these words to penetrate my skin, and I didn’t want to walk around like that anymore. I didn’t like that feeling.
Jen: Those stories are breaking my heart. How did you … I would love to hear how you pushed through that. How did you conquer that? How did you come through on the other side, healthy and whole, and super confident in your own skin? What did you do?
Melissa: I wish I could tell you what my three-point formula was, and then sell it online, I really do, but it’s taken a very, very long time. It’s taken a long time, and it’s taken a lot of faith and just saying, “I will push aside everything the world has ever said. I will push aside everything man has ever said, and I will just let what God has said replace it.” Even when I don’t feel it. Even when I don’t believe God, I will just let his words, and what he has said about me, replace it. It has taken me many, many years of continually doing it.
It’s like an addict, sometimes I want to go back to what those words, how they tarnished me, but I don’t. I don’t let myself go back. I just believe, I just believe. When I don’t feel like a saint, I remember God calls me a saint. When I don’t feel righteous, I am His righteous-est, in Christ. I just say those things, over and over to myself. There’s been years that they have been on my dashboard and on my rearview mirror, and hanging up on my fridge. It just took a long time of believing that.
One of the other things is that, for many years I prayed that God would change my personality, because I always talk too much. Too loud. Too vocal.
Jen: Yeah, me too. Yeah, same.
Melissa: The girl that you could hear above everybody else in the restaurant, and I wanted God to make me demure and soft.
Jen: Sure. I’ve said that I have to become precious my whole adult life.
Melissa: Yes. Have you really?
Jen: I simply cannot, I lack the skill set.
Melissa: To think that here I am now, being recognized for the personality God gave me, that he never wanted to shut down. He had no intention.
Jen: That’s right.
Melissa: He did have an intention to soften it and shape it, and bring it under obedience and submission, but he never wanted to change it.
Jen: Of course not.
Melissa: So, here I am, making a career, really off of the very thing I prayed for years that he would change and take from me. Isn’t that ironic?
Jen: So fabulous. I love it. I love it so very much. I’ve said before that … Early on in my career too, I considered a portion of my personality a liability, ’cause it was same, very loud. I really have always valued humor, deeply valued it. I love comedy. I’m right on the edge of appropriate at all times. I thought, “Well, golly, I’m just gonna, I guess, diminish this or figure out a way to make it a little sweeter, or quieter.” ‘Cause obviously, the important part of my work is gonna be teaching the Bible, and talking about Jesus, and writing beautiful, precious things about scripture. Where in fact, now at 43, I realize that was never meant to be diminished or harnessed.
It’s all just this package, the way that we’re created, and there’s so much value in it, so it’s not even just like, “It’s just the way you are. Good luck with that.” It’s valuable. It draws people in, and humor is not unimportant, it’s not. It is important, and I think it’s even more important right now in the world than ever. Than ever. Anybody who can remind me right now, that laughter is still okay, and we’re still capable of it, and we’re gonna make it. There’s this levity injected into such, just a sober culture right now.
Jen: Amazing. It’s an amazing gift. Comedy is not easy. It’s not just two loud girls sitting here yukking it up.
Jen: It’s kind of the way we’re created, and we think in funny ways. We think in comedic timing. We think in punchlines.
Jen: I think sort of, putting our arms around that and going, “That’s not just a side hustle, that’s actually like, deeply at the core of our identity,” is amazing. I really like what you said, because I think ultimately, believing what’s true about you. Believing what God says about you. Believing everything that’s real. Some people feel like that’s a feeling, but as you perfectly described, it’s a discipline.
Melissa: It is.
Jen: You choose it. You choose to believe that, you choose it. It not that you just walk around feeling like a princess. It’s that you’re gonna actively choose that thought, that truth, that way to respond, that way to behave. Over time, all of a sudden you look around, that’s who you are.
Melissa: One of the ways that I have described it when I speak places or whatever, is I say, “These were like tattoos on my skin, and I was sick of people choosing what tattoos I wore around.” Would you ever do that? Would you ever go in and get your arm tatted up and let someone else decide… No, you want to pick it. I have a girlfriend who, her arm, I swear, it’s absolutely beautiful. She has, clearly no pain tolerance, but I do, since she’s got this arm that’s all tatted up and everything tells a story right? You know those people. Every one tells a story.
You know what kind of story my tattoos were telling? They were telling one of defeat, and being less than, and being trampled on, and being fat, and being ugly, and being last in line. I was sick of someone else choosing my tattoos. I was ready to choose ’em.
Melissa: I was ready to wash away everything they said, and replace a tattoo with every word He’s ever called me.
Jen: It’s amazing. And you are, and you have. Like, your presence right now in the world is so joyful, and it is bringing such light to the world, such happiness to so many people’s hearts. It’s phenomenal.
Jen: I just howled. I howled with laughter.
Jen: I just howled. I can’t tell which is funnier, if it’s you all blurry and raptured, thinking you won, but you didn’t, or your mom, who’s like, not here for any of it. She’s like, literally not here for it. Can you talk about that for a second?
Melissa: The funniest thing about that is that we are at a local event. We have it every single year. It’s called purse bingo. All the women in the town come out, ’cause I live in a pretty small town. All the women in the town come out and try to win these purses right, and I think I have won every round of bingo that has ever been played. I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be, B17. I just pretty sure. That was probably the eighth time I had jumped up like that, and my friend, Colleen … Yeah, that very night. So, my friend, Colleen, took that picture, and she’s like …
Jen: Oh my gosh.
Melissa: My friend Colleen is Indian goes like this, “Even my camera cannot keep up with you when you move, because you think you have won again.” So, I did not win, and that is my mother’s face, but that is always my mother’s face.
Jen: Oh my gosh. I died. She didn’t even look your direction. It didn’t even ruffle her.
Melissa: She’s immune to all of it, every bit of it.
Jen: What’s your mom like? Is that your mom? Is she like this steady straight man in the family, and you’re like the wild, crazy, hilarious girl?
Melissa: No. She’s not a steady straight man, but I think my parents have very, very good personalities. Very funny people. My mom is a dynamic speaker and teacher. My dad’s a business man, but he is very funny. I’m very close to my family. I will tell you that I am experiencing some growing pains. I’m experiencing some growing pains there. I’m moving out a little bit in this career, and it’s scaring my mom.
Jen: Is it?
Melissa: Yeah it is. The things people say online scare her. The things that my dad will hear bother him. Cameras coming … Me and David and the kids are working on a reality show right now, and cameras following us around, it scares my parents.
Melissa: So, there’s some growing pains there, and they’re having a little trouble letting go. But, no, they’ve got great personalities. Everyone says my mother is a cross between like, Carol Burnett and Jane Fonda, and she is.
Jen: Oh my gosh. What a compliment.
Melissa: Yes. She is. She’s wonderful.
Jen: Let’s talk about your career a little bit, ’cause I would love to hear … You just started putting out these videos. You’re just doing ’em on your phone, it’s not as if you’re doing some high scale production.
Melissa: Oh gosh no.
Jen: This is you, being your normal self, doing a funny three-minute bit about whatever the thing is, and this starts catching traction. Pick a thread from there. Then what? How is this rolling out into, kind of, a whole new space for you? And, talk about that show because… what’s going on??
Melissa: Can I tell you first, how the videos even started?
Melissa: Let me tell you that. When I turned 40, I had a killer birthday party. My friends threw me a party at a crawfish shack, because, Jen, I am classy. I need you to know that.
Jen: Yes. That’s clear. That’s been obvious this whole time, so.
Melissa: Then I joined this 40th … I joined this club right? Don’t you feel like you’ve joined the club, so now if we forget our kids at school people just go, “Oh well, Melissa’s in her 40s.”
Jen: Right. I’m 43.
Melissa: Or, if we pee when we … Yeah. We pee when we laugh, you know, you’re in the club.
Jen: Right, I can’t read my phone. I’m 43, I’m sorry, my eyes are broken. Right.
Melissa: That’s 40. Let me tell you what happened when you turn 41. I thawed out my own pot roast, and I bought my own cookie cake at the mall, because nobody remembers you at 41.
Jen: That’s so true.
Melissa: When I turned 41, there was this vast difference of what 40 … we weren’t loud and laughing and playing NSYNC, and dancing all night long. It was me around my kitchen table with my husband and my two kids. My mom and my dad. My mom, who stayed on her phone the entire night adding up years, because she said, and I quote, “I could have sworn you were 42.”
Then us looking at a cookie cake where they had spelled, “Happy Birthday MEALissa”
Jen: Mealissa, that’s art.
Melissa: When I blew out the candles on my cake at 41, this is the wish that I made. I wished to be brave. Because, I had been too scared for too long.
Melissa: I didn’t know what that meant, but I just said, “for one year, I’m just gonna give it one year. For one year, I’m gonna say yes to what scares me. I’m gonna do what challenges me. I’m gonna go where I’ve never been. I’m gonna wear what they said I shouldn’t wear. I’m gonna try to do what they said I shouldn’t do, and if my daughter can watch me be brave, even for one year, it’ll be better than watching me holed up in a corner, because somebody said I shouldn’t.”
So, I said I would, and when I turned 41, one of the first things that I began to do was make videos. A lot of people think, “That’s so silly, really? You were gonna be brave and that’s what you did?” Well, when you gotta face made for radio, putting yourself out there on a video is kind of a big deal.
Jen: It sure is.
Melissa: So, I started doing it because my husband kept saying, “I really think people will respond to your personality, you need to do this.” One of the first ones that I put out was Red Ribbon Week. So, the rest is history.
Melissa: When I started doing this, the more I said yes, and the more I became brave, the more opportunities came. I knew that God was blessing that moment. That there was blessing and then bravery. There was blessing and then stepping out. I call it my “Year of Yes.” Like the Shonda Rhimes book. I just said, “Yes.”
So, here I am, and that’s really how the videos really came into be, and that’s why my book that’s coming out, it’s called, Eat Cake, Be Brave. It’s also why I am on the cover of that book, wearing sleeveless, thank you very much. You do not need to applaud.
Jen: This makes me so happy. It really fills my heart with crazy, crazy joy.
Let’s talk about the reality show, and let’s talk about the book, whichever order you want to talk about ’em.
Melissa: Let’s start with the reality show, because that’s just stupid.
Melissa: Because that is just so stupid, but-
Jen: That’s exactly what I said when we had one. This is dumb.
Melissa: It’s so dumb, but it’s been so fun. So, we have officially signed with a major network that, apparently, we cannot say what that network is until they decide to announce it, and God knows, I’ve tried.
Jen: T.V.’s weird.
Melissa: We’ve created the pilot and the presentation and all this kind of stuff, they’re loving it. That should be coming soon to a television near you, probably in 2018.
Jen: So fun.
Melissa: It is nothing but them following me, David and these kids around. I only have two kids, but it sounds like I have seven.
Jen: I understand this.
Melissa: It’s just a fun, family friendly reality show. We’re having a lot of fun doing it. I think it’s gonna be … I think it’s gonna be kind of cool. I really do.
Jen: That’s so crazy. I love it.
Melissa: Then, there’s the book. The book really came out of nowhere. That has been a dream of mine for a very long time. I knew I could write in the 12th grade, when my teacher in English handed me back a paper. She leaned down and she whispered in my ear, “I want you to go look up a woman named Erma Bombeck, and read her stuff.” I was the only 12th grader in my high school reading Erma Bombeck, but I read it. That is my style of writing, that’s what I love. I’ve written forever. When I die, people will have journal after journal to go through, ’cause I’ve journaled my whole life. That was very natural to me. What was scary to me was that I signed with a mainstream publisher.
Jen: Love it.
Melissa: Because, I just, you know what, I wanted to take what I had to say outside. I wanted to take it outside the church.
Jen: You know, I love that.
Melissa: I do. Thank you for that, and God is really blessing that, and I’m getting a lot of cool opportunities from it. So, we’ll see.
Jen: When does it come out?
Melissa: July 17th.
Jen: Okay. So, you’re about to turn the ship right into the wind, which is just like, time to promote it. Time to start talking about it. It’s really exciting.
Melissa: I don’t know what any of that looks like, or what I’m supposed to do. I just know that I hear, you get to have a party, and if you get to have a party, then you get to have queso. So, all I know is, I wrote a book and now I’m gonna eat some queso.
Jen: That’s right, you’re, kind of in charge of this. I figured that out early on. I can have parties. I can make people be happy for me. They’re gonna have to come to my house and maybe, bring me a present and some chips. I mean, how is that bad? Tell me how that’s bad? It’s fun. It’s exciting. I love that you are courageous enough to take your message and push it outside the confines of a Christian audience, which is kind of, a built-in cheering squad. To go beyond that boundary and say, “I think this is a message for everyone and I’m gonna take it wider,” I really respect that, and I think that’s a good decision that you’re never gonna regret at all.
Melissa: I hope you’re right.
Jen: This is a big year. This is a big year for you. A lot is coming out this year. It’s really exciting, and let me just say this. I understand. I get why your parents are nervous. They don’t do well with critics of their own children and all the attention that comes with it, but I do want to say that I think this is marvelous. I love the way that your career is taking shape. I think it’s fabulous to have another strong beautiful, funny, important voice finding its way into the spotlight. I think that this is gonna be good for us. Good for our culture, good for our community, good for you and your family.
I think it’s gonna be amazing that your kids are going to watch their mom go for a dream, in her 40s. That’s amazing. They’re gonna tell this story one day, like, “My mom, in her 40s, took control of her own life.” That’s a powerful and profound story that they’re gonna watch you live out, and it’s gonna affect them. On my end, lady, I’m over here giving you a standing ovation. I’m thrilled about it. I’m so, so happy for your success.
Melissa: Thank you.
Jen: We’re watching, and we’re cheering, and we’re reading, and we’re gonna watch your show on, I’m just gonna say, NBC? I don’t know, don’t say anything, I’m just guessing. CBS? Please, please tell me it’s Bravo.
Melissa: Oh my gosh.
Jen: Please let it be Bravo, God.
Melissa: I don’t know why you … I don’t know how you ever came to be such a champion for women. I think that you could quit writing books tomorrow, we would grieve ourselves to death, of course, but if you did, you could still literally be who you are, just in your championing. Is that a word? Of other women. It’s really remarkable.
Jen: Thank you.
Melissa: I’m not kidding. I’m not just saying this for your podcast listeners. You mean it when you say it, and when you live in a town of 40 thousand people, and everybody has kind of told you “no,” that you “shouldn’t,” for you to say, “You should, and you should keep going, and you should never stop going. And even, Melissa, move out from where it’s comfortable, you been born and raised in the church, but step outside there and look at the rest of the world who needs to hear this news.” Thank you for doing that for me.
Jen: That’s right.
Melissa: Really. Thank you.
Jen: You’re welcome. I mean it. I really do, I mean it. I think I bought into, early in my career, I bought into the lie of scarcity too. It’s a super common narrative that people hand this on a silver platter, that if she succeeds there’s less for me. If she finds her way, that just means the pie shrinks even more, and my opportunities are gonna diminish. It’s just simply not true. It really isn’t true, and I’ve seen it borne out in my life, as I’ve watched so many women around me thrive and flourish. Then I watch how sincerely, that rising tide lifts all the boats in the harbor. It really does.
It’s good for all of us. It is good for all women to watch another woman, seize her own dreams, step in courage and in faith and go for it. It’s good for all of us. It infects our community with courage. It’s very, very contagious. It’s inspiring, in the best possible way, and the truth is, there will always be a shortage of good writing, of good humor, of good people, of good leadership. We always need more. Always, always, always. We need a thousand more yesterdays.
Melissa: That’s right.
Jen: So, I’m just thrilled that you’re stepping, kind of, into your space, and into your giftings and we’re all gonna be better for it, Lady.
So, listen. We’re gonna wrap this up. I’m gonna ask you a question that I close all my podcasts with, because I’m like you, I have a lot of words and a lot of energy, and a lot of enthusiasm. It’s just my default nature, same as yours. I find that I typically reach for leaders or writers that are very sweet, or they’re introspective, or they have this way of being reflective, which I’m terrible at all that. I’m too loud. I’m too loud and busy.
Melissa: That’s right.
Jen: So, Barbara Brown Taylor is one of those. She’s just a really wonderful leader who helps me sort of, steady the crazy waves. Anyway. The question she asks is, and this can be anything you want. It can be silly, or it can be serious, or it can be the tiniest thing, like soap, or it can be something huge. What is saving your life right now?
Melissa: Dang, girl.
Jen: I know, right?
Melissa: I know. Oh my gosh. So, what is saving my life right now? Well, is everybody giving you, like, I’m just…
Jen: We’re all over the map. Some people will say, “It’s a hand cream.” And other people will say “Jesus, my Lord and Savior.” So, I mean, we run the gambit here on answers. Like, just this very minute, this very week, what is saving your life right now?
Melissa: One of the things that’s saving my life … I’m really glad that we live in a day and age when the Golden Girls have resurfaced and I can get ’em on like, t-shirts, and these like, magnets on the fridge and like t-shirts. People are like, “Please don’t wear another Bea Arthur shirt.” So, that’s pretty awesome. Honestly, you’re gonna like …listen to this-
Jen: Let’s hear it.
Melissa: Okay. What’s saving my life, in this season of my life I am praying the Word of God. I am literally praying the words of God. I remind God of His Word, and I am finding a fresh way to pray when I do that.
So yeah, there’s a lot of fun things I could say, but in a more serious way, that is probably, if you really mean, saving my life…
Jen: That’s what I mean.
Melissa: That’s saving my life right now.
Jen: That’s beautiful. Are you in a specific passage or space, or just all of it?
Melissa: I found a book that literally just has written out different ways to pray, according to the scripture, and I open that up and I just begin to pray. Whether it’s from Psalms or whatever it is. I’m just using those. They’re already pre-written in this book, but I’m just saying them out loud, and I just … sometimes when we don’t know what to pray, just pray the Word of God.
Jen: Yes. It’s very, very powerful. I love that answer, it’s gorgeous, it’s perfect. Okay. Hey, thank you for being on the show today. You’re so fun.
Melissa: Oh my gosh. You’re very welcome. I’m so honored to be here. I think, that probably, you and I could do this over Mexican food, but I don’t know.
Jen: I think we could too.
Jen: I think we could too. I feel really strong about our capacity there.
Melissa: I think we’d shut that place down, sister.
Jen: They’d lose money on that deal, is what would happen. Unlimited chips and salsa, you bring that to me. You don’t even know what I could do.
Melissa: That’s right.
Jen: I could do some damage. That’s my favorite food.
Melissa: I loved every minute being with you. I appreciate it so much.
Jen: Same. Cheering you on.
Melissa: Thank you, Jen Hatmaker.
Jen: Thank you.
Jen: I just love her. I love her. I love that conversation. I love funny people. I love brave people. This is so fabulous, I am so happy. If you didn’t already know Melissa, you know her now. As always, you guys, all of her videos, the pictures we referenced, everything, everything, everything, we’ll have over, on my website at jenhatmaker.com on the transcript under the podcast button. Make sure that you are checking out that page, because we fill it with extra stuff. All sorts of pictures and bonus content, and resources. Everything at your fingertips, and so, make sure that you are using that page to get more information about interviews that you love and people that you are introduced to.
She is just phenomenal. Okay you guys, that wraps our For the Love of Laughter series, and I’m so sad to see it go, and I guarantee you, we will bring this back for a repeat later, because I enjoyed it so much. I am super excited about our next series too. This one, it’s just full of women who slay.
Our next series is, For the Love of Women Who Built it. So, we are talking to entrepreneurs, we are talking to business owners, we are talking to women who built ministries and spaces and movements, and they are smart. They are brave, and they are amazing. We have quite a line-up, you guys, of women that you are going to be so inspired by, and they’re just, they’re ordinary, like you and I are, except they had these dreams and they went for it. For the Love of Women Who Built it, is up next. We are thrilled about our guests, and really excited to put them in front of you.
So, you guys, thank you for listening. Thank you for subscribing to the podcast. That’s so good for the podcasts. Also for reviewing and rating it, we love that you do that, and we pay attention to everything. You’re just the best listeners ever, and this podcast is such, it’s just one of my favorite things in my life. Have a fabulous week, thanks for listening today, and we’ll see you next week you guys.
Narrator: That’s it for today’s show. Hope you enjoyed this chat. Be sure to subscribe to my mom’s podcast and give it a “thumbs up” rating if you like it. From the whole Hatmaker family, hope you have a great week and see you next time!