Played Benny on Home Improvement (1994-1999)
Appeared in The Santa Clause and Joe Somebody (1997).
Performs regularly in Comedy Clubs
Jim Labriola: Heart Improvement
The 700 Club
You might recognize comedian Jim Labriola from the hit sit-com Home Improvement. He had a recurring role as the donut-loving delivery man, Benny Baroni. According to Jim, his career was his existence in life. It was like a drug. He wanted to be somebody. Born and raised in Queens, NY, his knack for comedy started when he was young and was often exhibited at family gatherings. While other kids were listening to music on the radio, Jim liked to listen to his comedic hero Don Rickles. He also loved the comedy of other classic funny men, like Jonathan Winters, George Carlin (in his earlier years), and Richard Pryor. As Jim grew older he developed his gift for humor and would perform wherever he had the opportunity. Jim became more popular and started getting regular gigs in Brooklyn and Manhattan, then across the country. In 1989, he made a comedic connection that would change his life. Tim Allen was headlining at Governor’s Comedy Club on Long Island and Jim was opening for him. They clicked immediately and a close friendship began. Tim encouraged Jim in his comedy and even told him about the new TV series he was going to be in, Home Improvement. Eventually, Jim was offered the role of Benny on the series. He later guest starred on other network sitcoms and motion pictures, including the holiday hit film, The Santa Clause.
Jim was brought up in a Roman Catholic family that believed in God and had religious traditions but hardly went to church. Unfortunately, the household was abusive with drinking and fighting. When Jim was about eight-years-old he stumbled across a book at a friend’s house and began to read it. He came across a key passage which revealed that God is accessible to those who earnestly seek Him in prayer. It affected him deeply and compelled him to become steadfast in a daily prayer life, a commitment which he continues to this day. During those early years, he believed in God, but his faith wasn’t nurtured. However, Jim says he always felt like a warrior for God. Sadly, Jim’s mother died when he was seventeen. He blamed God but he was always searching and felt God tugging at his heart. Though he did not make a decision to accept Jesus, he enjoyed watching TV programs like Billy Graham and The 700 Club.
In 1997, he married and started attending church with his wife. For Jim this was different than the times he had attended church before. He kept going and going and was surprised that people could be so happy. It was a different atmosphere. The pastor had a passion for Jesus. Jim had never seen a person talk about Jesus like he knew Him. In 1999, the pastor invited him to lunch. Jim had no idea that at the end of lunch he would give his life to Jesus in a Mexican food restaurant. Jim jokes that he ordered "fajitas and the Holy Spirit." A friend began mentoring him and he started reading the Bible. Jim says, “It was like food. I couldn't stop reading it. I didn't even know who Paul was. I thought he was one of the Beatles."
As Jim read the Bible, the verse Ephesians 5:4 (no vile language, coarse talking) “slapped him in the face.” He couldn't give up his career and he couldn't just read the Bible and do the opposite of what it said. For years, his acting and comedy had been R-rated. When he read that passage he asked himself how could he do his acting and his comedy with vulgarity if he professed to be a Christian. He got physically sick and canceled his booking dates. It was also a difficult period in his marriage. He developed anger, got in Christian counseling and poured himself in the Word. A few months later Jim was still struggling with career decisions. He walked into his living room one morning and The 700 Club happened to be on television. Jim called the prayer line and talked to one of the counselors. He says the woman knew what he was going through. She told him, “What does it profit a man if he gains the world but loses his life?” (Mark 8:36) and prayed for him. This helped Jim with a hard decision he had to make. He then called his manager and said he couldn't do the movie he was up for or take the studio meeting for a potential show in development. For Jim, the scales had come off his eyes. He saw it for what it was and he had to stay true to God. Jim compares himself to the rich man Jesus told to put it all down and 'follow Me.' Jim’s riches were his career. After making this decision, he felt free but things got harder for him. Jim started selling real estate. His first partner was a Christian. Everywhere he went he was being fed in the Christian faith. God kept revealing Himself to Jim. He got a couple calls for movies but couldn't do them because of the profanity in the scripts. In 2003, he decided to try to clean up his act and honor God. He kept working at it, wrote a routine, and invited people into his living room to test his new material out. Jim put his new show on the road with bookings on cruise ships, talk shows, other TV and doing Christian comedy at churches.
DELIVERING THE LAUGHTER
Today Jim says he has never felt happier or free. He says now his act is the “Jesus Show” and not the “Jim Show.” Before, Jim’s motive was to do everything for himself. Everything is about God now and a burden has been lifted off of his shoulders. It's a new day, doing what he does for Jesus. It's completely different. Jim says it is the greatest feeling in the world to lift up the Church body in laughter. He can’t get enough. Jim thinks people need to lighten up, especially Christians. Laughter is a release and a wonderful thing. Jesus came to give us life and that means joy and freedom. Jim also encourages people and says no matter what, they’ve got to hang in there. God will use the most horrible things in your life and use it for good. God is always with you.
In recent months, Jim has also been traveling across the country with the Tea Party Express along with former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Saturday Night Live alum Victoria Jackson, as well as hordes of Constitutionally Conservative talk show hosts, political pundits, authors, bloggers and public officials. His comedy is also reaching places where laughter is good medicine, like women’s shelters and jail. Jim still does events at churches and does motivational and business meetings nationwide.
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