Bernie Mac's Shining Moments

Here is a piece I wrote about Bernie Mac that was rejected by several publications. I figured I would share it, rather than have it go to waste.

Standing in front of the a sold-out crowd in Charlotte, N.C., just before he goes on a riff about why it is okay to beat a child, Bernie Mac tells the audience, “Don’t get mad at me. I’m just saying what you can’t say.” And what follows, as Mac explains, “When a kid gets one years old, I believe you’ve got the right to hit him in the throat or the stomach,” is as raw, brutal and unabashedly funny as anything else said in the 2000 comedy concert film, The Original Kings of Comedy.

Bernie Mac, the raucous comedian who passed away this past weekend at the age of 50, was not known for pulling any punches. Born in Chicago, he began performing as a comedian at an early age, and made a name for himself on a national level in the 1990s on Def Comedy Jam. By the time he appeared in The Original Kings of Comedy, Mac was one of the most popular stand-up comedians in the business. His brash, no-nonsense, profanity-fueled comedy was a lot like receiving an open-hand slap to the face; only the person doing the slapping starts with their upper body twisted to the side and down low, so they can build up enough momentum and force that when they straighten upright and deliver the slap, it knocks you on your ass.

Mac crossed over from the stage to film and television in a series of memorable cameos in films like Friday, The Player’s Club and Life, where his character Jangle Leg tells Martin Lawrence, “Yo’ hand is nice and supple, like a lady.” He landed a recurring role on the sitcom Moesha, which helped to further establish his reputation as a comedic actor. In 2001, Mac became an unlikely television star with the critically acclaimed series The Bernie Mac Show, and his appearance that same year in Ocean’s Eleven helped take his film career to a new level.

The Original Kings of Comedy—D.L. Hughley, Steven Harvey and Cedric the Entertainer all appeared with Mac in the critically acclaimed documentary that captured their powerhouse comedy tour; but it is Mac who steals the show as he bats clean-up on the show. Delivering the raw, often controversial humor that defined his uncompromising stage persona, nothing is spared from his relentless attacks. His routine rubbed some people the wrong way, especially when he talked about disciplining kids through physical violence. “If you’re old enough to talk back, then you’re old enough to get knocked the fuck out,” proclaimed Mac. Much of his routine was about taking care of his drug-addicted sister’s three children, who he takes to task even though they are only two, four and six years old. Although some of his material may have seemed too abrasive or inflammatory for some people, Mac was the only one of the kings of Comedy to ever approach Richard Pryor’s unique comic style of finding humor in life’s most true pain.

The Bernie Mac Show—Mac essentially starred as himself in this sitcom about a comedian who takes custody of his sister’s children. The subject matter came straight from Mac’s stand-up routine, and even though it was heavily watered down for television, he still made the material work. Funnier and more intelligent than other sitcoms geared toward black audiences, The Bernie Mac Show established Mac not only as a television star, it also established him as one of the few black comedians other than Bill Cosby to star in a television series that delivered quality entertainment by assuming its audience was intelligent.

Mr. 3000—One of the few opportunities Mac had as leading man was in this light-hearted comedy that proved he actually had acting chops. Mac stars as Stan Ross, a self-centered baseball star who retires with a record three thousand hits in his career. But nine years later, after continued attempts to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, it is discovered that due to a statistics error, Ross is actually three hits away from being Mr. 3000, leading him to come out of retirement. His return to baseball proves to be problematic, as he fails to initially get the three hits he needs, and quickly turns into a national joke. Mac’s best moments in the film, much like those of Richard Pryor in his career, come when the performer deftly mixes drama and pathos into his comedy. One of the film’s best moments has Mac, in a single take, talking to his best friend, Boca (Michael Rispoli), as he come to grips with the fact that he may have made a mistake in coming out of retirement. Had the film done better at the box office, Mac would likely have had more opportunities to prove himself as a leading man. Instead, he was relegated to sharing the lead with Ashton Kutcher in Guess Who, a re-imaging of the Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Mac stars as Percy Jones, father of Theresa (Zoe Saldana), who brings her fiancé (Kutcher) home to meet her family, in what amounts to an uneven comedy that only works because of Mac and Kutcher, who have an on-screen chemistry that manages to shine beyond the somewhat dim script.

Ocean’s Eleven—No one seemed more out of place in Steven Soderbergh’s remake of the Rat Pack classic Ocean’s Eleven than Bernie Mac, which is probably why his performance as Frank Catton worked so well. Mac reprised his role in the subsequent sequels, and did what he did best in most films, provide a solid performance in a supporting role. The key difference with the “Ocean” films was that Mac was given the opportunity to utilize his mix of comedy and drama, while holding his own next to actors like Carl Reiner and Elliot Gould. It’s also important to realize that while Mac made a career out of supporting roles, the Ocean films treated him like the integral part of the cast that he truly was. Though the franchise is most closely associated with George Clooney, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt, it is the rest of the supporting cast, Mac included, that carries all three films.

Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle—Mac’s success in Ocean’s Eleven, combined with the diligence of his past work, led to him finding work in a series of memorable supporting and co-starring roles. Perhaps the most notable was his replacing Bill Murray’s Bosely in the sequel to Charlie’s Angels. Mac also stood out as the villain in the Billy Bob Thornton cult classic, Bad Santa. But it was in Pride, starring Terence Howard as swimming coach Jim Ellis, that Mac once again proved himself to be more than a comedic actor. Showcasing his versatility with both comedy and drama, Mac proved himself capable of bringing both complex emotions to the role, and established himself as a comedian who was also comfortable with being serious.



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: