To be a game changer, working on the next thing is part of the process. In comedy, there is always a tour, a movie, a tv spot, a book, or something to be accomplished. Touring as a part of the Original Kings of Comedy, this game changer was Grammy nominated in 2001. He was nominated for multiple Emmy’s for his hit TV series, The Bernie Mac Show, which won an Emmy for its writing as well as a Peabody award. He wrote a memoir in 2004 called You’ll Never Cry Again. He has over 37 film credits and a few producing credits. He was Bernie Mac.
He came up from a poor childhood on the southside of Chicago. He was born Bernard Jeffrey McCullough on October 5th, 1957. At five years old, Mac knew he wanted to be a comedian after seeing his mom laugh at watching Cosby on The Ed Sullivan Show. Unfortunately, she died of cancer, and his grandmother took over guardianship when he was 16. The upbringing was strict. His grandfather was a Baptist deacon. While in high school, Mac met his wife, and the two married shortly after graduating.
His first jobs included a janitor, a mover, and a school bus driver. Eventually, he worked for General Motors. During this time, he was doing bits on the Chicago “L.” After two years of street hustling, Mac moved his act to the clubs. He was 20 years old at the time. In 1983, GM fired him. He and his wife had to move back in with family to make ends meet. The comic just kept plugging away, and it paid off. In 1989, Redd Foxx and Slappy White invited Mac to perform in Las Vegas. By the following year, he featured in the Def Comedy Jam. He scored his first of many theatrical movie roles in 1992’s Mo’ Money.
The guy was killing it. He caught the attention of Larry Wilmore who helped him create The Bernie Mac Show. The single camera shots and documentary feel proceeded The Office, Parks and Recreation, and others like it. The premise of the show was based on Mac’s stand-up act about raising his sister’s kids. Many times he threatened his TV children that he would beat them “’til the white meat shows.”
Much of Mac’s stand-up has been family centric, although not necessarily family friendly. He bluntly riffs about marriage and the trials of child rearing. The comic excelled at observing a situation and finding a resolution. His delivery was direct and confrontational. For instance in an early Def Comedy Jam performance, the comedian noticed remixes at the time were becoming more popular than the original. Mac followed with beat boxing and singing a “black version” of Take Me Out to the Ballgame. His “remix” definitely makes a point for an updated version of the song while simultaneously being thoroughly entertaining.
The stand-up was also known for his crudeness. One night, he was hired to perform for a fundraiser to support Senator Barack Obama’s presidential bid. His routine covered topics like menopause, prostitution and black family relations. The then-Senator responded, “We can’t afford to be divided by race. We can’t afford to be divided by region or by class and we can’t afford to be divided by gender, which by the way, that means, Bernie, you’ve got to clean up your act next time. This is a family affair. By the way, I’m just messing with you, man.” Obama’s campaign rebuked the comedian’s act. Apparently, it was controversial enough for the politician to separate himself Bernie Mac’s wicked tongue.
Mac was exciting to watch, and sadly, he left too soon. The comic died at 50 years old in Chicago from pneumonia. He suffered from sarcoidosis, an inflammatory lung disease. Just a couple years before while on a late night tv, he expressed anticipation for retirement. The guy spent most of his life working at making people laugh. He was dedicated. That’s a game changer.