It’s been five years last week since we lost Bernie Mac.
I remember sitting in my parents basement watching Def Comedy Jam one Friday night (I was in high school), and the most confident comedian comes on (pure south side swagger even though the show was taped in New York City), and has a strong story telling ability that made me pause and on top of that he was from the south side of Chicago.
His name was Bernie Mac.
Now this was his second time on hip hop mogul Russell Simmons 1990’s HBO urban stand up show (after the I ain’t scared of you mutha-f), routine. This was the stir that muthaf-ing coffee routine (and I’ve never looked at intimacy the same way since), and it was comedic genius.
From that day forward, I watched everything Bernie did, from small but memorable roles in House Party 3, Friday & Spike Lee’s Get on The Bus.
Bernie has undeniable presence on screen, never took himself too seriously (he said he was so black he left fingerprints on charcoal), but was serious about the roles he played. His characters weren’t small; he took over the scene, even if for 30 seconds or a minute or two, there was no denying B-Mac.
Born and raised on the south side, Bernie worked all kinds of jobs, including driving a bread truck during the day, so he could tell jokes at night. He would go to the Cotton Club on open mike night and do comedy and then progressed until he held court at the old All Jokes Aside in the mid 90’s.
His list of appearances in movies is exhaustive but here it is (courtesy of Wikipedia):
1992 Mo’ Money
1993 Who’s the Man?
1994 Above the Rim
1994 House Party 3
1995 The Walking Dead
1996 Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood
1996 Get on the Bus
1997 Booty Call
1997 How to Be a Player
1997 Don King: Only in America
1998 Players Club
2000 Original Kings of Comedy
2001 Ocean’s Eleven
2001 What’s the Worst That Could Happen?
2003 Bad Santa
2003 Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle
2003 Head of State
2004 Mr. 3000
2004 Ocean’s Twelve
2005 Guess Who
2005 Lil’ Pimp
2005 Inspector Gadget’s Biggest Caper Ever
2007 Ocean’s Thirteen
2008 Madagascar: Escape 2
2008 Soul Men
2009 Old Dogs
That’s Samuel L. Jackson workmanship there and that doesn’t include his first show, Midnight Mac on HBO from the mid 90’s, that had a live band, dancers, it was a classic variety show but was on after midnight, thus ratings were hard to come by.
Of course we all know about the Emmy winning Bernie Mac show on Fox from 2001-2006. Nobody but the Mac Man could have pulled that off with his commentary talking right to the TV.
Bernie reminded me of another fellow Chicago comedian (also gone too soon), in Robin Harris, these were local men, with just an extraordinary ability to covey a story. They reminded me of the characters that used to come in my dad’s garage with jokes and stories to tell.
And Bernie never left Chicago, he had a home built in south suburban Crete but later had a custom home just past the Brookside subdivision in south suburban Frankfort just past Elsner Road. I had friends who lived there who would see him in the post office off of Route 30. Have you ever heard of a movie star that goes to get their own stamps and mail?
That’s what made Bernie special; he was still that south side guy but made it big and made all of us proud.
His home going ceremony at the House of Hope was truly a celebration of life more than your average funeral (check the videos on You Tube), from his fellow “Kings of Comedy”, to his favorite singer Rachelle Farrell.
Man, I miss Bernie Mac.
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