Remembering Bernie Mac

As you’ve heard by now, Chicago comedian Bernie Mac passed away early Saturday Morning at Northwestern Memorial Hospital due to complications of pneumonia. He was 50. He has had some health problems over the years, including a bout with sarcoidosis, which went into remission in 2005.

Born Bernard Jeffrey McCullough on Oct 5, 1957, Bernie Mac broke into comedy in the late 1970’s, performing at stand-up clubs in and around Chicago. Before that, he was performing on CTA “L” trains and parks. He is a graduate from Chicago Vocational High School.

His big break came in the early 1990’s, when he won a beer company’s talent search and performed on HBO’s Def Comedy Jam, riffing on everything from family to antics in the bedroom, smashing one taboo subject after another. Afterward, he headlined his own HBO series, titled Midnight Mac.

He received a bit part in the 1992 theatrical Mo’ Money and got his first full role in the 1995 hit Friday. Other film credits included House Party 3 and How to be a Player. His major breakthrough came in the film The Original Kings of Comedy, which featured Bernie Mac along with Steve Harvey, Cerdic the Entertainer, and D.L. Hughley touring the country together performing stand-up.

His first broadcast television credentials came when he appeared on The Wayans Bros., which led to a recurring role in Moesha as Uncle Bernie.

But his big TV break came in 2001, with the debut of The Bernie Mac Show on Fox. In the critically acclaimed sitcom, he suddenly found himself taking care of his nieces and nephew, driving him crazy every opportunity he got (the plot was taken from one of his stand-up routines in The Original Kings of Comedy film.) He was nominated for two Emmy Awards and two Golden Globe Awards in the role. The Bernie Mac Show, though did win an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series and a Peabody Award.

Unfortunately, the success of The Bernie Mac Show didn’t last. The program was an initial hit in its Wednesday 8 p.m. (CT) time slot, but tougher competition from ABC’s The Bachelor later in the season forced it to move an hour earlier in year 2. Seven time period changes later, the program landed in the Friday Night Death Slot in January 2005, and after fifteen ratings-challenged months, was canceled in April 2006. Twentieth Television has been airing the series in off-network syndication since 2005, but results so far nationally have been mediocre.

After the series ended, Bernie Mac focused his career for the most part in the movies.

In addition to the movies he already appeared in before his TV show, he was also featured in Ocean’s Eleven and its sequels, Bad Santa, Head of State (co-starred with Chris Rock), and in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. He was the lead in Mr. 3000 and co-starred with Ashton Kutcher in Guess Who?

He was recently working on four theatrical projects, including the soon-to-release Soul Men and Old Dogs, which all are now in post-production. Bernie Mac was also involved in a pilot for Fox produced by Bruce Helford (The Drew Carey Show), but the network passed. However, Fox still wanted to do another project with him.

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On a personal note, I saw Bernie Mac a few years ago in person in a bookstore in the Loop, where he was promoting his new book. Even though I didn’t get a chance to speak to him, it was still a thrill to see him in person.

Yours truly was a big Bernie Mac fan, as well as his TV show. Even though the program was truly underrated, it was still one of the most funniest and most original comedies to come along this decade. My favorite part about this show was when Bernie Mac would break the “fourth wall” to address the audience – a tactic used before in many programs such as Burns and Allen, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show (another personal favorite of yours truly), Saved by the Bell, and Malcolm in the Middle.

One thing he knew was even though he worked in Los Angeles, he preferred to stay in the Chicago area. Local independent WCIU-TV won the off-network syndication bidding rights for The Bernie Mac Show in 2003 and began airing it two years later, where it continues to do well for the station. Bernie Mac himself did promos at WCIU for the show, and even appeared with host Rich Koz on Stooge-A-Palooza (the station’s showcase for Three Stooges sorts on Saturday Nights), since Mac was a big Three Stooges fan.

Bernie Mac was also a dedicated sports fan, rooting hard for the White Sox and the Bears.

In short, Bernie Mac wasn’t just a comedian from Chicago – he was Chicago comedy. Unlike many in Hollywood, he never forgot where he came from. And to me and a lot of us who live here on the South Side – he made us proud. Bernie Mac was perhaps the most talented comedian to ever come out of my hometown.

God bless you Bernie Mac. Thank you for making Chicago proud. Rest in peace.

Awards Tally: To read the number of awards Bernie Mac has won and has been nominated for, click here. His last award won was a 2006 Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series (The Bernie Mac Show.)

Tribute planned: There is a public memorial service planned for Bernie Mac at the House of Hope on Saturday, August 16 at 12:00 p.m. The House of Hope is a church located at 752 E. 114th Street in Chicago, just off the Bishop Ford (Calumet) Expressway, a.k.a. Interstate 94. WCIU has set up a memorial for Bernie Mac on their website, where you can share your thoughts.

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