An Original King of Comedy, by Tyler Smith

I was largely unaware of Bernie Mac when David suggested we go see The Original Kings of Comedy several years ago. I loved stand-up comedy, but I was criminally ignorant about black comedians, save for Chris Rock. The film itself was often very funny, but, without question, the high point of the film was Bernie Mac. We had seen Steve Harvey’s enjoyable, but mostly safe, material, followed by D.L. Hughley, then Cedric the Entertainer. Cedric was certainly funny, but when Bernie burst onto stage, it was unlike anything I had seen before.

Mac’s exasperation with his nieces and nephews was hilarious. As he frustratedly mumbled to himself with barely discernible expletives, we got the sense that his comedy came from a very real exhaustion and sadness. This carried over into his sitcom, for which he was rightfully nominated for two Best Actor Emmys. The mixture of comedy and drama kept us aware that this wasn’t just some guy who came up with a funny idea for a show. He was living this. And the fact that he went through all this headache for somebody else’s children spoke volumes about the size of his heart.

In the movie world, Bernie Mac made memorable contributions in such films as Soderbergh’s Danny Ocean series. He was also one of the highlights of Michael Bay’s Transformers. However, for my money, his role in Bad Santa was his best. As he sat back, drinking his glass of stool-softener, relishing the discomfort he was causing John Ritter’s polite store manager, we saw a prime example of just how great deadpan humor can be.

No matter what he as doing professionally, we could always count on him to be a major presence. No matter how big or small his role was, he was never less than memorable. To be able to hold your own amongst George Clooney, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt, Chris Rock, Matt Damon, and, most recently, Barack Obama is no small feat. Bernie Mac was a great comic and a solid actor and, as cliche as it is to say, he will be sorely missed.

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