Aug 9, 2008
it's been a bad year for comedians I admire.
As if losing George Carlin wasn't bad enough, today the word came out that Bernie Mac has died after contracting pneumonia. I remember when I read about his illness, and I worried with his existing lung problem if it would be something he might not recover from, but my thoughts were more towards damage to his lungs, not death. When my wife came in this morning with the news, I was shocked by it.
I first discovered Bernie Mac when my Tivo accidentally recorded his show instead of another I had scheduled. I watched the show and was so blown away by the stark honesty of the material I instantly got a Season Pass to continually record the show. That Pass still runs as I write this. The show was a brutally honest (and funny) fictionalized take on Mac's real life experiences. Like Roseanne, another show I've come to truly enjoy, The Bernie Mac Show was greatest when it mixed humor and seriousness within the same episode. More than anything, Bernie Mac himself was always entertaining and genuine.
After the show, I started to seek out some of the shows Mac had done, and as I mentioned in our last show (our topic timing has been very strange occasionally) I had recently picked up and listened to two of his audiobooks and was impressed with how each book was a vastly different take on the same material: his life. Mac grew up in rough conditions: a mostly absent father, impoverished, and struggling to find success. Along the way, he lost two of the greatest people in his life, his mother and grandmother. It's very poignant that many times in both books he takes several opportunities to mention them both, especially when talking about getting through life's many hardships.
Early last year, I saw Bernie Mac on the Tonight Show and he was discussing an impending retirement. I thought right away that if he ever came through an area where I could get to, I'd make sure I saw his act before he stopped doing it. Like Carlin, that possibility is now gone.
In a world where we seem to be increasingly paranoid about how we speak and if our words will be used against us, Bernie Mac never stopped speaking honestly. Just within the last few weeks he had caught a little heat from some edgy material at a fund raiser for Barack Obama, and when I read about it I was so annoyed that people expected him to curtail his comedy to be "safer." That was never his way, and in interviews lately he had made a point that the overbearing "political correctness" that has infected our culture was part of the reason he was retiring.
Isn't it sad when our fear of frankness leads us to make someone give up what made them great out of disgust?