Rest in Peace to the most compelling stage performer of the past 20 years of comedy, Bernie Mac. A truly amazing, unmatchable presence on stage and on screen.
Above is one of my favorite clips, recorded on Def Comedy Jam relatively early in his career, when he was a still a bit of a newcomer from Chicago. He didn't make it to national audiences until he was a grown up, well into his 30s, having performed on El trains and local stages for ten or fifteen years. Every time he enters and tells the aggressive audience, "I ain't SCAAARED of you motherfuckers!" it breaks me up. He makes dick jokes seem almost inspirational. It felt like Bernie Mac wasn't scared of anything. As the Chicago Tribune obit correctly points out, that lack of fear was what made him great.
A few years ago on this blog, I wrote about a feature on Bob Newhart that ran in the New York Times. The Times went to Bernie Mac to contextualize Newhart's achievements, perhaps expecting to get some fireworks out of their apparent difference. This is what Mac said:
"A lot of people define courage as being out front and in your face," Mr. Mac said, "but Bob didn't come out of his picture frame for anybody. That bland style, that plaid jacket, with the hair combed to one side over the bald spot — that was Bob. And there's nothing wrong with that. Because it takes courage to be yourself, and he showed everybody that."
Bernie Mac was a performer who had nothing but the courage to be himself, and we were all lucky to have seen him shine.
If you can, rent The Kings of Comedy this week, and see one of the greatest performers ever to step onto a standup stage.
OK, now I gotta go get married.