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The Bernie Mac Show aired from November 2001 until April 2006 on Fox.
Bernie Mac played himself, a successful black stand-up comedian in Los Angeles living in a comfortable home with his wife Wanda ( Kellita Smith), a busy vice-president with AT&T. They had not planned to raise kids , but when Bernie's sister was sent to jail her 3 kids moved in with them. Vanessa ( Camille Winbush), the oldest , was going through puberty and the most likely to chafe at authority; intellectual, bespectacled Jordan ( Jeremy Suarez), was certainly not what macho Bernie would have chosen for his own son ; and cute little Bryanna ( Dee Dee Davis), could get away with almost anything. Bernie tried to lay down the law and maintain his idea of order, but despite all the bluster when he repremanded the kids, he really did care about them. He claimed he believed in tough love but rarely implimented it , usually because his old fashioned concepts of child rearing were no longer politically correct.
Bernie's experiences with the kids, both good and bad were chronicled on a weekly basis . He would sit in his easy chair and address the viewing audience directly ( " Listen here, America"), explaining the latest problem and how he planned to resolve it-even though his plans frequently went awry. Being a " stay at home" dad was not easy but, as time passed, Bernie and the kids adjusted to one another and things did get better-for the most part. When their were disagreements Wanda often sided with the kids, which irritated Bernie -and sometimes even his poker-playing buddies, W.B., Chuy, and Kelly( Reginald Ballard, Lombardo Boyer, Michael Ralph), seemed unsympathetic to his plight.
During the 2003-2004 season Wanda became the coach of Bryanna's soccer team and was promoted to senior vice-president at work. Late in 2005 the kids father Bryan ( Anthony Anderson) showed up for a visit and tried to reestablish a relationship with his children. The following spring , as the series drew to a close , Vanessa was graduating from high school and applying to colleges.
A Review from The New York Times
TELEVISION REVIEW; A Comedian Wrestles With Instant Fatherhood
By NEIL GENZLINGER
Published: November 14, 2001
''The Bernie Mac Show'' is determined not to be just another family sitcom. In pursuit of that objective, it sabotages itself, flirting with offensiveness in a way that is likely to overshadow its good points.
The show features Mr. Mac as a comedian who, with his wife, reluctantly inherits the three children of his drug-abusing sister. The concept holds the promise that the show will portray a different type of child from the happy middle-class brats who own prime time. But judging from the first two episodes, which run back-to-back tonight on Fox, that promise may not be fulfilled. Sure, the siblings have token problems -- the 8-year-old boy wets his pants -- but in general they seem like understudies for any other family sitcom.
The show also presents itself as aggressively black: early in the pilot, Mr. Mac says he's taking in the children partly because he doesn't want them ending up with a white family and speaking the king's English. But again, timidity takes over, and the show too often seems like another ''Full House.''
So in its point of view, ''The Bernie Mac Show'' isn't as different as it could be. That's disappointing, but not necessarily fatal. The problem is that the show tries to compensate for that conformity by testing boundaries in the dicey areas of discipline and bodily functions.
Mr. Mac is not shy about talking roughly. At one point, he tells the oldest child, ''I'm going to bust your head till the white meat shows.'' He then addresses the camera (a device used frequently in the show), defending his language. Some viewers will find his words amusing, but others -- those, for example, who work with abused children -- will be outraged.
The show also seems to have a thing about gross-out humor. In addition to the pants-wetting, the opening episodes feature a toilet-paper crisis, a graphic runny nose and more. Even those amused by such stuff may find the shot of Mr. Mac sitting on the commode a bit much.
Thus the show will drive away many viewers, and that's too bad, because Mr. Mac is really quite amusing most of the time. His talk-to-the-camera bits are refreshingly brash, like the lament he rattles off after being forced to spend a day playing with the youngest child.
''Grown-ups shouldn't be left alone with kids all day,'' he says. ''It ain't right. It's not natural. Like fish flying. Birds in the sea. It's my kin, my flesh and blood, but I'm going to say it; you ain't going to like it: She's boring.''
Can any parent who has been chained to a Candy Land board for a rainy afternoon disagree?
THE BERNIE MAC SHOW
Fox, tonight at 8:30 p.m.
(Channel 5 in New York)
Creator and executive producer, Larry Wilmore; produced by Regency Television in association with 20th Century Fox Television.
WITH: Bernie Mac (Bernie), Kellita Smith (Wanda), Camille Winbush (Vanessa), Jeremy Suarez (Jordan) and Dee Dee Davis (Bryanna).
A Review from Entertainment Weekly
The Bernie Mac Show (2001)
A-By Ken Tucker
A mighty sitcom bursting with juicy ideas and energy, The Bernie Mac Show (premiering Nov. 14 at 8:30 p.m.) may remind you how puny and derivative most comedies have become. Mac is a Chicago-based stand-up comedian in his 40s whose ferocious act has made him a favorite among black audiences; whites might remember Mac as the heavy hitter who batted cleanup -- after Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, and Cedric the Entertainer -- in the 2000 concert film ''The Original Kings of Comedy.'' There, as a big-shouldered man stalking the stage, spewing jokes in a shotgun spray, conveying outrage by opening his large eyes until they seemed ready to pop out, Mac was like a truth barometer. He spoke candidly about male-female relationships and the need to discipline unruly children; he worked the arena by heckling late arrivals and ad-libbing profane reactions to the crowd's genial catcalls.
Where all three of Mac's fellow Kings have starred in sitcoms, Mac was biding his time, waiting for a vehicle that could showcase such hotheaded talent in the cool medium of television. Working with writer and executive producer Larry Wilmore (''The PJs''), Mac has found it. ''The Bernie Mac Show'' has the comedian playing a married-without-children L.A.-based comic named Bernie Mac who takes in two young nieces and a nephew when their mother (Bernie's unseen sister) develops a drug problem.
Sound grim? Not the way Mac and Wilmore frame it. They have Bernie address the audience; looking into the camera, he demands that we identify with him. ''America, let's talk,'' he says. ''Yeah, my sister's on drugs, that's okay. Some of your family members're messed up too.'' Bernie's wife, Wanda (the curvy, sharp-tongued Kellita Smith), a vice president at AT&T, doesn't want to play mommy to these castoffs, and is skeptical of her husband's ability to become a daddy. ''What does Bernie Mac know about raising children?'' she asks us, cutting her eyes to the camera. ''He tells 'Yo mama' jokes.''
Indeed, Bernie proves to be a terrible parent: He's grumpy, too strict, and clueless (it takes him most of the premiere to comprehend that the middle child, Jeremy Suarez's 8-year-old Jordan, has an asthma condition). But the kids -- in addition to Jordan, there's sullen 13-year-old Vanessa (Camille Winbush) and adorable 5-year-old Bryana (Dee Dee Davis) -- aren't victims; they're cunning little adversaries. Bernie may talk big about how he wants to slap some respect into these kids, but he'd never do it. He thunders commands for old-fashioned values like good manners, but doesn't set an example to earn them.
Like ''Malcolm in the Middle,'' ''Bernie'' is a filmed, no-laugh-track show. And where ''Malcolm'''s heritage can be clearly traced back to '60s suburban shows like ''The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet'' and ''Leave It to Beaver,'' ''Bernie,'' with its breaking-the-fourth-wall style, echoes even older oldies such as ''The Jack Benny Show'' and ''The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show'' from the '50s.
The difference between ''Bernie'' and those others is its star: a middle-aged, well-to-do black man whose inner life is marvelously vivid. The scripts nail Bernie's generation, as when he says, ''The last time I was sick, the Ohio Players had a hit,'' and our flu-stricken hero croaks a few bars of 1975's ''Love Rollercoaster.'' Some of the funniest, most endearing scenes occur as throwaway moments, as when Bernie strolls down a hallway improvising a self-affirmation funk vamp, with lines like ''Strong, healthy black man! Whatcha gon' eat? Somthin' healthy? Hell, no! Cake!''
By letting Bernie be Bernie, underpinning his anger with moral certitude, and surrounding him with a deft cast that can sass him with believable effrontery, ''The Bernie Mac Show'' instantly distinguishes itself from other series lumped together as ''black sitcoms.'' When Bernie fixes you straight in the eye and says, ''America...y'all got to pray for me,'' you'll want to do it -- if only to help him compete against the competition on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. In fact, taking a cue from Bernie's food predilections, I think Fox's new slogan for the show should be ''Less ''West Wing,'' more chicken wings.''
An Article from Time Magazine
Make Room For Mac Daddy
Sunday, Oct. 28, 2001
By JAMES PONIEWOZIK Article
On the list of celebrities most folks would look to for child-rearing advice, Bernie Mac would seem to come a few places above Joan Crawford but quite a few pages below Bill Cosby. During a stand-up routine in the movie The Original Kings of Comedy, the 44-year-old comedian laid out his idea of discipline: whack a kid with a hammer. "You grown enough to talk back," he ranted. "You grown enough to get f___ed up."
The self-described "aggressive" comic--a dynamic ball of anger whose act is loaded with four-and 12-letter epithets--also used to joke that the networks would be scared to give him a sitcom like his more cuddly Kings co-star Steve Harvey. Well, that joke's over. With The Bernie Mac Show (Fox, Wednesdays starting Nov. 14, 9p.m. E.T.), Mac is about to become America's most provocative and (trust us) strangely likeable TV "dad."
Mac plays a successful, childless comedian in Los Angeles (named Bernie Mac, natch) who takes in his sister's three kids because she's on drugs and about to lose them to the state. Bewildered but determined to do the right thing, he turns out to be a soft touch, if gruff. Driving the kids home from the airport, he breaks the ice by asking, "Anybody want a big-ass doughnut?" Later, he walks them through his spacious house, ticking off items they're not allowed to touch. "Don't get me wrong," he says. "This is our home. But this is my house."
According to Mac (born Bernard McCullough), the story is loosely based on an incident in his own life. But Mac stresses that the TV Bernie Mac, like the onstage Bernie Mac, is a character. "I'm more reserved," he says. "He's the cat who everybody's got in their family, who they're always trying to shut up. Bernie Mac ain't trying to be politically correct."
In real life, Mac is a family man who brags about his grown daughter's graduate studies in psychology and her upcoming wedding, unironically uses "doggone" as an expletive and still lives in his hometown, Chicago. But after decades in stand-up (he did monologues at church banquets as a kid), he found success when raunchy comic turned sitcom star Redd Foxx encouraged him to make his act more dangerous. "He said, 'Young man, you're funny,'" Mac recalls. "'But your problem is, you don't want to be funny. You want to be liked.'"
Like Chris Rock's, Mac's R-rated stage act is laced with a conservatism--he wants parents to be parents and kids to be kids--that actually makes him a perfect choice for a family sitcom. And the series' creator, Larry Wilmore (The PJs), has retained Mac's stand-up voice, but fleshed it out with strong supporting characters, especially the kids, who convey their rough history without falling into ghetto stereotypes. In the pilot, Bernie's nephew Jordan (Jeremy Suarez) shows the stress of the move by repeatedly wetting himself. The story line could have just been a set-up for easy potty jokes; instead, it underscores the real emotional stakes for the uprooted kids. It also brings out a fatherly side in Bernie that Mac--who has more range than many a comic who has taken on sitcom parenthood--makes believable without getting sappy.
The show also works because, in context, Bernie's outlandish threats--"I'm'a bust your head till the white meat shows"--are as innocuous as Jackie Gleason (another influence of Mac's) yelling, "To the moon, Alice!" Still, Mac acknowledges he will probably take heat for them. He even offers viewers a defense: "When I say I want to kill those kids, you know what I mean...Bernie Mac just say what you want to say but can't." If his show stays this funny and true, we're glad to let him.
An Article from The New York Times
Bernie Mac Smacks A Nerve
By CHRIS NORRIS
Published: May 12, 2002
The Glamour Nail Salon is in a suburban strip mall 20 minutes outside Chicago. On this gray April afternoon, the clients are respectable, churchgoing black women of a certain age; they sit at the buffing stations, wearing sweat pants, reading Ebony and chatting quietly about their kids. Swinging open the glass door, Bernie Mac (ne McCullough) disrupts this female sanctuary with characteristic brio: ''Whassup, you squares!''
Dressed in a black fedora, a houndstooth shirt and identically patterned slacks, the 44-year-old stand-up comedian -- now the star of a hit sitcom on Fox -- takes a seat. ''Let's see what's goin' on 'round this demonstration,'' he says. ''What's your name?'' he asks a 40-something matron next to him.
''Birdah,'' she answers softly.
''Murder?!'' Mac asks, almost leaping from his chair. He receives clarification. ''That's good. I don't need no trouble.''
Far from a Hollywood interloper, Mac is actually a regular at this salon, dropping by every week for a manicure when he's not filming ''The Bernie Mac Show'' in Los Angeles. This ritual even inspired a bit on his sitcom. In one episode, Mac's upwardly mobile, stay-at-home dad is horrified to realize he's bonding with the white soccer moms at his wife's company picnic and retreats to the masculinity-affirming pep talks of his Asian manicurist. (''You're a strong black man, Bernie Mac,'' soothes the nail technician.)
As Mac sits in the waiting area, people drift over to chat. ''I'm coming to get some John Hancock,'' a woman explains. When she then asks Bernie for some paper and a pen, he rolls his eyes. ''Lemme tell you about black people,'' he tells me sotto voce. ''They come to get an autograph -- don't have no pen, don't have no paper.'' Mac looks to his right. ''And see my man on that cellphone?'' he says, gesturing to the other male in the salon. ''He gon' call somebody in a few minutes and tell him that I'm here, and then he gon' ask me to speak to him.'' The man protests otherwise, but Mac continues undeterred. ''I'm not talking to nobody,'' he says, shaking his head with false exasperation. ''Listen, I been black a long time, and blacks folks are the only ones who do that. They be like, 'Say somethin' to my cousin real quick!' I don't know your cousin!'' The women bust out laughing. One lady asks to take a snapshot. ''Nah, I only take photos with white people,'' Mac says.
Bernie Mac has pretty much earned the right to converse in such a manner in any black neighborhood in the country, all the more so here in his hometown. In a sense, he is in character, reprising the version of himself he made famous in Spike Lee's 2000 concert film, ''The Original Kings of Comedy.'' Mac provided an indelible finale: a google-eyed tirade from an aging black father who was fed up with marital demands, nosy neighbors and, most of all, today's back-talking, undisciplined kids. Mac's ferocious, nerve-frayed glare revealed just a twinkle of irony as he trampled over P.C. niceties, promoting hands-on combat as the only effective self-defense against today's out of control, ''sassy'' toddlers -- a riff that prompted his current role as the hapless patriarch of ''The Bernie Mac Show.''
The sitcom offers a Seinfeldian extrapolation on Mac's actual life. (''I don't think the people wanna see me play Clyde Johnson the architect,'' he says.) The professional comedian Bernie Mac and his wife, Wanda, have taken in his drug-addicted sister's children: 5-year-old Bryana, 8-year-old Jordan and the headstrong 13-year-old Vanessa, whom Mac refers to as the Evil One. (In real life, Mac took in his teenage niece and her daughter.) As a TV dad, Mac skews more Ike Turner than Dr. Spock, but he always softens to reveal a hapless affection for his kids. Mac talks angry, and he can look it -- but despite his fullback physique and mastery of the slow burn, he is clearly no tough guy.
Mac's blustery persona has charmed a wide audience. The show, which ends its first-year run this Wednesday, is Fox's biggest hit of the season, reaching nearly 10 million viewers. It is one of the first black sitcoms since ''The Cosby Show'' to develop truly mainstream appeal.
Here in the salon, however, Mac's appeal is palpably more intimate. He chats amiably with a longtime acquaintance, who updates him on her misbehaving son. ''He's the worst one,'' she says. ''You know how you say, 'You wanna bust him in the head till the white meat shows'?'' she asks, quoting the show's most infamous line. ''That's him. He was just suspended out of school, and he's only in the first grade.''
''Hmm,'' Mac says sympathetically, furrowing his brow. Since the success of his show, Mac is often besieged for parenting tips, an odd turn for a character who often threatens to kill his children. But the fact that no one takes Mac's threats seriously -- least of all his kids -- is part of what makes the desperate, kid-whupped character's humanity all the more real.
Mac patiently listens to the hard-luck 37-year-old mom's account of an errant child she fears is ''inmate bound.'' It is not a happy tale, but he soothes her in the best way he can. He nods, clucks his tongue and, at last, offers some advice. ''Take him by the back of the head like you gonna hug him,'' he says, suddenly reaching out and palming the back of my skull. As I try not to squirm in his bearlike embrace, Mac makes a fist with his other hand. ''Then put your middle knuckle out like this,'' he continues, demonstrating. ''And knock him right under his right eye.'' He folds his arms. ''Never have a problem again.''
After the laughter subsides, the woman heads for the door and bids Mac goodbye. ''You, too, baby,'' Mac calls sweetly after her. He then offers a parting reminder. ''Right eye.''
In some ways, Mac's comedy was perfectly poised for prime time. His most famous stand-up routine was all about family -- the lifeblood of the sitcom. But its tone was several shades streetier and more explosive than anything Bill Cosby could imagine. He began by saying, ''When a kid get 1 years old, I believe you got the right to hit 'em in the throat or stomach.'' He then raged about the fecklessness of under-age mothers. His fury was so comically operatic, however, that Mac managed to share a stark, neocon vision of black life without alienating his audience.
''The Bernie Mac Show'' is as bold as his stand-up, if not as profane (Mac being one of today's true virtuosos of lyric obscenity). Whereas TV's other state-of-the-art dad, Ozzy Osbourne, governs his brood with a constantly bleeped mumble, Mac relies on an intimidating physicality. Periodically throughout each episode, he sits in his armchair and directly addresses the audience. ''Now America,'' he asks, ''tell me again, why can't I whip that girl?'' In these confessionals, Mac, with his dark skin, short Afro and round, walleyed countenance, looks less like an avuncular Cosby than a mesomorphic Notorious B.I.G.
The fact that such an imposing figure could feel sufficiently bullied by kids to threaten physical violence was an inspiration of Larry Wilmore, the show's creator. ''That's how almost every good parent feels at some point,'' Wilmore says. ''Of course, they're not going to actually do these things, but they probably at some point want to. That frustration felt like a TV show to me.''
This theme wasn't something that would appeal to only black audiences, and that was important to Mac and Wilmore. In the 90's, networks like UPN went after black audiences by producing sitcoms heavy on hip-hop attitude and light on wit. This was not Mac's idea of success. ''No disrespect to anybody, but I didn't want the show to be labeled as a black comedy,'' says Mac. ''You're saying I only appeal to black? I'm funny.''
Mac's assimilationist ambitions have less to do with personal politics than with a profound appreciation for his own craft. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, he was raised on black comedy's old school, catching live concerts by Dewey (Pigmeat) Markham, Redd Foxx and Moms Mabley. Mac decided he wanted to be a comedian, he says, when he saw his mother, who was sobbing one afternoon, distracted into chuckles by a comic on TV. Even now, he has a bluesman's understanding of the art. ''Comedy comes from pain,'' Mac says. ''Blacks have always appreciated comedy because of that.''
Mac himself endured his share of pain. He lost his mother and brother to illness by age 16, another brother to violence shortly thereafter and his grandmother shortly after that. Marrying his wife, Rhonda, in 1977, he began a run of lean years, performing in the Chicago subway and driving a Wonder Bread truck. He paid the ego-battering dues of the struggling black comedian. ''Black audiences are hard,'' Mac says. ''They always think they're better than you. So you got to come with a little extra to satisfy them.''
These audiences also honed a certain kind of virtuosity. Mac's expressive power comes from years of entertaining black audiences who, he says, appreciate storytelling more than one-liners. Like Richard Pryor, he can conjure a character with the subtlest vocal or facial shift. In fact, some of the funniest moments of his sitcom are simple reaction shots, like the suspicious look Mac gives the headmistress of a kindergarten who trumpets her school's ''gender neutral'' philosophy.
''I think of Bernie as almost a silent comedian,'' Wilmore says. ''You can turn down the sound and still laugh at what he's doing.''
That said, the show offers more than mugging and pratfalls. Wilmore, who heads a writing team that regularly consults with Mac, has created a show that mercilessly exposes the tensions of life in a modern, racially mixed suburb. While a number of black sitcoms since the 70's have featured a newly affluent family, most offered only the sketchiest of backdrops. The Jeffersons lived in an Upper East Side apartment, period. The Huxtables occupied a parallel universe in which everyone was black. The Macs' social world is Encino, Calif., an integrated, upper-middle-class community. Humor often arises from Mac's interactions with his white liberal neighbors, whose desire to confront his retrograde parenting rubs up against their unease over racial differences.
The scripts can be offhandedly shocking in pursuing such moments of social verit . In one recent episode, Bernie is angered by a huge phone bill; he jokingly admonishes his wife that they are not ''old-money rich'' but ''nigga rich.'' The ironic, adults-only crack is overheard by 5-year-old Bryana, who proudly repeats it the next day to her progressive kindergarten class, which soon brings Social Services to the Mac household. ''You're not a bad man,'' the social worker assures Mac condescendingly. ''It's not like I'm here to take away the kids.'' Mac responds: ''No, please take away the kids! It's a great solution. I'm a bad man!''
After seven years, the Bernie Macs are movin' on up. Not that their former residence in the Chicago suburb of Crete was low rent. But Mac's fame has prompted a relocation to a more remote suburb, one where people are less likely to ring the bell at midnight and say, ''Yo, Bernie Mac live here?'' Out past miles of Illinois farmland, the new neighborhood's manicured roads have names like Durham Lane and Dover Circle. Two moving trucks stand outside the front door of the huge, stylishly geometric house, while burly men carry boxes into the open double doors. Inside, Mac is sitting on a kitchen island, drinking bottled water and . . . supervising.
''I hate moving,'' Rhonda says, tiptoeing through the boxes in the kitchen. She's wearing an old Bernie Mac concert T-shirt and sweat pants. ''I hate it with a passion.''
''Every time we move, tempers flare,'' Mac says. ''Last night, we had our first domestic. I had to clobber her. I hated to do it, but it had to be done. And you know? I felt bad. But I had peace.''
''Aw, yeah, right,'' Rhonda says, chuckling. Clearly an adept straight woman, she seems content to let her husband adopt whatever domestic role he chooses -- stern taskmaster, roving Lothario, wife beater -- perfectly aware that they're all performances. ''That's all talk,'' she tells me. ''Really, he is a sweetheart.''
The real-life inspirations for the kid-whupped Bernie Mac character are diverse and composite. In the mid-90's, while raising the teenage Je'Niece, Mac and his wife also took in Mac's 16-year-old niece, Toya, along with her 2-year-old daughter. Around the same time, a friend of the family took in her drug-plagued sister's three children. While Mac found the strong-willed Toya to be an occasional discipline problem, he was scandalized by his friend's three adoptees. ''I came over one day,'' he recalls, ''and they was talkin' back to her, sassin' her, and I just kinda took over. She was crying, saying, 'Mac, man, I wish you could stay.' And I told her: 'Man, get a bat. Bust 'em in the head when they talk to you like that.' She was crying, and that started making her laugh. And I started writing.''
I ask Rhonda how similar the TV Bernie Mac is to the one she has lived with for 24 years. ''Oh, yeah,'' she says. ''He loud like that.'' She cracks up. ''Most of what you see is true to him.'' Rhonda insists that she, however, is utterly unlike Wanda, the AT&T executive played by Kellita Smith. Now vice president of Mac's production company and previously a nurse, Rhonda was always more focused on family. ''I was a working woman, but my family was always No. 1,'' she says.
''She's talking about her mom,'' Mac taunts.
''Oh, you know I--.''
''Watch your mouth!'' Mac bellows. He turns to me. ''See, I'm the pimp around here.''
''Now what kind of mess is that for a middle-aged man to be talking?'' Rhonda asks as she unpacks groceries. ''You ain't no pimp.''
''I'm a bona fide pimp,'' he declares.
Such folksy, gently off-color comedy runs deep in Mac's household, just as it does in his performances. In the context of modern TV, there is something almost prelapsarian to Mac's humor. The eye-rolling laments, the hangdog plea ''Y'all got to pray for me!'' -- they all seem part of an ancient, vaudevillian craft. Watching the unpacking, Mac continues his hoary boasts.
''Come on,'' Mac says, goading his wife. ''Ain't I a playa from the Himalaya?''
This is clearly an old routine. ''Yeah, yeah,'' Rhonda says, chuckling. ''You got a woman in Cleveland that you always be leavin','' she recites. ''A woman in Alaska who do anything you ask her.'' She pulls a box of Kellogg's Smart Start from a moving crate. ''Pfffft,'' she says. ''You ain't no pimp.''
As he steps farther into the haute-suburban hinterlands, Mac faces a challenge that has undermined many urban-identified artists: how to resist the homogenizing effects of America's minivanned cul-de-sacs and stay connected to his career-making muses -- the bus stops, barbershops and general hurly-burly of the old neighborhood? Maybe that's why, later the same day, Mac and I end up standing at a counter at Chuck's Gun Shop near the Chicago ghetto neighborhood of Harvey, selecting sidearms for target practice.
Mac tells me that he has been coming to this shop for 10 years, amassing a collection of pistols, rifles and shotguns for target practice and some hunting. ''They call me the Peaceful Hunter,'' Mac deadpans. ''Because I never kill anything.''
Once inside the shooting gallery, however, Mac doesn't look so peaceful. Wearing headphones, he takes a wide-legged stance and with deafening blasts destroys the man-shaped target at the end of his lane. He may get manicures, but Bernie Mac seems happy to demonstrate he is no cream puff. When he was recently up for a film role as a cop, he found studios slow to imagine him in any role that doesn't involve adorable children. ''Seven years ago, I was raunchy, I was blue,'' he says. ''Now I'm the perfect father. Figure that out.''
Back at the front counter, Mac chats with the salesman, casting an occasional glance toward the front window. Since our arrival, a peanut gallery of black kids at the window has grown. Faces pressed against the glass, they giggle, jumping up and down when he waves. Leaving the store, we're greeted by screams: ''Bernie! Bern-ay!'' ''Can I get a autograph?''
Pushing his rectangular sunglasses back, Mac obliges, signing for Tameka, Rashonda, Tasha. ''Our names used to be simple,'' Mac writes in his book, ''I Ain't Scared of You,'' which was published last fall. ''Betty.' 'Cynthia.' 'Lamont.' Then 'Roots' came out, and everyone lost they mind. 'Zaqueeda.'''
Soon the entire neighborhood is turning out, summoned by cellphones and runners. Bigger youths in Rocawear are strolling over. Cars are pulling up at the sidewalk. Mac tries to satisfy everyone as he stands in front of a sign that says, ''It Is Illegal to Buy Ammunition or a Gun for Someone Else.'' Eventually we move to Mac's Mercedes, where Bernie sits in the back seat, window down, and continues signing. ''Let me take care of these kids, y'all,'' he tells his driver as he takes in a threadbare basketball to sign.
Before driving off for home, we pull the car up a half block to It's My Secret, a weather-beaten beauty salon. Some older ladies who can't compete with the crowd want to say hi, too. Mac jumps out, hugs the crowd -- and scores some moisturizing lotion. After all, a hard round of shooting can leave one's hands a bit chafed.
Back in the car, Mac laughs. ''See, them seeing us at the gun shop, that gave us kudos!'' he says. ''They gonna run all through the neighborhood, like'' -- he adopts a grave-faced, serious tone -- Bernie Mac, man, he ain't fit to be messed with, O.K.? I saw him at the gun shop!'''
He chuckles. ''Blacks get off on your realness,'' he says. ''Why do people love Richard Pryor so much? 'Cause he had problems.'' He looks out the window and adopts the voice of an approving ghetto dweller. ''Damn, he's on drugs, he shot his car. He ain't forgot where he came from! He real!''' Mac laughs. ''Blacks feel that they're a part of you. So they can come up and say anything they want to. That's how close and attached they feel.'' He seems amused at the absurd presumption, but clearly relishes the connection.
In fact, he seems touched for a moment, this tall, broad-shouldered man smoothing aloe vera between his mitts. And as he rides down Route 83, Mac repeats the old stand-up aside that inspired his armchair chats with ''America'' -- transposing his frank, sympatico relationship with a black crowd to the entire viewing audience. It's a line that, in Mac's hands, somehow seems to refer to more than black people. ''We family,'' he says with a smile. ''We family.''
Correction: May 26, 2002, Sunday An article on May 12 about the comedian Bernie Mac and his television show referred incorrectly to the location of a gun shop visited by the reporter and by Mac, who collects guns. Harvey, Ill., is a suburb of Chicago, not a neighborhood of it.
Another Review from Entertainment Weekly
The Bernie Mac Show (2001)
A-By Alynda Wheat
Published January 16, 2004
If a show is lucky enough to still be on the air by its third season, there's the midlife crisis to contend with: Plots are rehashed, characters become too predictable, and someone (networks? writers?) tries to liven things up. They bring in a tow-headed tyke or a bitchy mother-in-law. They make someone gay.
Bernie Mac, however, is as violent, foulmouthed, mildly homophobic, clueless, and manipulative as ever, which is a feat, given the show's extensive behind-the-scenes turmoil. (The series is now on its third show runner in a year.) This sameness is comforting, and is also why The Bernie Mac Show still works. Sure there are slight shifts this season -- nephew Jordan (Jeremy Suarez) is obsessed with ''boobies''; wife Wanda (Kellita Smith) is more involved with the kids. But Bernie's still chatting with ''America,'' hosting high-powered guest stars in his den (Angela Bassett, Ellen DeGeneres), and struggling to turn 10-year-old Jordan into ''a man.''
Of course, Bernie owes an enormous debt to Bill Cosby. Take the Jan. 11 episode, in which Bernie likes niece Vanessa's new boyfriend so much he practically steals the poor kid from her. Why, the same thing happened to Cliff Huxtable and his daughter Vanessa! Or rewind to the late-December episode in which Bernie advises Vanessa (Camille Winbush) that she can't possibly be ''bourgie'' '''cause you ain't got squat. I'm the one that got everything.'' Anybody remember Cliff giving Theo the same line when the kid wanted $1,500 to go to Egypt? No? Take it on faith.
Where ''Bernie'' diverges from ''The Cosby Show'' -- though not from much of UPN -- is in its devotion to a more (code-word alert) ''urban'' African-American experience. When Wanda quits her executive job because someone else nabs her promotion, Mac is quick with the query ''White guy?'' The show is adept at dropping references to black culture in ways that are so natural -- a recent holiday episode grooves on Donny Hathaway's ''This Christmas'' -- the viewer isn't jolted by a lack of recognition. Not everyone's family has a ''Big Mama,'' but we all know who Bernie means.
It's that ''old school'' Mac's always talking about that keeps his show solid. He feels comfortable there. It's telling that he embraces Vanessa's boyfriend only after the boy dismisses Justin Timberlake as a Jackson 5 retread. Bernie has never really left 1979. Which is perfectly fine, because we don't really want him to learn any new moves.
An article from USA TODAY
100 shows in, 'Bernie Mac' soldiers on
By Ann Oldenburg, USA TODAY
Published February 3, 2006
In the five years The Bernie Mac Show has been on the air, it has been up for dozens of awards including Emmys, Golden Globes, BET Comedy Awards, Family Television Awards, Kids' Choice and Image Awards, earning a place for itself and for Mac in sitcom history.
"Until they pull the plug, we have an obligation to tell good stories and perform for the people," Bernie Mac says of the possibilities for a sixth season.
The show's premise is that Bernie McCullough (a stand-up comic played by Mac) and his wife, Wanda, live in a nice neighborhood in Encino, Calif. Bernie never wanted kids, but when his sister is sent to jail, her three children Vanessa (Camille Winbush), Jordan (Jeremy Suarez) and Bryanna (Dee Dee Davis) move in. Bernie has to become a parent.
Friday, The Bernie Mac Show celebrates a milestone: its 100th episode (Fox, 8 ET/PT). Mac, 47, says he's as happy about this one as he was about the first. "There was never a plan. I never pursued making 100 episodes. I just wanted to do a good show."
Fans tell him that his frank and candid dad portrayal has hit home. "They always say, 'We watch you, Bernie, to see how to raise our kids. Man, that's what we need. You're a nosy parent. You're not no friend.' I get that a lot, about not being a friend." One of Mac's signature lines: "I'm gonna kill them kids."
Says executive producer Warren Hutcherson: "It's rare that they have a show where parents say, 'I'd like to kill these kids.' It's more humanizing to know you're not alone."
As for the real Mac being anything like the sitcom Mac, Hutcherson says, "Bernie is probably more like the softie than he is the tough guy."
The comedian has his own niche, Hutcherson says. "Just like Jack Benny was cheap and Rodney Dangerfield got no respect. Bernie Mac has decided his comic persona was definitely going to be the blustery, 'I'm-not-the-one' mountain of indignity. And the real guy is an approachable, likable guy. Sometimes in doing the show, we had to say 'Bernie, you have to be a little more aggressive.' "
Now the question is whether Mac will be back for a sixth season in the fall. Craig Erwich, Fox's executive vice president of programming, says no decisions have been made. "Creatively, it's a great product. People will talk about Cosby and they'll talk about Bernie Mac, fathers who have strong, unusual points of view."
Still, the show has aired on five different nights since it premiered, and ratings are down from a high of 10 million viewers in 2003 to an average of less than 4 million this year. Also, in February 2005, Mac announced that he has sarcoidosis, a rare and sometimes life-threatening autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the body's tissues. But he said he has had it since 1983 and it hasn't slowed him down.
For his part, Mac says he doesn't worry about the future of the show. "Until they pull the plug, we have an obligation to tell good stories and perform for the people. Whether it's 10 years from now, 20 years from now, all that matters is that they look back and say, 'That show was damn good.' "
Here is Bernie Mac's Obituary from The New York Times.
Bernie Mac, Comic From TV and Film, Is Dead at 50
By WILLIAM GRIMES
Published: August 9, 2008
Bernie Mac, a stand-up comic who played evil-tongued but lovable rogues in films like Bad Santa and Mr. 3000 and combined menace and sentiment as a reluctant foster father on The Bernie Mac Show on Fox, died on Saturday in Chicago. He was 50 and lived near the city.
The cause was complications from pneumonia, his publicist, Danica Smith, said.
Mr. Mac, an angry stage presence with a line of scabrous insults, parlayed his success as a stand-up comedian onto the big screen in a string of comedies that usually cast him as wily con men like Pastor Clever in Friday (1995) and Gin, the store detective in Bad Santa (2003). He also excelled playing short-tempered misanthropes, notably in his starring role as Stan Ross, the nation's most hated baseball player, in Mr. 3000 (2004).
In 2001, the Fox network took a gamble on The Bernie Mac Show, an unconventional family comedy in which Mr. Mac portrayed a childless married comedian who reluctantly takes in his sister's three youngsters when she goes into a drug-treatment program.
The irascible Mr. Mac made a different kind of TV dad, more Ike Turner than Dr. Spock, Chris Norris wrote in a 2002 profile for The New York Times Magazine. Mr. Mac's special style of tough love I'm gonna bust your head till the white meat shows, he warned his surly teenage niece set the show apart from other family sitcoms and raised a few critical eyebrows. But audiences saw enough of the character's soft center to find the show touching.
The success of my comedy has been not being afraid to touch on subject matters or issues that everyone else is politically scared of, Mr. Mac told The Times in 2001. It's a joke, believe me. I'm not trying to hurt anybody.
Mr. Mac incorporated aspects of his stand-up act in the TV show, and during each episode would break the fourth wall and address the audience. On one show, he swiveled in his chair and said, Now America, tell me again, why can't I whip that girl?
The Bernie Mac Show show ran for five seasons, and Mr. Mac received two Emmy nominations for outstanding lead actor in a comedy series, in 2002 and 2003.
Bernard Jeffrey McCullough was born in Chicago to a single mother who inspired him to become a comedian. He told a television interviewer in 2001 that when he was 5, he saw his mother sitting in front of the television set crying. The Ed Sullivan Show was playing, and Bill Cosby was on the show. When Mr. Cosby began telling a story about snakes in a bathroom, she started laughing despite herself. When I saw her laughing, I told her that I was going to be a comedian so she'd never cry again, Mr. Mac said.
His mother died of cancer when he was 16, and he was raised by his grandmother on the South Side of Chicago. His two brothers also died, one in infancy, the other of a heart attack in his 20s.
At the Chicago Vocational Career Academy, Mr. Mac was voted class clown by his graduating class. But already serious about his intended profession, he turned down the honor. I said, I'm funny. I'm a comedian. I'm not a clown, he later recalled. My humor had changed from foolishness to making sense.
After high school, Mr. Mac worked as a janitor, a mover and a school bus driver before finding a job at a General Motors plant. In 1976, he married his high school sweetheart, Rhonda. He is survived by his wife; a daughter, Je'Niece; and a granddaughter.
Desperate to become a comedian, Mr. Mac told jokes for tips on the Chicago subway and performed at comedy clubs, many of them off the beaten track. When I started in the clubs, I had to work places where didn't nobody else want to work, he told The Washington Post. I had to do clubs where street gangs were, had to do motorcycle gangs, gay balls and things of that nature.
In 1983, he was laid off at G.M., and for a time his family had to move in with relatives. The same year, he contracted sarcoidosis, an immune system disorder that can attack the lungs. In 2005, he announced that the disease had gone into remission.
Plugging away at his comedy career, he caught the attention of Redd Foxx and Slappy White, who invited him to do off-the-cuff material in Las Vegas in 1989. A year later, Mr. Mac won the Miller Lite Comedy Search, a national contest, with profanity-laced monologues.
In 1990, he was invited to do two shows with Def Comedy Jam, a tour featuring young black comedians, which was filmed for HBO. Small film roles followed in Mo Money (1992), Who's the Man? (1993) and House Party 3 (1994). He also performed on the HBO variety series Midnight Mac, and with the Original Kings of Comedy, a tour that showcased some of the most popular contemporary black comedians. The tour, which grossed $59 million, generated several HBO specials and a film of the same name by Spike Lee.
Mr. Mac made the move to television reluctantly. The people come to see you, the person they fell in love with, he said. But when they see you on TV, you become a whole other character, another person, and they become disappointed, and I wasn't going to allow that to happen to me.
Nevertheless, he appeared in a recurring role as Uncle Bernie on the UPN sitcom Moesha beginning in 1996, and in 2001, he took the plunge with The Bernie Mac Show.
Praised by the critics for its fresh, irreverent take on the family sitcom, it became one of Fox's biggest hits.
The show coincided with a spate of films that made Mr. Mac, if not a box office star, a welcome comedic presence with roles in What's the Worst That Could Happen? (2001), Ocean's Eleven (2001) and its two sequels, and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003).
Last month, Mr. Mac, a fervent supporter of Barack Obama, dismayed the candidate at a fund-raising dinner in Chicago. Delivering a stand-up routine, he told salacious jokes and drew a reprimand from Mr. Obama, who warned him, Bernie, you've got to clean up your act next time.
To watch some clips from The Bernie Mac Show go to http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=the+bernie+mac+show&aq=0
For Tim's TV Showcase go to https://web.archive.org/web/20130406164126/http://www.timstvshowcase.com/berniemac.html
For the Bernie Mac Site go to https://web.archive.org/web/20091111054857/http://www.angelfire.com:80/nm/TimBranch/BernieMac/startup.htm
For an article on the Bernie Mac Show go to https://tv.avclub.com/10-episodes-of-the-bernie-mac-show-that-capture-the-str-1798275816
To find out How ‘The Bernie Mac Show’ Changed the Future of the Sitcom go to http://www.vulture.com/2014/11/how-the-bernie-mac-show-changed-the-future-of-the-sitcom.html
For some Bernie Mac Show-related interview videos at the Archive of American Television go to https://interviews.televisionacademy.com/shows/bernie-mac-show
For a great review of the Bernie Mac Show go to https://web.archive.org/web/20080215232224/http://www.televisionheaven.co.uk/berniemac.htm
To watch the opening credits go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyIKeMGPb9M
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Keywords: The Cast of Bernie Mac Show