One of the funniest comedians I ever heard in my life, Bernie Mac, died this past weekend. He was 50 years old. Overcoming life’s challenges is often not considered funny material. Black life in America is often recalled as sad but true. Bernie Mac had a way of relating our experiences in a way that even white people didn’t understand until late in his career. I first met Bernie Mac in the early 1990s at Southeastern Missouri University. I was there for a black history month speech. He was there for a college comedy show. Both programs were held in the building-the Student Union Building-on the same day at almost the same time. We stayed at the same hotel and rode the shuttle over together. Very nice and humble brother who complimented me on the traditional African attire that I wore regularly at that phase of my life. He was wearing Cross-Colors. When we got to the building, there was this huge crowd standing in line as we parted ways. I thought they were there for the black history program. They were there for something else. The black history program had about 125 students. The comedy show had about 800. That was the shortest black history program in the history of black history celebrations as the black student union students who sponsored the program were clearly anxious about trying to get over to the comedy show. They were “black,” but they weren’t that black to miss Bernie Mac. Hell, I went over there too. And it was the funniest show I’d ever seen in my life. That was my introduction to the “Mac Man.” Long before television and movies, the people knew who he was.
Bernie Mac was always a crowd favorite. Seeing him again with the Kings of Comedy almost ten years later, I recalled our encounter and he remembered it. Still humble, still “real” and funny as all get out. Bernie Mac, from the very outset would incorporate social messages in his routine. Messages like “stop the killing,” or “get an education” or “get out to vote.” But it was his signature routine about adults raising their children with discipline that were the funniest. “Beating your child until the white meat showed” because that’s how mother raised him. Black people know that black parents didn’t believe in “time out” and discipline was dished with love. But white audiences found the comedy “edgy” and Bernie Mac was one of the last real funny comics to get a television show because his comedy was seen as a risk that whites wouldn’t understand. They not only understood it, but they got it. There are not many jokes that you can hear a hundred times and it still would be funny. This “white-meat” was one. It got even funnier when he mainstreamed the bit in his sit-com and integrated today’s hyper-sensitive child abuse protection laws, as his niece and nephew called child protective services on him when he made the threat. Watching him explain it to the social worker was just as funny as the bit itself. He took it upon himself to sit in a chair every show and explain “black culture” to white people (“America”), and that’s what made the sit-com. It refuted the notion that white people couldn’t “get” non-degrading black humor, and that black people didn’t care about family as his show was based on the real life situation of him adopting his drug-addicted sister’s children. It was comedy and compassion at its best.
Bernie Mac was a one of a kind talent that the black community embraced with a special kind of love. He was from us and we were part of him. Everybody knows someone like a Bernie Mac. Someone who is rough around the edges but sharp as a tack, cusses but you don’t know whether to laugh or run (sometimes you laugh and run), don’t play with kids but loves them to death until they do wrong and then disciplines them (to make them better), knows what black people need but also knows what they want. Bernie Mac was Black America, in the flesh, uncut and unadulterated. Bernie Mac gave it to you straight, no chaser. Black America knows funny when they see it. They know “real” when they taste it. They know love when they feel it. Bernie Mac was funny and real. And he loved us as we loved him.
Here’s an ode’ to the “Mac Man.” He will be dearly missed as funny is not so funny anyway.
– Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the new book, Saving The Race: Empowerment Through Wisdom. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com.
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