Sunday, August 10, 2008

Big Mac

(Photo Copyright Reuters)
There was always something about Bernie Mac. Whether you saw him on the big screen or on TV, he was always naturally funny. Yet, there was an underlying sadness that seemed ready to come out, yet never really did. That kind of humor which results from dealing with strife and misfortune has defined some of the greatest comic geniuses of our time. As a teenager, he lost his mother to breast cancer and in a relatively short order his grandfather and two brothers also died. "Comedy comes from pain," he admitted more than once, but Mac, whose onstage persona got him in trouble as recent as a few weeks ago when he opened at a Barack Obama fundraiser event, claimed that he really wasn't funny. No, he insisted, he was only channeling other family members who were infinitely more hilarious. His onstage comedy was filled with racy language, but he knew that his core audience never expected him to be "clean" like Bill Cosby. He was wise in knowing that. On TV Mac catapulted himself from a guest star on "Moesha" into his own slot on Fox that ran for five years. Despite the onset of the lung disease sarcoidosis in 2004 which shut down production for a while, Mac's TV series was honored with several awards including a highly-regarded Peabody Award; a Humanitas Award for his promotion of human dignity, meaning and freedom; and an Emmy Award for outstanding writing . He received several Television Critics awards and an NAACP Image Award as well as the NAACP's nod as outstanding actor in a comedy for four years in a row from 2002 through 2006. His disease was reported to be in remission in 2005. One of the "Original Kings of Comedy," Mac's career had achieved near superstar status after becoming an integral part of the New Rat Pack of George Clooney's "Oceans" movies franchise. He starred in a few other films like "Mr. 3000" (which he filmed here at Zephyrs Stadium), last year's "Transformers" and "Bad Santa" opposite Billy Bob Thornton, but one could always feel his best work was forthcoming. Indeed, "Soul Men" with Samuel L. Jackson and "Old Dogs" starring John Travolta will both feature the Chicago native's last work before the camera. Although he was never truly one of my favorite comic performers at first, I respected him for his innovative work and admired him for the strength of character he portrayed. I had become a bigger fan in recent years, especially after his roles had grown in importance. At the conclusion of his TV episodes, Mac would invariably break character and address "America," referring to himself in third person. It seems somehow fitting that a man whose comedy was condensed to just 50 years would have such a luxury. On reflection I'll miss that big guy with the bug eyes a lot.

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