Bernie Mac: “I’m Gonna Be A Comedian, So You Never Have To Cry Again”
“I love making people happy,” he says. “That’s what got me in this business.” Those are the words from the late, great comedian Bernard J. McCullough, better known as Bernie Mac. Mac starred in the incredibly successful “Kings Of Comedy” tour and movie with Cedric The Entertainer, DL Hughely and Steve Harvey. He quickly became a household name with the award-winning Bernie Mac Show, multi-million dollar movies and a long stand up career, but his beginnings were far from glamorous.
One Sunday night when he was four or five, Mac found his mother crying in front of the television. She refused to explain the cause of her tears, and before her young son could press any further, Bill Cosby came onto “The Ed Sullivan Show” and started doing a routine about snakes in the bathroom.
“And my mother started laughing and crying at the same time,” he says now, the story so frequently told that he could probably do it in his sleep. “And when I saw my mother laugh, I started laughing, and I wiped her face and said, ‘Mom, that’s what I’m gonna be. I’m gonna be a comedian, so you never have to cry again.‘”
And Mac did just that all the way up until his death in 2008. He died from Sarcoidosis, a mysterious and sometimes devastating immune system disorder that causes cells to cluster and can damage organs throughout the body. It’s an ffliction that hits adults younger than 40 and disproportionately affects African-Americans, especially women. Sometimes the illness is mild and goes into remission, but sometimes it is severe and unremitting, causing progressive damage to multiple organs. Often misdiagnosed, sarcoidosis remains a little known disorder, even in the medical community.
Bernie recounts how he first learned about it:
“I hadnt done anything social in three years. I was over in Europe, I was over in Amsterdam, I was over in Paris, flying back here, doing that. I was working still because I didn’t know what the heck was going on. Im still doing 16-18 hours a day, but I felt something was wrong. I called my tour manager and he called the doctor. Then I caught pneumonia. Double pneumonia. Then they gave me this medicine thats good for pneumonia. And the doctors are really high on this medicine. Theres one out of 100 that it [doesnt] fit. I was the one, and it gave me toxidity.”
He did his first comedy routines in his childhood bedroom, using an empty shoe polish bottle as a microphone and keeping his brothers awake with corny jokes and impressions. His mother and one of his brothers died within a year of each other, both while Mac was a teenager, and he can recite the details of his mother’s fatal battle with breast cancer with the same passion and precision he uses on stage.
“My comedy comes from pain,” he says. “I can’t stand to see someone hurting.”
After high school he began a string of odd jobs all designed to sustain he and wife, Rhonda, while he chased his stand-up dreams.
He was a janitor, a professional mover, a school bus driver for handicapped children and a…