Best New Comedy, Fall 2001

By Ken Tucker
September 07, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
  • TV Show

Fox, 9:30-10 p.m.
Debuts November 7

It’s fair to say that no other sitcom this season is going to feature a lead character who’ll say to a sassy young child under his charge, ”I’m gonna bust your head ’til the white meat shows.”

Bernie Mac’ll do that in the premiere of Fox’s The Bernie Mac Show, and, says executive producer and cocreator Larry Wilmore, ”we will get flak for that, no doubt about it. We had to fight [Fox] to keep that in.” It’s part of the realism that Mac — a veteran Chicago stand-up comic who came to national prominence in the 2000 feature film The Original Kings of Comedy — and Wilmore, who cocreated the underrated Eddie Murphy foamation laffer The PJs, are striving for. In The Bernie Mac Show, Mac plays Bernie Mac, a successful Los Angeles comic, married to a vice president of AT&T (Kellita Smith). Mac addresses the camera in the opening seconds to tell us that his sister is ”on drugs” and he’s taking in her three young children.

”I want to speak directly to the audience,” says Mac, ”to say I’m like you — I’m frustrated, I’m not an expert, I don’t have a manual on parenting, I make mistakes, I’m selfish too. Now all of a sudden I have kids — they break stuff, they talk back, one kid pees on himself. It’s not a black show; everybody has these problems.” Wilmore refers to Mac’s to-the-camera soliloquies as ”a confessional, because it’s his time when he can confess the sins he’s committing right in front of our eyes, to address America as if we’re all one family.”

Mac the actor still lives in his beloved Chicago, where he spent the ’70s and ’80s working as a UPS deliveryman, a furniture mover, and a bread-delivery sales rep. The day he figured he could finally earn more money as a stand-up, ”it was 40 below in Chicago, and I just unloaded all the bread in one store…. Then I called up my boss and said, ‘I quit; I’m a comedian.’ ”

A decade later, Mac, 44, saw his Kings cohorts move into sitcoms (D.L. Hughley in The Hughleys; Steve Harvey and Cedric the Entertainer in The Steve Harvey Show), but Mac — a ferocious presence on stage, a merciless intimidator of hecklers or late arrivals — didn’t seem like a natural for TV. Wilmore thought differently. ”In [Kings], he really resonated with that audience in a way I hadn’t seen a comic do since Chris Rock’s last HBO special.” Wilmore wanted to translate what Mac himself calls his ”aggressiveness” to a family sitcom: ”I like to think of the show in three ways — Bernie against the kids, Bernie against himself, which in some ways is the funniest part, and Bernie against political correctness.”

For Mac, married 25 years with one daughter (”She’s getting married, and he’s a nice guy — I’m not gonna tell him that, but he is”), it’s payback time for years spent shivering in Chicago, sleeping ”with only a space heater and an electric blanket — my daughter in the bed with my wife and me.” After that, and years of taming rowdy nightclub audiences, Mac says, ”I’m ready. I’ve been in training for stardom.”

  • TV Show
  • 11/07/01
  • In Season
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