Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from K-O

Mac, Bernie(1957–) - Comedian, actor, Announces His Career Goal, Faces the Unexpected, Establishes Career as Comedian, Chronology

comedy mac’s mother television

Bernard Jeffrey McCullough, better known as Bernie Mac, garnered acclaim as a stand-up comic, actor, and the co-creator and star of a popular television series.

Bernie Mac was born on October 5, 1957 in Chicago’s South Side. He was the son of Mary McCullough and Bernard Harrison. Mac grew up in a household with his mother, a personnel supervisor at Evangelical Hospital; his grandfather, a janitor at General Motors; his grandmother; aunt; and older brother. The family lived in at least four homes in Chicago during Mac’s youth.

In his first book, I Ain’t Scared of You (2001), Mac recalls that his family ate cereal with forks. His grandfather would pour milk in Mac’s bowl, and after Mac ate the cereal, he would pour the milk in Darryl’s bowl; after Darryl ate, he would pour the milk for the next person. Other weekday food staples included bologna, potted meat, and beans. The best meals of the week were served on Sundays; after church, the family dined on roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, macaroni and cheese, rolls, and cake. In his second book, Maybe You Never Cry Again , Mac puts his childhood in perspective: “When I think back on it, I think about all the good things I had, not the hardships. I had the luxury of being a little boy, and that’s really something. Lots of kids today don’t have that luxury. Grow up too fast. Don’t have time to have their kid thoughts and dream their kid dreams and use their imagination.”

Announces His Career Goal

In both of his books, Mac recounts an important childhood incident. When he was approximately four years old, he noticed that although his mother was crying, she started laughing when she saw an African American male on television. As she continued to laugh, Mac realized the man had the power to make Mac’s mother laugh despite her woes. He asked his mother who the man was, and when she responded that he was Bill Cosby, a comedian, Mac decided that he would become a comedian so he would never have to see his mother cry again. In I Ain’t Scared of You , he elaborates: “That’s a true story, man. That’s what made me want to do this, even after my mother passed. That’s what inspires my humor. I don’t want nobody to cry.”

Mac grew up watching many comedic stars on television: Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, Carol Burnett, Tim Conway, Bill Cosby, Redd Foxx, Stu Gilliam, Jackie Gleason, Harpo Marx, Richard Pryor, Red Skelton, The Three Stooges, and Flip Wilson. He also saw such talents as Moms Mabley and Pigmeat Markham perform their stand-up routines at Chicago’s Regal Theater. As early as his childhood years, Mac displayed a talent for being able to hold an audience’s attention. In 1966, when he was eight years old, Mac told jokes at a church banquet. Although Mac’s jokes generated much laughter, his grandmother berated him for telling family business, and dragged him from the banquet by his ears. Mac’s ability to entertain extended to his public school classrooms. Miss Ford, one of Mac’s teachers, allowed him to narrate stories to his classmates on Friday afternoons. Mac was so successful that when his classmates misbehaved and Ford threatened to cancel Mac’s Friday session, the students behaved.

While in high school, Mac performed his Michael Jackson impression during open mike at the Regal and was unsuccessful. The emcee told him to return when he was funny. Yet a few weeks later, Mac performed his impressions of James Brown and The Dick Van Dyke Show ‘s husband and wife as African Americans, and told jokes about the elderly at the High Chaparral’s Amateur Night. When Mac left the stage, the audience was still laughing. Consequently he won the $50 prize. Mac writes in Maybe You Never Cry Again that after his performance at the High Chaparral, he could not get the audience’s laughter out of his head and that he wanted to hear it for the rest of his life. He adds that comedy was not a career or a choice; it was a “calling.”

Faces the Unexpected

Chicago Vocational High School’s graduation day for Mac was bittersweet because his mother was not in the audience. Mary McCullough, the person Mac acknowledges who believed in him before he believed in himself and who worked overtime while she was battling breast cancer to provide a better life for her family, died in August 1974. One year later, on the anniversary of his mother’s death, Mac’s brother died at the age of twenty-seven. Still later, Billy Staples, who was more like Mac’s brother than a friend, was murdered.

On September 17, 1977, less than a month before his twentieth birthday, Mac married his high school sweetheart, Rhonda, and on January 21, 1978, their daughter, Je’Niece, was born.Rhonda McCullough, a former nurse, became vice president of her husband’s production company.

Establishes Career as Comedian

After Mac earned his high school diploma, he held a variety of low-paying jobs and attended Kennedy-King Community College in Chicago. However, he remained focused on fulfilling his childhood dream of becoming a comedian. In his quest to establish himself in the entertainment industry, he told jokes on the subway and continued to participate in amateur night contests at local clubs. After a successful weekend and a paycheck from Chicago’s Cotton Club, Mac called a local agency looking for representation and sent a demo tape only to be told he was out of style and not good enough. He continued to perform at the Cotton Club and started performing at such venues as the Comedy Cottage.

During the early stage of his career, Mac and his wife vacationed in Las Vegas and purchased tickets to see Redd Foxx. They met the legendary entertainer before the show, and he offered to let Mac perform for five minutes in his show. Mac went on stage and made people laugh. After five minutes, Foxx motioned for him to continue, and Mac performed for at least another ten minutes. Afterwards, Foxx complimented him and told Mac what he already knew; Foxx advised him that he should not worry about being liked, failing, or taking risks as a comedian.

Mac entered the 1990 Miller Lite Comedy Search held at the Regal, hosted by Damon Wayans. Mac won the contest and deposited the entire $3,000 in a bank account in his daughter’s name. Mac then gained greater exposure by appearing as an opening act for such entertainers as Gladys Knight and the Pips, the O’Jays, and the Temptations. Mac appeared in two HBO series: Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam (1992), and his own series, Midnight Mac (1995), which was nominated for a Cable Ace Award. From 1998 to 2000, Mac appeared as Uncle Bernie in the television sitcom Moesha .



Born in Chicago, Illinois on October 5


Mother dies in August


Marries his childhood sweetheart, Rhonda, on September 17


Becomes a father


Wins the Miller Lite Comedy Search


Makes film debut in Mo’ Money


Stars in the HBO series Midnight Mac


Begins The Original Kings of Comedy tour with Steve Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer, and D. L. Hughley


Has reoccurring role on the television sitcom Moesha


Stars with Harvey, Cedric, and Hughley in Spike Lee’s film The Original Kings of Comedy


Stars in the sitcom The Bernie Mac Show ; publishes I Ain’t Scared of You


Publishes Maybe You Never Cry Again


Announces in February that he was diagnosed with sarcoidosis in 1983


Celebrates the one hundredth episode of The Bernie Mac Show

Mac made his film debut as a club doorman in Mo’ Money (1992), a film written by its star, Damon Wayans. He then appeared in House Party 3 (1994), Above the Rim (1994), Friday (1995), Get on the Bus (1996), and Life (1999). Mac, along with Steve Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer, and D. L. Hughley began the Original Kings of Comedy tour in 1997. The show, which was initially booked in smaller venues, soon moved to larger arenas and stadiums as more than forty million people saw what became the highest grossing comedy tour. When Spike Lee filmed the show and released the highly successful movie, The Original Kings of Comedy (2000), Mac gained even greater exposure.

Celebrates Sitcom’s One Hundredth Episode

Mac, enjoying the success of the tour and Lee’s film, appeared in additional movies, including Ocean’s Eleven (2001); Head of State (2003); Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003); Mr. 3000 (2004), which was Mac’s first starring role; Bad Santa (2003); Ocean’s Twelve (2004); and Guess Who (2005), which is a remake of the 1967 classic Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

In 2001, The Bernie Mac Show debuted on the Fox television network, and five years later on February 3, 2006, the one hundredth episode aired. Mac’s show was one of the few African American sitcoms to appeal to crossover audiences since The Cosby Show . In the show, Mac plays a successful comedian who lives in Los Angeles with his wife. The childless couple becomes responsible for Mac’s nieces and nephew when his sister enters rehab. The Bernie Mac Show is another example of art imitating reality because in the 1990s, Mac and his wife allowed his sixteen-year-old niece and her two-year-old daughter to move into their home. Since its inception, the show has consistently won awards, including an Emmy for outstanding writing in a comedy series (2002), and BET and NAACP awards for outstanding comedy series (2004 and 2005). Mac is the recipient of outstanding actor in a comedy series awards from BET in 2004 and 2005 as well as the NAACP from 2003 to 2006.

In February 2005, Mac announced that he had sarcoidosis, which is a rare autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the body’s tissues. Mac revealed that he was diagnosed with sarcoidosis in 1983. Although the disease is sometimes life-threatening, Mac asserted that he has not altered or limited his lifestyle and that he planned to establish the Bernie Mac Foundation in order to provide funds for sarcoidosis organizations.

Many years have gone by since Bernie Mac was a little boy who realized that comedy could uplift people’s spirits, yet he has consistently remained true to what he views as his calling—making people laugh. He continues to enjoy the adoration of fans as he performs his comedic routines, acts in films, and stars in his critically acclaimed television show.


User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or