A comedy showcase in tribute to Bernie Mac would have put a broad smile across the comedian’s face.
The Chi-Town LaughFest, held at the UIC Forum the Saturday before last, drew a crowd of 1,200 despite the rain. They all came to get their laughs on and remember Mac’s comic genius. The comedian died last month of complications from pneumonia. He was 50.
The audience was treated to 15 rounds of thigh-slapping humor that left nothing and no one off the table during the four-hour show.
Jokes ran the gamut-from quips about Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s age to one comic’s misadventure with a bottle of Vick’s Vapo-Rub rubbed on the wrong part of his anatomy. The event featured a bevy of homegrown talent, like WGCI’s Tony Sculfield, B Cole, and Reggie Reg.
Reg’s dead on impression of Denzel Washington’s character from the hit movie Training Day as an irate Harold’s Chicken Store manager, had the audience roaring. He also parodied a slew of well-known personalities trying to appease a customer upset that his four-wing dinner, fried hard, came without mild sauce.
Reg easily leaped into impressions of Bernie Mac, Morgan Freeman’s character in the movie Lean on Me, Chris Rock on fries and finally to Richard Pryor saying: “I thought the flour was cocaine.” (I guess you had to be there.)
Even the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama found his way into B Cole’s skit. He lampooned Obama for being the only black man who can get away without having a mustache.
Cole, who has appeared on BET’s Comic View, chastised the Oscars for what he considers slights to Denzel Washington and Halle Berry. Cole believes Washington should have won for Malcolm X or Remember the Titans, not for playing a rogue cop. He also joked that Berry should have won for “Losing Isaiah, Dorothy Dandridge, Queen-B.A.P.S.”
All jokes aside, the event’s emcee, Damon Williams, believes Bernie Mac would be pleased at the unity shown by the Chicago comics.
“I think we made him proud Saturday,” Williams said, adding that the event was not so much a memorial but a celebration. “Bernie brought so much laughter and joy, so this should be a joyous occasion.”
Williams had hoped to honor Mac in August. He contends Mac was not getting the recognition he deserved since his career moved beyond standup to include film and TV.
“I wanted to give him his pub … and since he died, I wanted to do it the same way as we would have done it if he was still here,” he said.
The comics also credited Mac for putting Chicago on the map as a hub for up-and-coming black comedians. Comic Jay Deep said Bernie Mac was among the first group of comedians, which included the likes of Adele Givens, George Wilburn, Kenny Howell, and Tony Sculfield, whose talents attracted Hollywood’s attention.
“We are definitely a powerhouse,” said Deep, a West Side resident. “We have at least 40 headliners in Chicago and that is unheard of.”
Sculfield came up with Mac through Chicago’s comedy circuit. He credits Mac’s tutelage for shaping how he approaches comedy. Sculfield said he would never forget the pearl of wisdom Mac dropped during his early days performing at All Jokes Aside. After Sculfield’s first set tanked, Mac told him comedy is mind over matter.
“In between shows, he just grabbed me and said, ‘Hey, man when you’re on stage, in your mind you are funny. If you don’t convince yourself that you are funny, it is not going to translate to the audience,'” Sculfield recalled.
Sculfield knew Mac before he got big. But he said seeing Mac’s meteoric rise from struggling South Side comic to fame in Hollywood “just makes me feel good that this many comedians from so many generations came out tonight to support and show love for him.”
Mac’s sister-in-law, Mary Ann Grossett, said the comedy showcase was a fitting tribute. “What better way to honor Bernie than through comedy,” she said. “His spirit is enjoying this fully.”
A portion of Chi-Town LaughFest proceeds will go to the Bernie Mac Foundation for Sarcoidosis.
For future show dates visit www.funny firstsaturdays.com