Maybe You Never Cry Again (Book Review)

Bernie Mac was a comedian with a big heart. Raised in the South Side of Chicago, he learned old-school principles from his mother and grandparents, tough-lessons of integrity that were instilled in him since he was a child. Those lessons carried him throughout his life. Sometimes he didn’t understand the point of what his family was teaching, not until later, when dealing with struggles that tested his character. “You know, funny thing about life. Most people, they got a problem, they crank and moan. What they don’t think about is fixin’ it themselves. But if you fix it yourself, you’re going to find that there’s always going to be one person in the world you can turn to. You.” “If you want people to respect you, you got to respect yourself first.” “We were taught to let things sit deep inside us and figure them out for ourselves.” His father was absent, he lived in poverty and with pressures to join gangs, but he never strayed from his true purpose. He worked hard and briefly attended college, all to support his wife and daughter, but he envisioned a bigger life for himself. He was a natural comedian, making people laugh wherever he went, whether he rode the train, stood in front of a class on Friday afternoons, or reminisced at a funeral. His need to make people laugh stemmed from his mother. He saw how a stand-up comedy routine on late-night TV changed how she felt. He saw her suffering shift into deep belly-laughs, her tears transformed by the power of humor. That insight stayed with him, seeing how jokes could impact a person, even in their most vulnerable moments. His need to be funny came from a want of attention too. He had to perform, to be the class clown and the center of the crowd. While he came from a family that never complained and moaned, he needed their attention (and everyone else’s too). “You know what she used to say to me, my grandma? She used to say, ‘Beautiful mornin’, ain’t it, son? I get another crack at it this mornin’; another chance to improve myself.’ And that’s what I’m getting, Rhonda. Every time I’m up onstage is another chance to improve myself.” Bernie lived through the deaths of his older brother, mother, and grandparents. His best friend was shot and killed by an abusive girlfriend. He worked odd jobs, lived in rotten apartments, bombed in front of crowds. These events hurt Bernie deeply, but they didn’t destroy him. He learned from his sufferings, his heartbreaks. He dreamed big, never getting lost in the distractions, never giving up when times were hard, like so many of his old friends did. “The thing is, it was my dream, not hers. She’d been brought up like most people: Get a job, get a house, get a dog, buy insurance. And there was nothing wrong with that. It’s just I wanted something else. And I realized: If you have a dream, well, it’s your business. You don’t have to make other people understand it, and you probably shouldn’t even try. All you have to do is make it happen.” He worked Amateur shows and flew down to Las Vegas, opening up for Red Foxx (on a whim of Foxx’s). When he came home, he got kicked out of his apartment, three men jumped him and he went to jail on false charges. Later, one of his close friends lost his lifelong career and became an alcoholic and eventually died. Bernie still worked on his craft, honing his skills in comedy clubs and theaters across the country. He started reaching deep inside himself for material. Like Pryor, he desired to be a truth-comic, exposing his vulnerabilities and flaws, showing who he truly was, what he felt, being as real as possible, instead of performing as a joke-teller. “Well, you know, Mr. Mac, you do have one little problem. You’re funny, but you don’t want to be funny. You want to be liked. Now if you open yourself up, and you get real, and you start taking comedy seriously—well, there’s no telling how far you’ll go.” “Sir?” “You’re afraid to show people what you’ve got inside,” he said. “And that’s where the best stuff is, the stuff that’s buried way deep down.” Bernie’s career gained momentum the more he explored himself. He met Robin Harris, a famous on-the-rise comedian, who wanted Bernie to open for him on the road. He died from a heart attack, however, on the very night that he offered him the gig. That event compelled Bernie to quit his job as a truck driver and devote his life fully to comedy. “No matter. I was going to try to do my own thing, my own way. And I wasn’t worried about the future. I’d made up my mind: I was a comedian. All of this was gravy. I’d been a janitor and a bus driver and I’d built houses from the ground up and I’d chased rats and shoveled scrap iron and fried fish and delivered bread, and I’d done it all honestly. I wasn’t about to get dishonest with my comedy. I wasn’t going to do comedy I didn’t believe in. Comedy was it for me, brother. Nothing as important as comedy. You gotta stay strong inside. Stay centered. Be true to yourself.” He started getting more auditions. Radio stations promoted his shows. He made more money. With his rising celebrity status, people that he knew, people he worked with and grew up with, treated him differently. Strangers claimed that he was family. Organizations wanted him to donate to their causes for the community. Bernie dealt with critics, scam-artists, and flatterers who only wanted his fame for themselves. When he was poor, though, none of them were around. He stayed true to himself, learning from every job, every late-night gig. Waking up early. Acting in movie roles. Rehearsing his material to himself. Writing. Raising his child and loving his wife. With every setback, he reflected on what his mother told him, putting failure in perspective. Whether others praised or blamed him, it didn’t concern him. He only focused on what was meaningful, what was in line with his principles. “Most people don’t want to do the hard work, though. They’re looking for the free ride. They want something for nothing. What do they think? That Michael Jordan was out boozing at night? Hell no! He was on that got-damn court all day, every day, trying to make himself a better player. And when he was the best there was, he went out and practiced harder.” Then he toured with the Kings of Comedy. For the first time ever, he performed in stadiums. Audiences arrived in the thousands. As the curtains parted, Bernie Mac stepped into the bright lights and did his thing. One of his bits was about raising his sister's three kids after she got into trouble with drugs. That was the foundation for The Bernie Mac Show. “I’m sitting in court, I should have sat there like my brother did. My brother ain’t say a damned word. He just turned his got-damned head. When they said they was going to give the kids over to the state, he turned his head. But I had to get my self-righteous ass up: ‘Naw. This ain’t right. We’re family. We got to stick together.’ If I’d known what these bastards was like, boy, they’d be in orphanages right now. “Man, that two-year-old—she a sumnabitch. That heifer been here before. Two-year-olds don’t use words like ‘inconsequential.’ She’s an apostle for the devil, I tell ya! One day I was combing her hair looking for some numbers. And the four-year-old—my sister must have been getting real high when she was conceived, because she don’t say nothing; she just look at you. I told her the other day, ‘Heffa, if a fire break out, you better learn how to whistle or something. Or you gon’ be a burnt-up bitch.’ I ain’t got time to be going into no fire looking for somebody like this. She just stare at you. And the six-year-old cry like a sumbitch. But the two-year-old has control over the six-year-old’s mind. I ain’t lying. Whatever the two-year-old tells the six-year-old to do, he do it… “Kids! The world is messed up. I’m just saying what you’re afraid to say! Kids make me sick, motherfucker. I can’t stand those sumbitches. I’m not talking about kids from the sixties, seventies, and early eighties; I’m talking about these nineties got-damned kids. Ooh, these sumbitches. I can’t stand them.” Although the Kings of Comedy sold out across the nation, it didn’t get any attention from the white mainstream press. Not until Spike Lee filmed it, shooting the production for three million dollars, did it gain any widespread attention. When Lee was shooting backstage footage, he asked Bernie a question: why didn’t he have his own sitcom, his own show? That inspired Bernie to action. He wanted his own show, wanted to tell America the truths (Mac-isms) that he had learned. As he pushed for his dream, he confronted another reality about America, its prejudices. Its small-minded judgments. Its racism. Bernie wanted to be respected for his comedic talents, his no-bullshit honesty. He saw individuals, humanity, as more than sociological statistics, categories. But people were too scared of his messages. They said that his comedy was raw. “Yeah, there’s racists out there. There’s every kind of racist for every kind of group. But it ain’t just a color thing. It’s humanity. People are harsh. They thick-headed, hardwired. No amount of tinkering is going to change the way some people think. Don’t tell me. I know. I’ve been beat the hell down as much as the next guy, and the biggest beating I’ve taken has been at the hands of my very own people.” Then he met with Larry Wilmore, an experienced comedian and writer. Wilmore told Bernie that he liked his material about his sister’s kids (from the KoC). He wanted to build a sitcom around that premise. They made it a one-camera show, didn’t use a laugh-track, established points with pop-up notes. Bernie addressed the camera directly as well. Just like in his real life, he was a comedian, had a supportive marriage, and told it like it was. Fox picked up the show and ran with it. It became the hottest new sitcom on the network. As Mac said, “You watch The Bernie Mac Show and you realize that black families ain’t just about broken homes and crackheads and hos. Black families are about love, too. And love is one thing you can’t have enough of.” Bernie remained humble as his show became popular. He still acted and continued his stand-up, but he never left his home. He stayed in Chicago with his close friends and family, knowing the value of intimate relationships, instead of living in the shallowness of Hollywood stardom. He still remembered what his mama had taught him: believe in yourself, listen to your own voice above all others. Go deep inside yourself. Sit still and listen close. There might be a few wise voices out there, helping you out. But too many outside voices will shut you down. Bernie learned to respect himself and other people, no matter what they thought. Even those who tried to bring him down. He understood, from his mama’s teaching, that he had to value himself first. “Most people,” his mama said, “are lost. Most people are just struggling to find their way… It’s not about you, Bean. Not at all. They’re just lookin’ out for themselves. Don’t take it personal and you won’t get hurt feelings… You ain’t gonna change them, so don’t try. Only person you can change is yourself.”

#berniemac #bremeracosta #book #memoir #autobiography #mayyounevercryagain #comedy #review

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