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Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

A Loving Eulogy For the Late, Great Bernie Mac

It’s no secret that sometimes comedy is taken a bit too seriously. Comedy obsessives love not just the jokes, but the mechanics and emotions of the comedy world. There are a raft of comedy documentaries exploring comedy and comedians, but do they really have anything significant to add to the discussion? This series looks at comedy documentaries and whether they’re interesting, insightful, and possibly even…funny?

As biographical documentaries go, tributes to the recently deceased must be judged differently than those chronicling the living. From a practical perspective, the person in question can’t respond or defend himself, so hurling accusations his way is both needlessly cruel and unproductive. Addressing negative issues can seem to be speaking ill of the dead. And generally, people want to dwell on the good.

Because of this, I Ain't Scared of You: A Tribute to Bernie Mac gets the same pass as The Delmonic Interviews. Produced and hosted by Mac’s daughter Je’Niece, the film is inevitably and unapologetically loving. In fact, given how quickly it was made (Mac passed away in 2008 and the film was released in 2011), it seems impressively honest and fair.

If you need a refresher on the variety of Bernie Mac’s career, it can be seen in the people interviewed in this documentary: from comedy documentary staples like Chris Rock and Tom Arnold to the likes of Samuel L. Jackson and Stephen Soderbergh. (Also Cameron Diaz, who turns up a lot. Honestly, way too much.) That range means that the doc is likely to include both familiar and foreign stories for everyone. For me, the section on Ocean’s Eleven is fun because I can recite that movie by heart; the section on his game-changing Def Jam performance is fun because I had no idea about it at all.

That Def Jam performance kicks of the film (and gives it its title) both because it was a significant career moment and because it showcases the attitude that made him a star. The story goes that Chris Tucker had gone on earlier in the show and destroyed, leaving behind an unmanageable crowd. Unperturbed, Mac strode onstage and led with, “I ain’t scared of you motherfuckers.” This turned into a catchphrase, with which he tagged all of his jokes (alongside some dance breaks).

It’s an interesting clip (not least for his clothes — in your wildest dreams, you couldn’t design something so nineties). In the documentary, his daughter admits that when she first saw the set, she didn’t find it all that funny, despite how popular it became in certain circles. Here in 2012, not all of the jokes hold up, but his charisma is undeniable.

Only an hour, the film really only hits the bright spots of Mac’s life and career. But it doesn’t show preferences for the many different sides of Mac — devoted family man, lewd comedian, movie sidekick, sitcom star. That the movie focuses as much on his R-rated Def Jam set as time in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle roles demonstrates that I Ain’t Scared isn’t trying to alter his legacy or memory. This is affectionate tribute to everything that was Bernie Mac.

And so, in conclusion…

Is it interesting? Yes, as a eulogy. I don’t necessarily feel like I knew Mac, but I appreciate his legacy all the more. It’s also a way to highlight the foundation set up in his name.

What does it have to say about comedy? There’s a voiceover where Mac recounts how he explained to his wife (and high school sweetheart) Rhonda his decision to leave his factory job. “I’ve done everything that everybody always wanted me to do all my life. I’m a comedian. If I don’t do this, I’m gonna die.”

Is it funny? Since it’s essentially a memorial, there’s a sobriety that pervades the film. But there are a few jokes from the interviewees, and some funny clips of Mac’s along the way.

Can I stream it on Netflix? Yes!

Any comedy documentaries you’d like to see discussed? Do let me know.

Elise Czajkowski is a freelance journalist in New York City. Seriously, enough with the Cameron Diaz.

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  • Jake Bloo

    Don't forget the Burning Mac festival : http://enjoyminutiae.com/issues/reconciliation/burning-mac/