Day 22: Bernie Mac

Day 22. I’m sharing a stand up set I really like each day this month. Years ago, when I first saw today’s set, I started laughing out loud in my room by myself, pounding the table with my hand. From Def Comedy Jam, here’s Bernie Mac and some reasons it’s table-poundingly funny to me:

• BEING IN THE MOMENT. Def Comedy audiences could be notoriously hostile, and the story goes that before Bernie, the crowd had just loudly booed the prior comic. So Bernie opened by letting them know his thoughts: “I ain’t scared of you motherfuckers.” He has his prepared material, but by reacting to the moment, I know he’s not delivering his jokes on auto-pilot. As a result, the set feels raw throughout, and I’m enthralled.

• REPETITION. Bernie repeats “I ain’t scared of you motherfuckers” multiple times. My chorus of laughter gets bigger each time I hear it. The first time, the phrase just an unexpected opening. The second time, I laugh because it’s a callback. The third time, I laugh because I realize the pattern. The fourth time, I laugh out of anticipation for the pattern. The fifth time, Bernie doesn’t even have to say it. He just has to say, “You don’t understand,” and by then, I’ve so internalized the repetition, I’m laughing at the phrase playing in my head. (See also: Russell Peters - Day 12, Darryl Lenox - Day 3)

• POP AT THE END. Every time Bernie cues the DJ with “Kick it,” he basically marks the end of one bit. But the reason why these break points work to amplify my laugh is that each of his bits ends with a pop. The comedic reveal happens at the sentence’s end: “This whole room get dark.” “I never had no pumpkin pie.” The solid joke structure already gets me laughing, and every time I hear “Kick it!” (like a vaudevillian rimshot), my brain gets reinforced to laugh.

For more of the late Bernie Mac’s comedy, check out The Original Kings of Comedy and The Bernie Mac Show.