- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 20, 2001

NEW YORK — Benjamin Spock, legendary baby doctor and best-selling author, urged parents to seek an understanding of their child's psychological needs. Bernie Mac, gruff-love advocate and hero of a new sitcom bearing his name, calls for beating some sense into their hard little heads. With a sledgehammer, if necessary.

Not really.

"C'mon, America," implores Bernie Mac, addressing the camera in the show's recent premiere. "When I say I wanna kill those kids, you know what I mean."

There you have the essence of this unexpected new comedy: From time to time, all normal adults are going to have it up to here with the small fry around them whether or not they are willing to admit it.

Luckily, Bernie Mac is eager to admit it for them. "Bernie Mac just says what you want to say, but can't," he tells America.

"The Bernie Mac Show" (Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox) explores the plight of a successful stand-up comic and his dishy, corporate-executive wife: This blissfully childless, child-averse couple suddenly is slapped with having to raise his junkie sister's three children.

Bernie Mac, of course, will learn to love these invaders. Even so, rude truths tumble from his lips. Children are "nasty, dirty, disease-carrying midgets."

Children live to touch, and then destroy, all the stuff adults hold dear. Children are "too sassy, too grown and talk back too much."

The devil spawn of "Family Affair" and the equally bland "Diff'rent Strokes," this show paints a portrait of parental aggravation anyone will recognize.

Not only is it Bernie Mac's, it could be yours.

Starring in the title role is Bernie Mac, the real-life stand-up and actor who, during a recent interview, predicted his show "is gonna make you say, 'Yeah' because it's gonna make you see yourself."

Sure, the righteous observer may wince at the notion of putting to death unruly moppets but remember the words of TV's most hallowed father figure, Bill Cosby.

As Cliff Huxtable on his 1980s sitcom, he once entered son Theo's bedroom to deal with the lad's latest infraction. "Your mother sent me up here," Dad began, poker-faced "to kill you."

How little has changed after nearly 20 years. When Bernie Mac tells America, "I know what you're thinking," what America is likely to be thinking is, "Don't tell the world."

• • •

The real Bernie Mac was born Bernard McCullough 44 years ago and grew up poor in a big family in a rough Chicago neighborhood.

"I came from a place where there wasn't a lot of joy," Mr. Mac recalls. As a child, though, he realized that joy was exactly what he got from the comedians he watched on TV. "I decided to try to make other people laugh when there wasn't a lot of things to laugh about."

Nourished by a wide range of laugh-getters (from Moms Mabley to Harpo Marx), Mr. Mac began his professional career doing stand-up for spare change on subways while finding a style that would blend the salty language of Redd Foxx with the heart of Red Skelton, two more of his idols.

Married since he was 19 and the buttons-popping-proud dad of a 23-year-old daughter, Mr. Mac espouses G-rated family values: Respect yourself and others, get over your victimhood, work hard and lay down the law to the youngsters.

Today his stand-up career thrives and he can count among his many films "The Players Club," "Get on the Bus" and the hit concert film "The Original Kings of Comedy" as well as the upcoming all-star remake of "Ocean's 11." His humor book, just out, is titled "I Ain't Scared of You."

And now he's got this new sitcom.

"It's been fun," says Mr. Mac, who in real life seems younger, sleeker and more self-possessed than his frazzled alter ego.

"But television handcuffs you, man," he goes on. "Now everyone's telling me what I can't do, what I can say, what I should do and asking, 'Are blacks gonna be mad at you? Are whites gonna accept you?'

"I can deal with that," he adds, being sure of the answer to the only question he cares about: His show is funny and, like any good comedy, instructive in its own refreshing way.

"Maybe it's gonna make some parents say, 'You know, I do let my kid get away with too much,' Maybe it's gonna build courage for some people."


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