It’s been nearly four years since Bernard “Bernie Mac” McCullough died of complications from pneumonia. It took that long for his widow, Rhonda McCullough, to mentally prepare for researching the new Comedy Central special dedicated to her late husband.
“‘I Ain’t Scared of You’ A Tribute To Bernie Mac” airs at 10 p.m. EST tonight on Comedy Central. The special features Chris Rock, Don Cheadle, D.L. Hughley and other Mac admirers to explore what made him one of the most unique voices in modern comedy.
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The special recalls Mac’s formative years on the Chicago comedy scene, his impact on films like “Friday,” “Mr. 3000″ and”Bad Santa,” and how he changed the shape of the modern TV comedy with “The Bernie Mac Show.” McCullough shared her memories of her husband and why his often crusty humor couldn’t hold back his winning spirit with Big Hollywood earlier this week.
Christian Toto: Was it important for some time to pass before starting a project like the Comedy Central tribute?
Rhonda McCullough: Absolutely, because I was still grieving. My heart couldn’t take it.
Toto: You were married for 30 years, but in preparing this special did you learn anything new about Bernie or his comedy career?
McCullough: No I knew Bernard inside and out. There was nothing new for me to learn
Toto: I understand Bernie’s humor immediately stood out when you first met him in high school … was he trying to make you laugh, or was it just such an elemental part of his personality?
McCullough: No I didn’t get to know how funny he was until I talked with him one-on-one, and that’s where I found out he was a very funny guy and very charming. And an overall nice guy.
Toto: Bernie wasn’t an overnight sensation … his fame finally took off when he was in his 30s. What was his career approach in his 20s?
McCullough: You would be correct – he didn’t get his fame until his late 30s so in his 20s he wasn’t really that focused on a comedy career. He knew it would be a matter of time.
Toto: Bernie could sound like a curmudgeon on stage, but his crusty talk couldn’t hide the sweetness that shined through. Can you talk about the optimism which came out in his work and where that came from?
McCullough: He always had a positive outlook on life. He never let anything get him down because of his upbringing.
Toto: His Fox television show was unlike any other sitcom – how hard did he work to break the mold and was that important to him – creating such a unique comedy?
McCullough: Yes it was very important for him to do a television show where he was not playing a buffoon. I believe that is why it took him so long to get his show He always said that he wanted something different and relatable to people.
Toto: Are there any modern comedians who have some of Bernie’s spark, or evoke something about his approach to comedy?
McCullough: At this time I don’t know any comedian that has his spark.
Toto: The Bernie Mac Foundation – any new treatments or hopeful news regarding Sarcoidosis (Mac suffered from the disease which causes the growth of inflammatory cells typically in the lungs, skin, eyes or lymph nodes)?
McCullough: There are new treatments that are making headwaves, and we are also partnering with the University of Illinois which has a great team of doctors that are helping us with this.