*Once upon a time comedian Mark Curry was at the top of the ladder with his own sitcom, “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper,” on ABC. You couldn’t get much higher than that for a black comedian back in the 1990s.
Back when you were seeing Curry and Holly Robinson-Peete on a weekly basis it seemed like the sky was the limit. But, sometimes the sky is not the limit, in fact most of the time it’s not. What once seemed like a promising career had suffered some setbacks that are often times only whispered about by those in the know. Now, come tonight, Monday, August 23rd, you will be in the know, too as TV One’s “Life After” presents its episode on comedian Mark Curry.
“Why did I decide to do it? You know what? I don’t know,” Curry told our Lee Bailey when asked why he decided to be a subject for the show. “I like to do an interview every now and then. I would like to say to reveal it to my community every once in a while. TV One is great, I like TV One. So, I figured, if Ron Artest can do it I can do it. I love Ron Artest and I want people to see what I am doing. “
During our interview with Mark Curry it became quite obvious that the brother had been through the ringer in the 10 years or so that “Mr. Cooper” has been off the airwaves. But now he’s back on his grind and trying to get his mind right.
It’s just because people are always saying ‘What are you doing?’ and I am doing stand up right now. A lot of people don’t know that. After doing ‘Mr. Cooper’ I felt like my stand up wasn’t as (good) anymore. “
Though the mainstream media, as well as fans of Mark Curry, might feels as if “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper” was the pinnacle of his career, he tells EURweb.com that it may have been the beginning of his downward spiral.
“I started doing ‘Mr. Cooper’ and I felt like I changed into a totally different person,” he explained. “Money makes you less funny. I don’t know why, but I felt like I wasn’t funny anymore. Before ‘Mr. Cooper’ I was funny as heck, but then I started going ‘they don’t pay me enough money to do that. That’s not enough money. Blah, blah, blah.’ You start getting unfunny. I’m back on the road and I’m funny again … the little black clubs that I wouldn’t play, the big rich white clubs, any club that I can get my mic on. Now I’m funny, I feel funny and I am confident that I am funny. “
Curry’s ‘Mo’ Money, Less Funny’ equation is something often mused about among fans of comedy, but to hear one actually say it is a little bit of a trip. So, if we’re traveling aboard that train of thought, one wonders if Curry’s assertion that his return to funny mean he’s broke now? Is funny to a successful comedian similar to the Kingdom of God and a rich man? To Curry and those like him, funny is heaven and it’s worth the pain.
And speaking of pain, On “Life After,” the comedian talks about an incident where he was hospitalized after getting burned when he inadvertently knocked an aerosol can of spray starch off a shelf. The can hit a metal wall bracket that connected the water heater to a wall and ruptured, causing an explosion and a fire that engulfed him. He suffered second degree burns over 18% of his body.
“Yes I did get burned. But that’s not the focal point of the show. I won’t go into it much, but after that I had to change my life because I almost died. I was in a coma for 2 days. It was really, really bad. But it changed my life and comedy. It was almost like a revelation for me. I will be funny, I am going to change my comedy and I am not going to care anymore about what I say. Before I was always picky about what I said. I was more concerned with the audience. “
[Scroll down to watch Curry hilariously explain what happened.]
A comedian changing their comedy is as risky as a rapper changing his rhyme style. It’s a high risk, low reward type of thing. But Cooper tells EURweb.com that it was almost as if his peace of mind depended on it.
“I changed my life and my comedy. I’m a comic so my life revolves around being funny. If I am not funny then I am depressed,” he candidly admitted. “That’s why some times you see a comedian that doesn’t do so well and just kind of falls off. It emotionally affects you because that’s all we got. We’ve got a routine and if that routine is terrible then it’s like you’re walking in a desert with all the money that you want. Trust me, all these guys that used to be comedians, they can have 20 million in their pocket, but they all want to do standup. Trust me. They know if they’re funny or not. I don’t want to have it be ‘Life After’ being burned because my life is much more than that. “
Though Curry appeared to be speaking freely during the entire interview, it appears as though he tried to crawl into a bit of a shell when we asked him to expound on the incident.
“I don’t like talking about it because everybody keeps asking me the same question. I want to move on. I was depressed, and I wanted to kill myself,” he admitted. “It’s just that everybody wants to talk about it. I understand what you’re saying, but every article that’s all people want to talk about. I don’t want to talk about that and everything. Taking me back to that depressing place is hard for me. People look at you and think ‘Is he still burned?’ Remember, I got to go out and sell tickets.”
However, after some convincing from Lee, Curry continued.
“I was in the hospital and tubes were sticking out of everywhere. I asked them to bring me a pen and a yellow notepad. And I put on my answering machine ‘Hey, I’m burnt up! Fire! I’m about to choke from the smoke. My arm looks like Kentucky Fried Chicken.’ And that’s exactly what got me through all of this, the jokes.’ I felt into a deep depression but I think I’m out of it. Although I still fall back into it from time to time. “
It seems as if depression is an integral part of being a comedian. Without the pain the comedy is not as funny. If that’s so, if good comedy can only come from great pain, then these truly are tears of a clown. Everyone needs someone to talk to every once in a while, but a long standing taboo exists among African Americans, males in particular.
“It’s hard being Mr. Cooper, but I didn’t get no help for (the depression), and you know black people don’t like to get help; I dealt with it on my own. I tried to kill myself and I don’t really know what happened. I wasn’t really burned up that bad. It was fairly recent. It happened maybe out 2 or 3 years ago. I didn’t get help. I didn’t go do it, not at all. I didn’t know how to do it and I didn’t really seek that. I don’t trust Los Angeles at all for business. These people are fake. It’s hard being popular. I don’t trust everybody. So, I dealt with it ghetto style, on my own. I’m OK, I think. It took me through an emotional situation that was so powerful that it taught me how to deal with my emotions. “
Though Curry has stated that he doesn’t trust Hollywood types, he does trust others in the fraternity of black comedy that he will forever be a member of. One of them was a big help in him coming through the storm clouds of depression.
“You know who really helped me? George Wallace the comedian,” said Curry. All could think about was how I was going to get out of this. George Wallace sent me a book. And I’m thinking ‘What the hell am I gonna do with a book? I don’t want no damn book.’ It was a Joel Osteen book. The words were so encouraging and I read the book and it pushed me to another level. “
“Chris Tucker called me a couple times, Martin Lawrence, Sinbad, Bill Cosby. Mr. Cosby called me when I was in the hospital. They all ripped me. All the comedians ripped me. They were all like ‘What were you doing? Barbecuing?’ It made me laugh, and that’s what we comedians do. We don’t know about emotions. We just knew how to talk mess through comedy. That also really helped me out, all the comedian friends that called me. It really pushed me forward. “
“Life After” will air its segment on Mark Curry tonight, Monday, Aug. 23 at 9pm EST on TV One. But will Curry be watching?
“No, I probably won’t watch it to tell you the truth. I like to wait and see what it’s like and then watch it by myself. I just hope that it’s funny. I don’t want people to watch it and think I’m crazy. I don’t know, I don’t know. Besides, I can’t because I am going to Japan.”
Mark Curry is an obviously talented, emotionally tormented comedian in the midst of resurgence or a tragic collapse. The final chapter is yet to be written, the full story remains untold. Quite frankly we’re concerned and we wish him the best.
Watch clips from Mark Curry’s “Life After” episode: