AFTER 13 YEARS WORKING the comedy circuit as the best-paid standup you never heard of, Bernie Mac is ready for his chance to become a comic leading man. Mac, whose standup work will be seen when Paramount/MTV Films releases the Spike Lee-directed docu “Kings of Comedy,” has been signed by MGM to join Danny DeVito and Martin Lawrence in “What’s the Worst That Could Happen.” At the same time, MGM has made a six-figure deal for “Deadbeat Dad Detective,” the working title for a comedy vehicle that will be Mac’s first toplining role. He’s also in talks to topline “Seven Spells,” a comedy at Fox.
Scripted by Jeffrey S. Dyson, Christopher A. Hall and Takashi Bufford, “Deadbeat” will star Mac as a private eye who tracks down fathers who are delinquent in child support payments, a comedy described as an urban “Fletch” meets “Ace Ventura.” Mac will exec produce the pic with Bufford, Steven Greener and Marvin Acuna, with Gren Wells associate producer.
Though not nearly as well-recognized as his counterparts, Mac is perhaps the best-paid standup comic in the business, who has gotten limited Hollywood exposure in pics like the Eddie Murphy-Martin Lawrence comedy “Life” and “Friday.” His profile has heightened after he teamed up over the past two years on the Kings of Comedy tour with Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley and Cedric The Entertainer. The tour has grossed $37 million in two years. While the King cohorts have all tasted success in sitcoms, Mac has continued to tour. His blue humor style is reminiscent of Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx, both of whom waited to be accepted by Hollywood while more mainstream comics jumped the line. Now it’s Mac’s turn.
“I have been touring for 45 weeks a year for 13 years, doing what I love,” said Mac, a Chicagoan who’s been married 25 years. “Hollywood isn’t a place that takes chances. They don’t want to invent the wheel, they want you to prove that the wheel is working. ‘Kings of Comedy’ isn’t just great for me, but for a lot of people behind me. I have always tried not to be somebody who seeks approval, or doesn’t take risks. I have followed my own voice and had fun. Yes, it’s been a long wait for me, but I feel like I’ve been in training. So that when the opportunity came, I’d still be hungry, but I’d be ready. I’m ready.”
Mac will likely follow the MGM film work by joining his Kings of Comedy cohorts in “Seven Spells,” a Fox comedy scripted by Takashi Bufford (“Set it Off”) which is a casino heist comedy that’s being considered an African American answer to the star-studded remake of “Ocean’s Eleven” being made at Warner Bros. Mac is managed by Union and lawyered by Armstrong Hirsch, while the pitch scribes were repped by Charles King of William Morris.
PHONE GUY CONNECTS: George Clooney’s Maysville banner is partnering with Film Roman and Spyglass to option “Bad Connection,” a novel by Mike Ledwidge which will be adapted as a possible star vehicle for Clooney.
The novel, to be published by Pocket Books next April, is the story of a telephone cable splicer who taps into a CEO’s phone line and inadvertently hears conversations about a pending corporate merger, inside info that can make the phone guy wealthy. It creates a moral dilemma for him. If the novel’s details about phone cable splicing seems realistic, it’s because Ledwidge is a telephone company guy who wires phones for a living, and wrote the novel while commuting from the Bronx on the subway each morning. The movie deal’s worth six figures and is Ledwidge’s second published novel. Still, he’ll continue to connect phones and write on the side. Endeavor and Richard Pine of Arthur Pine Associates made the deal.
A WRITER PAYS THE PRICE: Peter and Bobby Farrelly were gracious enough to give “Me, Myself & Irene” cowriter Mike Cerrone a part in the pic, as the centerpiece of one of its funniest scenes. But while the role might have furthered Cerrone’s aspirations as an actor, he might have singlehandedly set back by 500 years the screenwriter’s continuing quest for respect.
Cerrone plays a cop who winds up handcuffed to a tree, pants down, the flailing lower body of a live chicken struggling to extricate itself from Cerrone’s bare posterior. At the pic’s premiere last Thursday, Peter Farrelly hailed Cerrone’s screen work, even if his screenwriting pal was left at a loss for words. “He’s handcuffed, spread eagled, we roll the camera and he says, ‘what’s my line?’ ” said Farrelly. “We said, ‘what else do you say in a situation like this? How about “Would someone please get that chicken out of my ass?” ‘”
MACHO JOURNOS PONDER HOLLYWOOD: After plying their journalistic trade in some of the most dangerous and hostile environments, Sebastian Junger, John Falk and Scott Anderson are ready to try Hollywood. Just as Warner Bros. prepares to release the Wolfgang Petersen-directed adaptation of Junger’s bestselling book “The Perfect Storm,” the writers will be in Hollywood Monday to pitch a movie they’ll write, based on an incident that happened to them. The journos travelled together to Sarajevo to track down the most wanted war criminal in Bosnia, aided by a misunderstanding in which they got information because they were mistaken as CIA operatives. Their adventure was turned into an article in the upcoming Esquire by Anderson, which the trio will use as the basis for a “Three Kings-like” black comedy. Anderson wrote “Triage” and a Falk article in Details was adapted into the acclaimed HBO pic “Shot Through the Heart.” Sale will be a team effort, as UTA reps Junger, ICM’s Patty Detroit and Sloane Harris rep Anderson and Sterling Lord’s Jody Hotchkiss reps Falk, with lit agent Stuart Krichevsky repping Junger and Falk.
EVEN MORE “SURVIVOR”: Forget good ratings. “Survivor” can now be considered a cultural phenomenon, now that Comedy Central has commissioned a parody of the show that is being written by Steve Kerper, best known for creating the HBO show “Hardcore.” “Totally Stranded” will go beyond the yucky idea of eating rats and larvae. “It’s a comedic version of ‘Lord of the Flies,’ going from coconuts to cannibalism real quickly,” said Kerper. The project’s being steered by Comedy Central senior veep Debbie Liebling.