Burning Mac


Stop me if you’ve heard this one: 300 Def Jam comics walk into a Shell gas sta­tion in Bak­er, Neva­da. No? Well lis­ten up, then.

Now in its fourth year, the annu­al Burn­ing Mac Fes­ti­val brings togeth­er a col­lec­tion of some of the coun­try’s best Def Jam-style stand up come­di­ans in the high Neva­da desert to recon­vene with nature, come togeth­er as a com­mu­ni­ty, and hon­or one of their fall­en: Bernie Mac, one of the Orig­i­nal Kings of Comedy.

Since 2008, a grow­ing num­ber of fast-talk­ing, con­fi­dent black come­di­ans arrive in car­a­vans often stretch­ing ten or more Escalades, with all man­ner of sup­plies over­flow­ing through the sun­roof. Tents, mat­tress­es, fedo­ras, over­sized shiny suits with shoul­der pads, alli­ga­tor shoes, bag­gy mul­ti-pat­terned flu­o­res­cent shirts; every con­ceiv­able neces­si­ty is cart­ed to the out­skirts of Bak­er in ear­ly May. With­in hours, impromp­tu streets and unof­fi­cial mer­chants pop up in the vast desert, cre­at­ing a vil­lage of like-mind­ed indi­vid­u­als look­ing for a com­mu­nal experience.

The stage is always the first struc­ture to be erect­ed, serv­ing as the focal point for near­ly all Burn­ing Mac activ­i­ties, many of which run through the night and into the ear­ly morn­ing. You’ll always find some­one on the stage, charg­ing back and forth across the wood­en planks with a micro­phone in their hands expound­ing on top­ics rang­ing from “child…” to “fool­ish­ness.” There are wide, uneven flat patch­es high­light­ing ambi­tious phys­i­cal joke tellers that have tried The Worm and a six-inch wide hole where three hun­dred con­sec­u­tive comics end­ed their sets by drop­ping the mic and walk­ing off. There is always at least one audi­ence mem­ber to soak in all this may­hem. Deep into the star­ry night you’ll find a lone patron of the Def Jam arts, jump­ing out of his seat, clap­ping wild­ly after each aggres­sive punch­line. Often times, he points at and high fives anoth­er audi ence mem­ber who isn’t even real­ly there.

Above all, Burn­ing Mac is about sup­port for an alter­na­tive lifestyle. The atmos­phere beyond the two arched pimp canes is that of a sim­ple max­im: share, expe­ri­ence, and “give your ladies the dick.” No mon­ey changes hands dur­ing the fes­ti­val. Instead, neces­si­ties and niceties are giv­en as gifts among the per­form­ers, with the sim­ple expec­ta­tion of rec­i­p­ro­ca­tion. On one dark Wednes­day evening, as storm clouds threat­ened on the hori­zon, Lavelle Craw­ford swapped his only pon­cho for a pair of rim­less sun­glass­es with a deep pur­ple lens tint. Hours lat­er, as pound­ing rain trans­formed the main Bernie Mac Boule­vard into a mud pit, Craw­ford stood on stage in a chee­tah yel­low din­ner jack­et and green felt pants, eyes shin­ing bright­ly through his new pur­ple lens­es. Craw­ford daz­zled fel­low rev­el­ers with thir­ty min­utes on his wife’s sis­ter always com­ing around.

Dur­ing the final evening, all the comics con­vene at the stage to watch Mr. 3000, speak­ing along with the film’s dia­logue. Yet, as the final cred­its end and the screen fades to black, so does the fes­ti­val. The last of the last set fire to the stage, con­grat­u­lat­ing them­selves on anoth­er year spent cel­e­brat­ing their craft, their com­mu­ni­ty, and hon­or­ing the loss of one of their own. The final car­a­van pulls into the Shell gas sta­tion to fill up on road snacks for the long trips home. And with one “kick it!”, anoth­er Burn­ing Mac comes to a close as all get ready for the autum­n’s Steve Harvi­est Festival. ♦