Who can forget the handsome and loveable Mark Curry who for five seasons starred on the 90s ABC-TV hit sitcom Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper? He played the smart-mouthed Mark Cooper, a former college basketball star who became a substitute teacher at an inner-city high school. The show also starred Holly Robinson Peete, Dawnn Lewis, and later, Raven Symone, Nell Carter, and Saundra Quarterman.
Upon chatting with Mark, it is quickly apparent how Hollywood’s corrosive tendency has not touched him. The forever-youthful funnyman is refreshingly down-to-earth, affable, and totally unassuming. As a matter of fact, when Mark was on the Mr. Cooper set, he won over the crew by routinely refusing to be waited on. He’d fetch his own coffee and actually bothered to get to know the show’s crew. Besides being the sitcom’s star, Mark was a creative consultant as well. In 1994, the comedian was named one of TV Guide’s 10 Best-Loved Stars on television, a much-deserved accolade, and honor that speaks to who the man is in real life.
The youngest of eight children and the tallest of his siblings (height 6’6”), the Curry household was full of teasing and joking. So is it any wonder that Mark was gifted with a natural ability to make folks spit out their drinks? The man is truly funny! The Oakland-born star who had initially attended California State University at Hayward to pursue a journalism degree, quit school to chase a dream deferred, comedy. Needing an immediate livelihood, Mark began working as a drug store manager, where he practiced and honed his comedy routines on unsuspecting customers. He soon launched his comedy act in small clubs across the country.
Mark’s great influencer and idol was Richard Pryor, whom he had the opportunity to open for while on a comedy tour. Another comedy legend that Mark admires is Bill Cosby. As a matter, Cosby called Mark after his 2006 near-death accident, and upon hearing the icon’s words of encouragement, he cried like a baby after they hung up.
Mark’s accident was a horrific and life-changing event that nearly pushed him to commit suicide. While doing laundry at his home, Mark accidentally knocked an aerosol can off the shelf. It fell behind a water heater, ruptured and sparked a fire.
Mark was thrown 10 feet, and his body was immersed in flames. The fire inflicted second-degree burns over 18 percent of his upper torso. He spent four days in a medically induced coma. When Mark finally woke up, he faced agonizing pain and depression that left him feeling suicidal. Fellow comedian friends like Sinbad, Martin Lawrence, Damon Wayans, Chris Tucker, and Bill Cosby reached out to help bring him out of his despondency. The accident also forced Mark to make a commitment to himself that he would strive to be funny, to be No. 1 against all the odds.
Earlier this year, Mark became a news headline when he called out TV host and radio personality, Steve Harvey, for stealing his jokes. Mark told the gossip media outlet TMZ that Steve used his material on two of his former shows, NBC-TV’s Little Big Shots, and daytime talk show Steve. Mark explained to TMZ that Steve stole one of his Halloween routines. Mark made his media rounds discussing the joke-stealing beef. He even posted his Halloween routine side-by-side Steve’s; the allegation appeared to be on point.
Steve Harvey has denied Mark’s accusations.
Mark is also a veteran actor in both comedy and drama and has appeared on numerous TV shows like House of Payne and movies like Armageddon. He has also hosted several gigs, including the legendary Its Showtime at the Apollo. He has two HBO comedy specials under his belt and would now like to return to the comedy special format in the near future.
The always energetic Mark took a breather for a moment to chat with 50BOLD about where’s he’s been and what’s to come.
50BOLD: You are an Oakland native and the youngest of eight siblings, what was family life like in such a large household?
Mark: Family life was awesome! We lived in a very small house, and yet, we all got along. My comedy comes from my upbringing. Just think about it, eight kids, small house, a lot of my early jokes came from this very situation.
50BOLD: You were the youngest in the family and probably spoiled, right?
Mark: That’s right, I was spoiled!
50BOLD: Oh, and you admit it!
Mark: I never did the dishes. I never even had to take out the trash.
50BOLD: As a kid, what was the first job you ever had?
Mark: I was a hustler. I always made money. The first job I ever had was at age 12; I mowed lawns.
50BOLD: Growing up, initially, you wanted to become a professional basketball player, right?
Mark: No, not really. It was an ambition. I knew I wasn’t as good in basketball as those other guys so, I let it go. I’m still an active basketball player now. I have a pro basketball hoop in my backyard, and I still shoot. Playing basketball is better than being on the treadmill all the time, which is boring.
50BOLD: So, you left college to begin a comedy career and to make ends meet, you worked at a drug store. You actually practiced your comedy on customers. True?
Mark: Yes! When I began doing comedy I had to work. I knew I had to make jokes. My practice time was – if you walked up to me, I would just tell a joke without mentioning I was telling one. If you laughed, I knew the joke worked.
50BOLD: So, when you were at the drug store, you were doing standup?
Mark: Yes! I was the manager at a drug store. I was one of those people who would help you out if you needed something. I would show you where the item was locatedand then say something like, “You know women are funny because of dat-dat-dat.” If you laughed, I knew the joke worked.
50BOLD: When did you realize you were funny, was it as a child?
Mark: I knew I was funny early on. When you’re the youngest in a family, you have to develop a sense of humor to survive. Growing up in East Oakland, the ghetto, laughter was used as a defense. If somebody was about to beat me up, I would just tell them something funny. The dude would say, “Did you hear what he just said?”
50BOLD: Would the dude still hit you?
Mark: The dude didn’t hit me because I shocked him with my words.
50BOLD: You have stated that Richard Pryor was a great influence with regards to your comedy. Did you ever work with him? There was also a recent ABC-TV documentary on Pryor. Did you get a chance to see it?
Mark: No, I missed the documentary. I opened up for Richard Pryor in 1993. It was in Los Angeles right before the Super Bowl. I have the poster in my office. I got a chance to speak with him intimately. I was given the opportunity to open for the greatest comedian and my idol. Richard Pryor told me some things that I will never reveal.
50BOLD: Oh, so why not reveal what was said?
Mark: I won’t reveal what Richard said to me because these are my secrets to keep me going. When I walked in to see Richard, he knew my name, “Mark Curry.” It really blew my mind to hear Richard Pryor say my name. I brought with me a ticket stub from a 1974 show where I went to see him perform at the Circle Star Theater in the Bay Area.
I’ve always kept the ticket stub because after seeing Richard Pryor, I knew that I wanted to be a comedian. When I showed him the ticket stub Richard was like, “Wow, I remember that show!” That’s the thing, he remembered the performance.
50BOLD: Do you remember Richard Pryor’s groundbreaking TV show in the late 70s?
Mark: Yes, I remember The Richard Pryor Show. Just four episodes aired, and then the show got canceled. The show should never have been canceled. I remember one episode where he was nude with his genitals removed like a Ken doll, and he said, “They took everything from me,” it was hilarious.
I still play Richard Pryor albums. I have all of his albums on my desk, ready for play. I also love and respect the old comedians like Bob Newhart and others who were great storytellers.
50BOLD: What other comedians have influenced you? Do you go back as far as Redd Foxx and comedians of that era?
Mark: Richard Pryor is like my Miles Davis of jazz artists. There is no other. It is, what it is, and this is how I look at it. Miles is my man; Richard Pryor is my man. Both performers are classics.
50BOLD: Now that you mention him, did you ever get to meet Miles Davis?
Mark: I never met Miles Davis, but I got to see him perform at the Berkeley Jazz Festival in the 80s. I had these huge binoculars that I had picked up from the drug store. I watched him go backstage, get a drink of water, kick back, then return to play. He would do his thing. I was like, “Wow! That was deep.” The jazz festival was my first introduction to Miles Davis.
50BOLD: Where do you get the inspiration for your comedy material?
Mark: My comedy material comes from life experiences I’ve had, you know, the paradoxes of life. You can take a slice of anything and examine it, especially Black life. Take, for example, mental health in the Black community. You can look at the statistics and whatever and be like, “What? That’s unbelievable!” I do my research and base my comedy on life. I also talk about things that have happened to me. I like to keep it fun.
50BOLD: We loved you in Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, what was working on that sitcom like? You also did standup shows. At some point, did you have to put the brakes on standup, or were you able to do both your comedy shows and the TV commitment?
Mark: It was weird because I was Mr. Cooper, and my standup was a little different than Mr. Cooper. So, being on the show definitely put a weird spin on my comedy. People didn’t know what to expect when they came to see me.
Mr. Cooper was a teacher. My comedy wasn’t raunchy, but you have to be able to talk about things that are controversial to survive in comedy. You just can’t be boring. You have to be honest. It was truly a weird time.
50BOLD: Yes, you had to shift gears. Your comedy is not raunchy, but you’re not super clean either, correct?
Mark: No, No, No, I’m me! I don’t put my brand of comedy in any category.
50BOLD: What’s the worst and best thing about doing standup?
Mark: The best thing about doing standup is that I have freedom when I’m on stage. I have complete freedom of my art to make people laugh for two hours. How beautiful an art is that?
I can sit up on stage with a glass of water and just talk. I can communicate with people and make them laugh in unison; this is the good part. It’s a privilege. The bad part of doing standup is the traveling. Other than the traveling part, I can’t complain. I work an hour a night. I’m touring now with the Funniest As Is Tour. It is definitely a workout, but a great workout.
50BOLD: I follow you on social media, and you talk a lot about staying positive. Why is staying positive so important in life?
Mark: There are always positive messages we have to give each other.
50BOLD: On your Facebook page, for instance, you once posted, “Don’t put sugar in your coffee, put positive in your coffee.” I thought the posting was funny.
Mark: Wow, I don’t even remember posting the phrase, but I like it. Just staying positive in life helps when you are going through rough situations. Work through it, push it, this is the message I always like giving people – stay positive!
50BOLD: You’ve appeared on so many TV shows. We’d love to see you do a sitcom again, perhaps a comedy special on Netflix or other networks. Is this something you are looking into for the future?
Mark: I’m definitely looking into doing a new special. It’s time for me to do a special.
50BOLD: Yes, it is!
Mark: People haven’t seen me in a long time.
50BOLD: I was reading on the internet where it said you had retired. Is this true?
Mark: I didn’t retire. I just haven’t done a special. I have done two HBO specials. Let me tell you my take on the world. I see all of these guys out here; it’s time for me to do a special again.
50BOLD: Not to name names, but a lot of the younger comedians today, I don’t think they are funny.
Mark: Yes, it’s a different breed of comedy out here. I believe funny is funny. Somebody can be funny; writers can force you to be funny – a good anecdote, okay, that’s pretty funny and being clever. But funny to me is, back in the day when you saw a comedy special, you’d say, “Daaaaamn” and play it again because it was hilarious. You would even memorize the comedy bit!
If you come away from a special and can’t remember anything about it, then the comedian didn’t do their job.
50BOLD: Comedians today are just throwing out curse words, and this is all they’re doing.
Mark: Yes, comedians today want to be shocking! It’s all about shock factor!
50BOLD: Now, you know I have to touch on the hot-button topic about your public dispute involving Steve Harvey. You’ve accused him of stealing some of your material. I even saw similarities when you posted your Halloween joke side-by-side with his version. However, Steve has denied all accusations. Have you both made amends or even plan to discuss the matter further?
Mark: No, I put my receipts out, and I’m done with it all. Just keep my name clean!
50BOLD: What about Bill Cosby? How did you feel about the Cosby situation?
Mark: No comment!
50BOLD: Really. Have you reached out to him?
Mark: No Comment.
50BOLD: Whoa! Really? I got you!
Mark: I know nothing about any of that.
50BOLD: Wow! Alright, shutting that Cosby door. Okay, here’s another one. I know you don’t like discussing your 2006 accident.
Mark: That accident thing is over! The entire “think positive” belief came from my accident situation. If you think positive, you can get through anything.
50BOLD: You were really depressed at the time and even thinking about suicide, is this true?
Mark: Yes, all of that.
50BOLD: Wow, you spiraled all the way down.
Mark: My life at the time just went dark.
50BOLD: And your comedian friends like Sinbad, Martin Lawrence, Damon Wayans, Chris Tucker, and Bill Cosby, all supported you, called you and helped you bounce back after the accident, correct?
Mark: I don’t even want to talk about those days either. I have already dealt with the situation. I don’t ever want to go back there. No offense.
50BOLD: No, I hear you; let’s move on.
Mark: Ok, let’s move on.
50BOLD: Now, looking back, what would you have changed about the career path you’ve taken?
Mark: Wow! I don’t know. I’ve been successful on every level I have touched. I would love to do a comedy movie. I’ve never starred in a comedy movie, and I would love to explore it; I think it would be hilarious.
50BOLD: I can see you in a comedy film, and you’d be great in it!
Mark: I’m ready to be a movie star. You have to commit your life to it and I’m ready. I want to make a movie that everyone can find funny. I haven’t seen this type of movie, one that would just make you laugh. I’m not trying to send a message. I’m not trying to offend anyone. I can envision an over the top film that is all funny with physical comedy. This is what I miss, going to a movie to just laugh.
50BOLD: You look so good, what is your diet and exercise regimen?
Mark: What we’re doing here people is cutting out sugar! I am told, “Why are you so thin?” Well. I’ve cut out sugar. Sugar is addictive. People say, “I don’t even drink sugary stuff, Mark. I just go to Starbucks.” When you go to Starbucks, they’re adding so much sugar and sweetener in your drink; it’s like eating four tablespoons of sugar. You have to watch your sugar intake. I also work out to keep my heart moving.
And I love gardening. I have everything trimmed right. I trimmed my roses before I left. I said let me trim them because I see other people’s roses blooming and mine ain’t blooming, so I WILL get jealous. I have a lawnmower. I have all these tools. I also trim my own hedges.
50BOLD: Oh, so you mow your own lawn?
Mark: Yes, I mow my own lawn and take pride in it. All of my neighbors have gardeners. They do not like me because I pull out my tools. (makes lawnmower sound) I’ve got all these good tools. Gardening is one way to stay healthy. I also golf and play basketball. I still shoot around. I try to stay active. I go to the gym and I have a Peloton.
50BOLD: I’m asking for my female readers. I know you don’t like talking about your personal life but are you married or involved? I can’t find any personal information about your love life anywhere on the internet.
Mark: Exactly! I never let anyone know details about my personal life.
50BOLD: So, you go undercover when it comes to discussing your personal life?
Mark: You have to keep some things to yourself in this celebrity life. You know, I’m 6’6,” 200-point guard, I’m funny, what else can I say? I like being known as a funny guy. I’m not trying to be anything else. The Lord has blessed me with the gift of comedy.
50BOLD: Now, what about your daughters, you have two? Don’t tell me you don’t want to speak about them either?
Mark: Ah, yeah. I have daughters.
50BOLD: What makes you happy these days?
Mark: Making people laugh makes me happy. I also like cars. I love older cars and classic cars.
50BOLD: Do you go to car shows?
Mark: No, I just like getting cars, restoring, selling, and sending them on. I have a ‘67 Volkswagen for sale right now. I restored it beautifully, and now it’s time to go. (Using a used car salesman’s voice) And tell your readers I have a ’67 Volkswagen for sale. It’s tan with a black interior and sunroof.
50BOLD: Do you have a bucket list of things you want to do before leaving this planet?
Mark: (Using a preacher’s voice) Beeee-fore I leave this pla-net, ma’am, do you know I have been blessed in my life and have done everrrry-thang I’ve evaaah wanted to do.
Mark: You name it, I’ve done it. I’ve traveled the world. I’ve played the biggest stages in the world. I did a tour with Whitney Houston. I went scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, and there was a storm above the body of water. We were about to turn back and I said, “No, when is the next time I’m going to be at the Great Barrier Reef? Let’s do it!” I was very nervous at first but I knew I had one chance. I wasn’t ever going to do this again.
50BOLD: How would Mark Curry like to be remembered?
Mark: I want my legacy to say, “He was funny. He always made me laugh.” My comedy legacy was the gift I was given. Other people can do serious but let me be funny.
(An impulsive thought pops in his head) Wait! The name of my special will be, “Mark Curry: Let Me Be Funny!”
50BOLD: Yeah, I like the name of your special-to-be. We are anxiously waiting for your special!
Mark: Yes, I’ll come out with a 50BOLD special. A special for 50BOLDERS.
50BOLD: That’s right because no one is talking directly to us. Everything these days are so youth-oriented. We’re still hot and still got it going on!
Mark: Ok, I like that! You see, I never tell people my age. I’m going to go on stage and say, “Let’s give it up for 50BOLD.” I’ll discuss what you’ve stated how “Nobody is talking to us. Everything is for the millennial.” 50BOLD, we got it going on! We know every goddamn thing. We know how to do it. We did it, been there, actually saw it done; remember when they weren’t even doing it.
Mark: You right, I’m going to use that.
50BOLD: Wow, you can be our spokesperson now.
Mark: Yes, I want to be the spokesperson for 50BOLD. Actually, you’ve given me a good idea because I write every day and this is something I can write about.
50BOLD is going to be one of my topics. I do different topics. I’ll write down 50BOLD and all the benefits and things that go along with being 50BOLD. All the things we’ve seen alone as 50-plus people. I can go for an hour on this topic because I have LIVED; I’m 58!
50BOLD: And you’re looking as good as ever!
Mark: Thank you very much. Lookin’ slim and trim, baby! I’m still killin’ it! Still killin’ it!