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Comedian, Promoter Bennie Mac and His Barbershop Full of Laughs

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By Je’Don Holloway Talley
For the Birmingham Times

For the past month The Birmingham Times traveled the metro area to spend time with the men and women with local ties who make us laugh, think, and, sometimes cry. Given the strife on the national stage we found nearly a dozen comedians who bring levity to local stages and beyond. Here are a few, but not all, who help ease anguish and bring laughter. 

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Bennie Mac’s on 1st in Woodlawn is not your average barbershop.

Yes, there are haircuts and male grooming. Yes, men have the freedom to express their views on politics, sports, and other topics.

But there is another special element: the highly anticipated monthly stand-up series “The Barbershop Comedy Show,” which features a headliner, opening comics, and a musical guest. Patrons get to see some of the best rising talent in comedy.

Bennie “Bennie Mac” Holmes—the man behind the moniker—is a full-time barber, shop owner, comedy promoter, and stand-up comedian who believes he’s found a way to fill a void on the comedy circuit.

“Larger clubs can give you work. But if you’re always waiting on a larger club to book you, you get low-balled because they know everybody’s gotta come through them,” he said. “I think I’ve fared well because most of the time in independent comedy you don’t have a lot of outlets and opportunities to get paid—so, if you can, create your own.”

The 38-year-old East Lake native has been doing stand-up comedy since 2014, but he has been doing promotions for “The Barbershop Comedy Show” and other ventures for the past 12 years.

Businessman

Bennie Mac understands all facets of the business and often offers tips to up-and-coming comics.

“I brought a whole different aspect to [the comedy and promotions industry],” he said. “I don’t want anybody to [low-ball] me, so I treat people right and teach them the game. When you do business with me, you leave with more than a couple of dollars; you leave with some game, too.”

Bennie Mac encourages the comedians to take their craft seriously.

“You deal with a lot of people who treat it lightly, thinking you should do it for free, not knowing it’s a billion-dollar industry and you can make a real living out of it,” he said. “Working with people who don’t understand the business, … not understanding that it’s a business and not a game, [makes it hard].”

If you fail to create opportunities and you “allow people to low-ball [you], that messes up the game,” Bennie Mac said. “A lack of understanding about the business will make you create a [ceiling] for yourself, and then you’ll be stuck in that hole, [underpaid], and never able to get out.”

Promoter

Bennie Mac quickly learned that the real money is on the promotional side. While mainstream comics like Kevin Hart, Dave Chappelle, Birmingham’s Rickey Smiley, and others are paid generously, up-and-coming talent can hardly count on a fair wage.

Because he has his own venue, Bennie Mac doesn’t have to perform at many spots around town—but he does get around.

“I had a comedy night at Legends [nightclub] downtown,” he said. “I do family reunions, anniversary parties, the Alabama Music Awards. [I’ve done] shows at the Civic Center and the Carver Theater.”

Bennie Mac has performed across the country, too. He’s been as far south as Miami, Fla., as far west as Los Angeles, Calif., and to several cities in between—Memphis, Nashville, and Chattanooga, Tenn.; Charlotte, N.C.; Hampton, Va.; Dallas, Texas; Mobile, Ala.

“I do more independent shows because those are the ones who pay right,” he said, adding that he doesn’t have to worry about promoting his shows.

“I can’t say I have a problem with exposure. Because I am a promoter myself, I know how to market myself and others. I realized that you’re only as big as you make yourself, so I make my own opportunities. If you’re working hard, the opportunity is going to fall in line with what you’re doing.”

Respect the Craft

Bennie Mac was first inspired by late-1980s comedy. He would watch and rehearse lines from renowned comedian and actor Eddie Murphy’s classic stand-up performances “Delirious” and “Raw.”

In 1995, during his freshman year at Woodlawn High School, Bennie Mac entered a talent show as a “stand-up comedian,” a humbling experience that taught him stand-up is more than goofing around on stage; it takes practice and preparation. It taught him to respect the craft.

“I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know the dynamics of doing it. … Then the mic went out [suddenly], and I was glad,” he said. “It let me know that [comedy] was nothing to play with and that you’ve gotta be prepared to do something like this at all times.

“Now, if you had asked me about this in … 1995, I would I have said it was the worst experience ever. But now, as an adult, I know it was good because it let me know that you’ve gotta prepare. Take no crowd lightly.”

“Get Paid First”

Bennie Mac attended the Lawson State Community College Barbering Program and spent several years developing his barbering business, as well as learning the promotional and business side of the comedy circuit. Before jumping into the business as a comedian, he wanted to “know how to get paid first.”

“Once I knew how to get paid, I knew how to maneuver in [the industry], and it became easier to run that trail,” he said.

Radio has helped Bennie Mac further develop his craft. He can be heard on “The Home Team Morning Show,” which airs on WATV-FM V94.9 Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. He says live radio has helped with his comedic timing.

“When you’re on the radio, you don’t know if somebody is laughing or not, so everything has to be on point between you and the team. If it’s not, it shows,” he said.

“About Personality”

Businessman, barber, promoter, radio personality—but always remember: Bennie Mac loves comedy. He describes his stand-up style as “energetic, entertaining, funny, and real.”

Bennie Mac is the second oldest of nine siblings, and he said his upbringing and everyday shop chronicles inspire his routines: “Everything around you is a story.”

From family dinners to the “drunken uncle” in every family, Bennie Mac said, “It all plays a role because you can find material in anything.”

“It works well because comedy is about personality,” he said. “When you do comedy, you’re selling your personality, and the best stand-up comics are the people who just know how to be themselves.”

Follow Bennie Mac on Instagram @BennieMac205 and Facebook @Bennie Mac. “The Barbershop Comedy Show” is generally held the second week of every month; for show schedules and information about the monthly comedy review, visit www.comedyinbham.com.

To read about more Birmingham comedians, click here

To read about more Birmingham comedians, click here

To read about more Birmingham comedians, click here