Taking One For The Team: Madea’s Big Happy Family Live!

[Ed. note: Joe Mande, stand-up comedian and the creator of the popular blog Look At This Fucking Hipster (soon to be a popular book!) is forced to do things that we don’t want to do, for our education and amusement. If you have a challenge/suggestion, submit it to [email protected].]

Like most of the people I know, I have no real idea who Tyler Perry is. I mean, I know he’s a zillionaire and I know he runs some kind of Media Empire making a bunch of self-help Martin Lawrence movies or whatever. But that’s pretty much where my knowledge of Tyler Perry ends. So, last week, when I found out that Tyler Perry was coming to New York City to perform a brand-new live show, Madea’s Big Happy Family, I took one for the team and went. By myself. Yeah, that’s right. I spent over $100 on a ticket and went by myself to a Tyler Perry stage show. Because I’m a journalist (I brought along a notepad) and wanted to get to the bottom of just who this Tyler Perry guy really was. Sadly, after sitting through his three-hour extravaganza, there was one glaring question that I felt needed an answer: “Who the fuck does this Tyler Perry guy think he is?”

Sure, I knew going in that I’m not a target audience member for a Tyler Perry show. This play was not for me. Literally. This play was literally not intended for me. I get that. But, J-WOWW was I confused the entire time.

This is how I looked going in to the show:

And this is how I looked when I left:

Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version of the story:

The play starts off inside a hospital, where we meet Shirley and her friend (or maybe her sister?) Aunt Bam. The two women sit around in an examination room, telling gay jokes, waiting for a doctor. In walks the doctor, a young muscular man who is immediately sexually harassed by Aunt Bam. She is told to leave. The doctor sits down and tells Shirley her cancer is back and will kill her in 4-6 weeks. Shirley takes the news well because she’s ready to go to Heaven. Outside the hospital, Shirley catches Aunt Bam smoking a joint. They laugh. Shirley tells Aunt Bam she will die in a few weeks from cancer. They sing a gospel song. Shirley tells Aunt Bam that they need to get the whole family together so she can tell her kids that the cancer that none of them ever knew about is back and is fatal this time.

That’s the end of Act One (I guess?).

The stage then rotates, Lazy Susan style, to reveal a cross-section of Shirley’s two-story house (which, coincidentally, has the EXACT same layout as the Huxtable’s house from The Cosby Show). Here we meet Shirley’s daughter Joyce, who is a frumpy middle-aged maid. Aunt Bam makes fun of Joyce because she’s lonely, overly religious, and needs a man. Then Madea enters (to thunderous applause) and the first thing he/she does is break the fourth wall, running up to the front of the stage and yelling at people in the crowd like an insult comic at a roast. “Why are you so late? That’s a dumb hat! This usher looks like George Burns!” At this point I am thinking, “What is going on?”

After a few minutes of this, Madea announces he/she will now enter the scripted scene. Everyone claps. Madea sits down and starts making fun of Joyce for being so lonely and overly religious. We then meet Shirley’s son, who is a reluctant drug dealer. He only deals drugs because his girlfriend has such expensive taste in purses. Madea makes fun of the drug dealer’s girlfriend. Then two more daughters enter the scene. One is loud and bossy and in an unhappy marriage with an auto mechanic. (They have a bad marriage because their gender roles are reversed and she’s dominant while he’s submissive.) The other daughter is mean and selfish because she has a real estate license. Then Shirley’s youngest child comes home from school. He’s seventeen and mentally retarded (i.e. comic relief). He says some stupid things, naturally, and everyone laughs at him. The doorbell rings, and he thinks it’s jingle bells, therefore he thinks it’s Christmas and gets very excited because he’s mentally retarded. Madea slaps him. Everyone laughs, except for me, who is like:

The retarded kid goes to the door and tries looking through the peephole, but he can’t figure out how because his brain doesn’t work right. Finally, he opens the door and it’s Shirley’s brother, who is a crack head (i.e. comic relief). The crack head goes upstairs and starts to steal things because he’s a crack head. Then the drug dealer’s ex-girlfriend, who’s a single mother with paying her way through beauty school, stops by and starts yelling at the drug-dealer about bills. Then Joyce and the Real Estate agent get into a fight about men and crack head teaches the mechanic the right way to choke a woman. Then Madea starts singing the “Pants On the Ground” song and shakes a baby because it’s ugly. Then he/she accidentally tells the retarded kid that the Real Estate agent is his biological mother, not Shirley. That makes things awkward, and people start leaving the house. Madea pulls a gun out on the mechanic because her car won’t start (i.e. comic relief). The next day, the retarded kid tells Shirley he forgives her for lying to him his whole life. He sings a gospel song. Then the doctor stops by the house to ask Joyce out on a date. Joyce says no. Aunt Bam sexually harasses him. Then Joyce says yes. The doctor leaves and the drug-dealer’s ex-girlfriend gives Joyce a makeover and it turns out she has really big boobs. Aunt Bam tells Joyce how much the doctor will like her big boobs. Then Aunt Bam accidentally tells Joyce that her mother only has a few weeks to live. Joyce runs upstairs and sings a gospel song. After that, the doctor stops by to pick Joyce up for their date. But when he arrives he tells her he’s not there to pick her up on a date, but to pick her up and take her to the hospital because there has been an accident and her mother is about to die of cancer (which is how doctors do things). The stage rotates back to the hospital scene. After a couple minutes Shirley dies. Everyone cries and the doctor covers Shirley’s face with a sheet. Then, like a magic trick, Shirley appears a few seconds later on the other side of the stage wearing a white robe. She sings a gospel song about heaven. Then there’s a video montage of Shirley growing wings and flying into heaven. And when I saw this I was like:

But when I realized no one else was laughing, I was like:

And that’s the end of Act Two.

Act Three starts back inside Shirley’s living room. It’s right after the funeral and everyone is sitting around wearing black, mourning. This is the part of the play where Madea goes “off-script” and starts yelling at all the characters off the top of his/her head. He/she is like, “You need to stop dealing drugs and start a business. You need to stop yelling at your husband. You need to start yelling at your wife. The only reason you’re retarded is because your mom was raped by her father and no one wants to talk about it. And I’m mad about the mortgage crisis, and Haiti, and why can’t kids respect their elders?” Everyone claps. After that, the show just turns into a giant sing-along for the next 45 minutes, with each character singing his or her own rendition of a Lenny Williams, Rose Royce, or Luther Vandross song. Then, for closure, Madea chokes the drug-dealer’s girlfriend, the Real Estate agent apologizes to everyone for her behavior ever since she was raped, and the mechanic husband learns how to yell angrily at his wife in order to fix their marriage.

Then during the curtain call, Tyler Perry comes out (wearing men’s clothes) and gets a standing ovation. He grabs a microphone and tells everyone in the 5000-seat theater to sit down. He then delivers a thirty-minute advertsermon. He says he wrote Madea’s Big Happy Family in honor of his mother, who died in December. (As in December 2009. As in just over a month ago.) Then he says people have to stop getting diabetes so much. Then he says he’s going to donate a million dollars to Haiti. Then he says that his cable show House of Payne just wrapped its 172nd episode in just under a year and a half on the air. Then he informs everyone that it took shows like Seinfeld and Cheers eight years to accomplish the same feat. Then he tells everyone to go see his new movie Why Did I Get Married Too? on opening night, because in show business that’s the only day that matters.

The end.

Now look, this is sort of a delicate thing to talk about. If you like Tyler Perry and you choose to spend your time and money on the work of Tyler Perry, that’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. People like what they like! For example, I love Albert Brooks movies. But if someone told me they don’t get Albert Brooks movies, I’d say, “Fair enough.” So, in no way do I mean to criticize or offend anyone who is a fan of Tyler Perry. Play on, playas. But, I want to say two things to Tyler Perry.


Are you serious? Your mom died in December? Are you okay? Is this a cry for help? Because I’m sorry. And also can I have my $100 dollars back? Don’t you think that maybe you should have written a second draft of this play in honor of you mother too? Because it was reeeeeally slapdash. Like, sorry if this is nitpicky, but how is a woman getting raped by her father causing her to have a retarded baby a throwaway line? That’s nuts. Also, if you’re going to end your show with a giant R&B sing-along, how about you don’t sing along to the EXACT same songs that Steve Harvey sang along to in The Original Kings of Comedy? There are so many other songs! Choose other songs! Also, I think it’s great you are donating a million dollars to Haiti. That’s a lot of money. But you know if you charge $100 a ticket for a 5000 seat theater, you get half a million dollars, right? And if you do six such shows over the course of a weekend, you get three million dollars, right? So, how about you donate, I don’t know, three million dollars to Haiti? That seems like nice thing for a zillionaire to do. Especially a zillionaire who just made three million dollars in one weekend from a play he wrote the week before Christmas. You could even pretend it’s just a down payment on another PRIVATE ISLAND THAT YOU OWN. Also, how about you let the staff of House of Payne out of their box and them see their families? 172 episodes in a year and half? Are you serious? That’s not something to brag about, dude. That’s something you should go to jail about. Go to jail, Madea! Real jail. And I’ll totally go see your next movie opening night, if that movie is Tyler Perry’s Why Am I Not So So So So So Ashamed of Myself?