Mark Curry Reflects on Showing Love for Oakland on 'Hangin' With Mr. Cooper,' Talks Possible Revival
By Mekishana Pierre
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"I'm an iconic man -- I didn't know that! Damn. I am somebody baby!"
It's one of the first things that Mark Curry says to ET's Nischelle Turner, but to anyone who grew up watching the classic '90s sitcom Hangin' With Mr. Cooper, it's no surprise that Curry is one of ET's Iconic Leading Men of '90s TV alongside Jimmy Smits, Patrick Duffy, Charles Shaughnessy and Grant Show. The actor is known for his stand-up comedy chops, having performed alongside the greats, including opening for the late Richard Pryor and working with Martin Lawrence and Damon Wayans.
He reveals that he earned an HBO special after opening for Wayans in his first week after moving to L.A., noting that he hadn't even gotten furniture for his apartment yet. "I was on my floor with a phone -- all I had was a phone because my furniture hadn't gotten there," he recalls. He went to film that special in Chicago with Lawrence, which led to him getting approached to film the pilot for Hangin' With Mr. Cooper.
Curry recounts his conversation with Jeff Franklin, creator of Full House, where the actor explained what he wanted to do with the series. "I said, 'Man, I would love to be a hooper, I am a basketball player...' and we came up with this idea," he shares. "I remember Holly [Robinson Peete] auditioning, I remember Dawnn Lewis auditioning, I remember it all. I didn't know what the heck I was doing, but I told them, 'Yeah, I know what I'm doing,' and so we did the pilot."
"We did [the pilot] on the set of Alan Thicke's show, Growing Pains, and we didn't change the furniture -- we didn't change nothing," he continues. "They didn't even give me any clothes. I had to bring my own clothes. They just said come at three o'clock and shoot this thing. And I went on the lot and I shot it!"
As one of the several well-known Black sitcoms that aired during the '90s, Hangin' With Mr. Cooper became iconic for its family-friendly themes and a revolving door of Black celebrities as guest stars. Curry explains that he wanted the show to serve as a bit of a love letter to Oakland, which had a "bad rap" as the hood.
"I just wanted to bring my community up. And that's what I tried to do, elevate to another situation to make it look good," he says. "I tried to be a positive image on television. That's why you [didn't see] me with a basketball but you saw me with a computer. I was trying to be that role model and I was trying to be a positive guy."
That's one of the secrets to the show's success, as well as the cast, Curry says. "We were a team. I kinda approached it like it was a hoop team, you know, and we had so much fun. Me and Holly, oh my god, we would laugh so much on this set with Raven [Symoné]. I would make 'em laugh all day long and I would purposely make 'em laugh... I would come down into the scene and I would say stuff that the only person who would hear it was the mic guy. I would say something... and they’d be in the scene and start laughing," he shares.
The cast is still in touch, with Curry revealing that he still keeps in contact with Peete, Symoné, and Marquise Wilson. It's enough that the comedian proposes the cast reunite to bring a revival of the show back together. "We have not talked about it but I am going on Entertainment Tonight and saying it; we want to bring Mr. Cooper back, so if you are out there, producers, let's do this," he declares.
Although he's excited to get back to his stand-up tour, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the actor would definitely be happy to return to TV for a Mr. Cooper revival. "I look at television [now] and I say, man, I don't see [any]thing like my show. I see nothing that makes me laugh. So, I would love to come back to television," he says.
Curry proposes that the follow-up finds Mr. Cooper -- who began the series as a former Golden State Warrior turned high school PE teacher for Oakbridge High School and became head coach for the boys' basketball team -- as the school's principal and now married to Peete's Vanessa Russell. "Maybe [everyone] comes back to live with him, like at an Airbnb," he suggests.
Considering how TV's reboot and revival fever has spawned the return of shows such as Frasier, Full House, Mad About You, Roseanne and Will & Grace, it shouldn't be hard to do the same with a beloved Black sitcom. But so far, no major Black sitcom has gotten the same treatment as their white counterparts. Perhaps Mr. Cooper will be the first.
Looking back on his career, Curry notes that he's been able to accomplish a lot of big comedian dreams. "I got a sitcom, I got two HBO specials, and I got a chance to open up for Richard Pryor," he recounts. "I got a chance to be international, you know, I go to Africa, Australia, Germany and they know me. So I did a great job. I think I reached some goals."