The Endangered Comedy of Eddie Murphy

Lisa Tate

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Well, comedian Eddie Murphy has recently joined the list of those issuing unnecessary apologies for past crude jokes, but you wouldn't know it from his recent vulgarity-fest Dolemite Is My Name, which I have heard is really funny.

Yes, Murphy has said he regrets his young and immature days of stand-up comedy, where his humor *gasp* pokes fun at other people different from himself.

As someone who was in high school when Murphy was just beginning to become the most famous comedian in the world in the 1980s, I recall finding some of his humor offensive. Remember the "Naked Bush B*tch" bit? Everyone gets offended by something. I was still a fan of his humor, and the twinkle in his eye whenever he laughed at his own juvenile mischief.

A couple of weeks ago, in my post on how Saturday Night Live was once a comedy show, I included one of Murphy’s skits, "White Like Me," where he dressed in "white face" to infiltrate the Caucasians. It is still funny today.

Once more, I need to remind those who feel being offended is a legitimate personality trait…we are all part of one big, and sometimes dysfunctional, family. Families poke fun at each other, and learn to overcome our differences sometimes by holding them up to the light in silly and humorous ways. Sometimes, it’s a gentle ribbing and sometimes, yes, it is mean-spirited (or at least it can be interpreted as such).

Eddie did this to everyone from flaming gay men to macho straight guys, from elderly Jewish folk to young urban thugs, and, of course, from overweight people to over-privileged, pretty people. No one escaped his comedy, and that’s why it worked.

So, before it all disappears from the ever-censoring internet, here are some classic Eddie Murphy bits from Saturday Night Live and beyond.

The First Tonight Show appearance

In 1982, Murphy gave his first stand-up on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He starts out mild with a couple of catalog model poses, then hits you with the "bulge," "breakfast cereals" and the "first Black president." Plus, he showed he can still be funny without profanity.

…and just to show you what a difference a year can make, here he is on the show post 48 hours and Trading Places in 1983 when he was just 22.


On the surface, Buckwheat could be interpreted as an offensive racial stereotype, but Murphy was also poking fun at the stereotypes and simplicity of some popular kids’ shows. His street-wise Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood and his, “I am Gumby, Dammit!” declarations were also part of this trend. But Buckwheat was the most famous. He was so famous he was even killed off in a JFK-style assassination, complete with sensationalized news coverage.

Stevie Wonder

Murphy often joked bout the flack he caught from his Stevie Wonder impressions. That didn’t stop him. Wonder himself even did a bit with him. Here’s his “Stevie” with “Frank Sinatra” (Joe Piscopo) taking on “Ebony and Ivory.”

Dion and Blair

It was also with Piscopo that Murphy’s hairdresser Dion appeared, long before goofy camp was considered offensive by the cancel culture.

Of course, if characters like Dion provoke apologies, can Little Richard Simmons be far behind?

Saul the Jewish Guy

Murphy has a knack for voices and mannerisms from people of all races. In Coming to America, we get Saul. This was such a great example of Murphy, and co-star Arsenio Hall’s talent, as each of them took on several roles. The barber shop regulars are by far the best. The third “old man,” was played by one of Murphy’s childhood friends who often appeared on Saturday Night Live in small roles, Clint Smith. And the smiling boy in the barber chair at beginning is a young Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Finally, there’s Tyrone Greene, poet. People worried about the new movie Joker triggering some folks would have hated living the 1980s teen world, when everyone was reciting this one.

I’m not mad at Murphy for apologizing about his humor, I’m only disappointed that he felt he had to do it. Maybe, someday, when the cancel culture’s broken funny bone has knitted, we can all get together and laugh once again with Eddie’s guttural naughty boy laugh.

Until then, I hope Murphy keeps it genuine, no matter how clean or how juvenile and crass. Maybe a little “Boogie In Your Butt” is what’s needed to loosen up those tight ends.

Header screenshot taken from vintage SNL ©NBC.

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