It’s not like Eddie Murphy needs a new career. After all, this whole comedy thing seems to have panned out for him. Still, if he ever wants to try something new, perhaps a career as an international diplomat is in order. If he were to tackle this particular task, odds are the world would be a much more peaceful place.
Seriously, if he walked into a room, who wouldn’t be totally in awe and listen to everything he had to say? Throughout Murphy’s 30-plus years in show business, he’s been all things to all people. His wild, raunchy standup endeared him to adults. Movies like the “Beverly Hills Cop” series made him a hero to action flick fans. Films like “Dr. Dolittle” and “Daddy Day Care” earned him a sizable kid fan club. There’s probably even a few music groupies who still remember him as the groovy guy who sang “Party All the Time.” Name a demographic and Murphy has probably done something to make them happy. That’s something very few performers of any generation can say.
So given this massive following, it stands to reason that he’s got the kind of clout to convince anyone to do pretty much anything. International politics could certainly use someone like that but if that would in any way interfere with his making movies, world peace can wait a bit. Murphy turned 52 oearlier this month, which makes this a perfect time to bask in the glow of his legacy by taking a look at the early performances on “Saturday Night Live” that helped make him famous.
While there was never anything particularly funny about Mr. Rogers and his long-running educational series for children (although there was something about the name Mr. McFeely that did make adults snicker a bit), Murphy twisted that character into something hysterical with his Mr. Robinson. He was an inner city Mr. Rogers, copying the real character’s innocence and sweaters while simultaneously discussing drug dealers and slum lords. Which was equally educational for the kids out there. (Bonus note: this episode also features another classic inner city Murphy creation, Velvet Jones.)
Thanks to “48 Hrs.,” Murphy was on his way to becoming a major movie star in late 1982. And his co-star in the film, Nick Nolte, was all set to join him on “SNL” by hosting an episode. And then, Nolte backed out because he was too sick (or, as rumor has long had it, too hung over) to do the job. Thus, Murphy became the first active cast member to host a show. It may have been politically incorrect for him to announce, “Live from New York, it’s The Eddie Murphy Show,” but in the end, he was pretty much right.
Not everyone can look at a character from Little Rascals and say, “Now there’s something that will still be funny in the 1980s.” Nonetheless, Murphy turned the nonsense-talking Buckwheat into one of his most memorable characters. And one he didn’t mind bumping off in fine “Who Shot J.R.?” fashion in this 1983 episode. Saying bye-bye to Buckwheat was somewhat prophetic because it wasn’t too long after this sketch that Murphy himself would bolt from the show.
One of the more bizarre recurring sketches in “SNL” history had to be Murphy’s manic take on the Godfather Of Soul. Unintelligible rantings. Frighteningly tiny bathing suit. Actual working hot tub. This seemed like one of those ideas the writers came up with at 3 a.m. after many beers, but in Murphy’s capable hands, it still seemed downright…well…weird. But a really good weird.
Celebrity impersonations are as much a part of the “SNL” viewing experience as commercials parodies and missing all the sketches after “Weekend Update” because you fell asleep. And there has probably never been a more unlikely celeb impersonation than Murphy’s reworking of Gumby into a crotchety, cigar-smoking actor, complete with the t-shirt ready catchphrase, “I’m Gumby, dammit!” If only he could have found the right Pokey, just think of what a movie franchise this could have been.