The Mother Brain Files: The Nutty Comedian

The Mother Brain Files: The Nutty Comedian

By Mother Brain

Just when Hollywood and the general public were ready to write his career obituary, Eddie Murphy showed signs of life when he appeared in the movie Dreamgirls as James ‘Thunder’ Early, a fictional hybrid of James Brown, Jackie Wilson, and Marvin Gaye. While he wasn’t playing any of the foul mouth characters from his earlier work, Eddie had that same infectious energy and charisma which reminded me of the reason why we all fell in love with him in the first place. I thought it was going to be the turnaround his career desperately needed. But I was wrong.

As a child, Coming to America was one of those many movies I never got bored watching over and over again. Maybe it had to do with the Queens setting which hit close to home for me because my extended family members lived in Queens, Brooklyn, and Long Island. That was my official introduction to Eddie Murphy the movie star. As I grew older, I became more exposed to his best films ever: 48 HRS., Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop 1 & 2. There was also The Golden Child which still holds close to my heart even though it was considered his first real letdown of a film.

It would be my cousin, however, who would expose me to his Saturday Night Live sketches and concert films such as Delirious and Raw. To this day, I can’t go through a single day without thinking about Gumby, Buckwheat, Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood, James Brown in the hot tub, etc. I still laugh when I think about the stories he would tell on stage about his shoe-throwing mother, the ice cream incident, Mr. T’s homosexual preferences, and his dead-on impressions of various 80’s R&B superstars. In the age of Michael Jackson, Bill Cosby, and Magic Johnson, Eddie Murphy was a God amongst African-American superstars who crossed over into the mainstream.

The 1st half of the 1990’s would mark the beginning of Eddie’s career spiral. Films such as Harlem Nights and Another 48 HRS. proved that audiences were getting tired of his routine. Boomerang and The Distinguished Gentleman tried to show a more mature Eddie Murphy with sexual presence. Instead, he looked as if someone on set turned the thermostat below 50 degrees. By the time he made Beverly Hills Cop 3, I remember thinking he would be back in top form but wound up trying hard not to be funny in the movie. As I learned years later, Cop 3’s director John Landis stated that he wanted the film to return to the fish-out-of-water roots of the original. Eddie, having just gotten married and wanting to be in the same acting league as Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes, choose to be more adult with his character and the moviegoers were left unsatisfied.

Eddie would eventually bounce back in 1996’s The Nutty Professor, combining his charismatic on-screen persona with his ability to play multiple characters, all of which he had to wear a fat suit. He would have a nice blend of successful family comedies like Dr. Dolittle and well-written adult comedies such as Life and Bowfinger; however, he rode the family film genre in the new millennium to the point where he was dubbed “the black Dean Jones”. His paychecks were still up in the $20 million range. Yet the films would be poorly executed and we’re not talking about the ones where he gets paid ridiculous money to do the voice of a talking donkey.

How did this comedic god turn into the ultimate sellout to his fans? Well there’s a great book by Frank Sanello called Eddie Murphy: The Life and Times of a Comic on the Edge in which he discusses Eddie’s upbringing and how in his youth he would never refuse money if it was offered to him. Perhaps that explains why he would take on something as disastrous as Disney’s The Haunted Mansion. The script can suck. But if the payday is huge, he would jump right at it without shame. Some of his choices have been even lazier. In an interview conducted last year, Eddie talked about how he turned down Chris Tucker’s part in Rush Hour so he could make the unfunny Holy Man for one reason: He wanted to spend the fall in Florida.

Then what about the comedians who followed in his footsteps? Every hot black comedian including Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Chris Tucker, and Dave Chappelle have all been positioned as the top black comedian in American at different points in their careers; however, none have been able to match Eddie’s success. Rock’s superb concert specials never translated well into successful movies; Lawrence had huge success with Bad Boys and Big Mamma’s House but also fell into the family movie trap; Tucker refuses to do anything outside of the Rush Hour franchise; and Chappelle is just as reclusive as the R&B star Sade ever since he ended his infamous Comedy Central show a few years ago.

With Eddie pushing 50 within the next year, people are ready to write-off his career once again. Recent interviews suggest he may retire from show business all together by then. But I still see some possibilities to cap off his long career on the right note. So these are my suggestions for Eddie before retirement:

Do one last concert film. The days of the leather outfits are gone. Yet if you thought the hilarious family stories in Delirious made you roll out of your seat laughing, imagine the stories he could tell about his kids and his turbulent love life.
Give us one last Beverly Hills Cop movie. In a time when Sylvester Stallone could resurrect his troubled career by dusting off his old characters, Eddie could do the same and give us one last Axel Foley adventure along with the Rosewood and Taggert characters. If not, at least make one last R-rated comedy that returns to the roots of Trading Places and Coming to America where Eddie can get loud, curse, and stick it to the man.
Return to Saturday Night Live as a guest host to book-end his 30 year career. Dust off Gumby and Buckwheat while also introducing new characters in the sketches. He would have the opportunity to show that he can still hang with (or maybe outshine) the younger SNL stars.

Of course, there’s no guarantee of any of this happening. But it would be nice if for once he can stop “partying all the time” and make us laugh again.

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