It’s been nearly a year since Saturday Night Live aired its 40th anniversary episode. When it was announced that Eddie Murphy would appear there was loud speculation about his return to stand-up comedy. I mean what a way to return, right? Murphy had other plans. He took the SNL stage to a long applause but no jokes followed. To say I was disappointed would be a huge understatement. There was no return to stand-up for the comedy legend. There wasn’t even a “one last time” bit of material. Murphy aimlessly mumbled about SNL being a big part of his life and the 40th anniversary feeling like a high school reunion.
Murphy speaks around the 4:00 mark.
Last night, Eddie Murphy fans got what they had hoped was coming back in February. Eddie did about five minutes of material while accepting the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center and he zeroed in on Bill Cosby.
Murphy’s Cosby impersonation is already the stuff of comedy legend. It’s how he leads off in his film Raw where he recalls Cosby ridiculing him for cursing too much in his previous film Delirious. Interestingly, Eddie was asked to perform as Cosby at SNL 40 but he refused because he didn’t think there was anything funny about kicking a man while he was down.
I’m not sure what changed Murphy’s attitude toward ripping Cosby but I’m happy for whatever it was. At the ceremony, Murphy noted that Cosby had won the same award in 2009 and wondered if he had been asked to give the trophy back. He then jumped into a cursing Cosby impression refusing to return the award. In an ironic twist, Cosby twice turned down the Twain Prize before accepting it, because he was unhappy at the “profanities used” in the 1998 ceremony celebrating the inaugural winner Richard Pryor.
So what took Eddie so long to give the people what they want? SNL 40 was the perfect opportunity, but the stage may have been too large—the viewing audience was huge, and Murphy may not have wanted to make his return performing material he didn’t write (the sketch was written by Norm Macdonald). “I was like, ‘Hey, I’m coming back to SNL for the anniversary, I’m not turning my moment on the show into this other thing,’” he told The Washington Post.
So it was such a great surprise to read this morning that one of the greatest comedians alive returned to the stage on his own terms and used the platform to dust off one of his old impressions by mocking Bill Cosby. Murphy has become somewhat of a recluse in recent years. He’s even stopped appearing in mediocre, family comedies, which defined his career in the 1990s and 2000s. I am hoping that his Kennedy Center performance is the start of a third act in his legendary career. Or, maybe, it was just a throwback to remind us all of his comedic greatness. Either way, it’s clear that if Murphy starts telling jokes, people are going to listen. And people are going to laugh.