Comedy cookbook: Eddie Murphy’s hard act to follow

Dave Chappelle‘s craziness, Bernie Mac‘s delivery and Eddie Murphy‘s acting. That, for a long time, was my personal formula for “The Perfect Comic”. Life has taught me that there’s no such thing. Comedy has taught me that there’s only one Eddie Murphy and my goodness, does he do his thing well.

Eddie Murphy

An “act-out” (as Judy Carter calls it) is the part of a joke that a comic literally acts out. If I’m talking to the audience about how irritating the waiters are at a certain restaurant, my act-out would be the part where I mimic a waiter and a ridiculous habit that he/she has. Murphy’s acting was one of the defining elements of his stellar stand-up career. His complete commitment to a character was just enchanting. Don’t even get me started on his impressions. Iconic. Check out this bit from his 1983 special Delirious:

  From the moment he finishes his set up and starts playing a kid; it’s on. He hears the ice-cream truck’s music, leaps straight up and lets out a relentless scream. Already, Murphy isn’t going half-hearted with his characterisation. The look of sheer intensity in his eyes, the frozen body and the yell of “ICE-CREEEEAAAM!!!” combine to cement this child into our minds. Why is the joke killing? Murphy doesn’t just take on the character for a couple of seconds before going on to his next elaboration. He stays in it and keeps it going. He keeps screaming, panting and pacing frantically. It’s that complete investment in the emotion which we identify with. Here we are, seeing a kid in the depths of desperation to get their hands on this ice-cream. We relate. We identify. We laugh.

Murphy’s “Delirious” (1983)

As the joke goes along, Murphy switches it up. After a cheeky little set-up about the ice-cream man himself, he launches into a little tangent about what actually goes on inside the truck as it makes kids dash on even further. “I think he just be in the car with his friends and say: ‘Watch how fast I can make these m*****f*****s run’ “ A masterclass. In that short clip, he switches characters from kid to parent to ice-cream man and back to kid. Towards the end of it, Murphy milks the mannerisms that kids have when they play together. Simple but effective. His total commitment to just let go of himself and portray the tiniest details of his characters are what make him such an impressive figure  in comedy. Of course he went on to forge a formidable career in Hollywood as a headline actor for multiple box office hits. Add to that a Golden Globe Award and Oscar nomination (both for Dreamgirls) and you have a pretty good idea of his capability.

Murphy has James ‘Thunder’ Early in “Dreamgirls” (2006)

I was quite late to discover that he had a career in stand-up. Only in 2007 did I find out. How awesome would it be if he made a comeback? I personally LOVE character comedy. Weaving in and out of vocal tones, bodily habits and impressions is something I want to continue flexing and hopefully do well enough to make it one of my defining features. Stay tuned… -Tyson


4 thoughts on “Comedy cookbook: Eddie Murphy’s hard act to follow

  1. The only thing that detracts from his comedy is his open distaste of homosexuals. I felt very uncomfortable when watching that. Otherwise, he was great.

    Also, you forgot about Chris Rock 🙂

      1. You should watch ‘Everybody Hates Chris’, it’s his ‘biography’ in the form of a series.

        I’m just glad that he and Dave Chappelle haven’t resorted to dressing up like women and fat people in order to get laughs.

        It’s the Tyler Perry curse on black comedians…and Adam Sandler

      2. I LOVE that series. Really funny. And what you’re saying about the black comics cross-dressing is really true. Dave Chappelle spoke about it in an interview a couple of years ago. I LOVE Chappelle. He’s my top comic

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