Eddie Murphy will receive the 2015 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor this weekend at the Kennedy Center, and a whole host of comedy stars will align to honor him — among them, Dave Chappelle, Kathy Griffin, Arsenio Hall, Brittany Howard, George Lopez, Sam Moore, Tracy Morgan, Kevin Nealon, Trevor Noah, Jay Pharoah, Joe Piscopo and Chris Rock.
Expect them to tell many great and funny stories about Murphy.
Do not expect Murphy himself to tell any jokes.
In this advance interview published in today’s Washington Post, Murphy acknowledges he hasn’t gone onstage as a stand-up comedian in 28 years — or not since his 1987 special, Raw.
Although he has hinted at times over the past decade that a comeback was in the works, it hasn’t happened yet. Not even when Saturday Night Live ceded center stage to him in February for the show’s 40th anniversary special.
“That’s the carrot. Every now and then when I think about it, I think, ‘What would I even talk about onstage?’ It’s never been, ‘I wonder if I’m funny. I wonder if I can come up with jokes.’ It’s more, ‘What would it be like without the leather suit and the anger?’”
At SNL40, he claims the problem was the show wanted him to impersonate and mock Bill Cosby. “It’s horrible. There’s nothing funny about it. If you get up there and you crack jokes about him, you’re just hurting people. You’re hurting him. You’re hurting his accusers. 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.’”
Other thoughts from Murphy include him believing that most people — Jay Pharoah included — who impersonate him are merely voicing a character Murphy himself has voiced, and not actually Murphy. That he wonders what might have happened had he fallen in with the drug crowd that populated the SNL halls in the early 1980s. That he realizes he has made several bad movies, just for the money. “It’s very hard when you grow up in the projects to turn down the money they’ve been offering you,” Murphy said. And that David Spade’s crack about Murphy’s movie career in the 1990s did hurt his feelings. And helped spur him back to success with The Nutty Professor. “Nutty Professor was me going, ‘Say what you want to say, but I can do this and you can’t and nobody else in the town can do this.’”