I recently had a road-to-Damascus moment with Eddie Murphy. I had forgotten about him, tired of kid’s movies and family comedies and movies about Dads working too hard. I was ready to write him off as an overrated comedian, long past his prime. And then I watched Coming to America. Something opened up in my head like a flower waiting to bloom. I watched Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hrs. I remembered. I remembered that Eddie Murphy, for a period, was comedy. He was a shining light in the dark. I found some old SNLs and watched Raw and Delirious. His talent is undeniable. A young man just unstoppably funny. Those old movies hold up so well that if they were released tomorrow they would still be as funny as ever. Today is Eddie Murphy’s 55th birthday, so here are some of our favourite Eddie Murphy moments.
There’s so much to love about Beverly Hills Cop. It is still one of the best examples of an action comedy movie. It is slick, clever, and above all else very, very funny. Considering that it started out as a generic action movie vehicle for Sylvester Stallone (who left the movie early on, taking his script ideas to make Cobra) the finished article looks like it could only have been made for Eddie Murphy. Possibly his most famous character, Axel Foley is a quick-witted, wiry, and fast talking hustler who just happens to be a cop. It would be hard to pin down a single greatest scene, but for me the super cops monologue (allegedly improvised by Murphy) is a fantastic example of Eddie stealing the show with his bottomless reserve of cool charm.
Eddie Murphy helped invent the action comedy with Beverly Hills Cop. That should be enough of an achievement except that a few years earlier he had also helped create the buddy cop movie as well with 48 Hrs. In the movie, Murphy plays a smooth talking criminal alongside Nick Nolte’s gruff no-nonsense cop. The pairing of the two leads to all kinds of hijinks but the standout scene is Murphy schooling a bar of rednecks. Any Eddie Murphy monologue that begins with the words, ‘I hate white people’ while surrounded by cowboy hat wearing good ole’ boys is always going to be good, and Murphy nails it, giving each man a piece of his mind as he stalks around the room, flashing a knife, stealing a gun and proclaiming himself their worst nightmare.
Trading Places is about as 80s as a movie can be. It’s directed by John Landis, stars Eddie, Dan Ackroyd, and Jamie-Lee Curtis, and has a plot revolving around Wall Street. The odd thing with watching old comedies compared to new ones is that while improvisation is par for the course in comedies now, older comedies tend to be more strictly written. However, that isn’t the case with Eddie Murphy. So many of his scenes in movies around this time are simply Eddie being Eddie. There’s less set up punchline jokes, and more just letting Murphy monologue pure genius. In Trading Places we find Murphy playing Billy Ray Valentine, a bum who becomes a rich man through the machinations of two old money shits. One of Murphy’s great scenes takes place in a jail cell where he is on fine bullshitting form.
I wanted to choose a best bit from Raw or Delirious, but I couldn’t. Murphy stalks the stage in a full, bright coloured leather get-up and destroys both sets. He is raunchy, offensive, engaging, a pro with impressions, and utterly unapologetic. He curses at his audience, talks shit about famous people, gets deep about his family (but not really), and holds your attention in his hand for the entirety of both movies. There is a straight line from Richard Pryor to Eddie to Chris Rock to Dave Chappelle (with Paul Mooney criss-crossing throughout). All comedians who marched out on stage and did not give a solitary shit about whether the audience was comfortable or not. The only thing important for them was to speak their mind and be funny as hell.
Coming to America
The best Eddie Murphy moment from Coming to America? Probably everything from minute one to minute one hundred and seventeen. If you can choose a best Eddie Murphy from this movie you are a better person than me because I cannot. The Africa scenes? Perfect. The barbershop? Outstanding. Sexual Chocolate? Transcendent. Reaction shots? The shouting in the street? The McDowell’s fight? Playing an old Jewish man? The simple charm of Akeem? Insanely good. If I could I would link the entire movie below but I don’t have to because it’s on Netflix and you need to get over there and see Eddie Murphy at his finest.
Happy 55th Birthday, Eddie Murphy! You’ll forever be a true classic!