Eddie Murphy was the king of Hollywood back in the early 1980s. Fresh from his breakout Saturday Night Live gig and the surprise smash movie, 48 Hours, Murphy had the industry right where he wanted it. His swagger could be seen from space.
So it’s no surprise his 1983 concert film, Eddie Murphy: Delirious is more than your average stand-up special. Call it a coronation.
Watching it in 2017, however, the thing you notice the most about it is that Murphy would never be allowed to perform that kind of material today (at least, not without some sort of angry social justice warrior protest). Delirious is so raw (which was, ironically, the name of his follow-up concert video) it would inspire dozens of online petitions. It’s surprising there hasn’t been an effort to have it removed from the Netflix content library.
“I got rules and s*** when I throw down,” Murphy tells the roaring crowd at the start of the special. “Faggots aren’t allowed to look at my a** onstage,” he says.
“I’m afraid of gay people,” he continues, launching into a series of impressions about famous male stars who, in his fever dream, turn out to be gay. Mr. T., Jackie Gleason (as Ralph Kramden of The Honeymooners), and many more. Cue the “gay panic” attacks. The “F” word for gay people alone would cause trouble. And, to be fair, polite society no longer uses that term. Yet the notion of turning presumably straight characters gay would sound the social justice warriors’ siren.
Murphy also likely wouldn’t get away with promoting his masculinity either. Clad in a tight red leather ensemble, Murphy bared more than his bare chest in the film. “I’m in my sexual prime,” he boasts. That, too, might be offensive. It’s empowering for Amy Schumer to share her sexual appetites. A young, virile male star? That’s patriarchy at its most venomous.
One Delirious bit would probably be greeted by awkward silence. He jokes about how men can no longer hit women because the modern woman will hit you back. And when he mentions hitting a gal pal she gets revenge by holding back sex. Let’s be grateful that attitude got left back in the ‘80s.
Murphy’s imitation of a Chinese restaurant employee also would draw the PC police, even if he turns the mockery around on a generic American tourist. He’s much tougher on Muslim speech patterns, which would draw instant condemnation from groups like CAIR.
Delirious delivers other routines that could play in any cultural moment. Children’s ability to hear the ice cream truck no matter how far away it might be. James Brown’s incomprehensible lyrics. Aunt Bunny and her hairy lip. Of course, Murphy compares his hirsute aunt to Bigfoot, which even a comedian of color might not be able to get away with in our sensitive times. “I f*** with everybody,” Murphy says in his defense. (That strategy applied to the late, great Don Rickles as well).
But in our politically correct times, comedians aren’t supposed to be too offensive. Dave Chappelle, arguably the most deified comic on the scene today, was loudly criticized recently for a pair of Netflix comedy specials deemed transphobic.
Today, Murphy is one of Hollywood’s true enigmas. He’s 56 but looks 40. He’s proven his versatility time and time again, from his Dreamgirls Oscar nomination to playing multiple characters in the Nutty Professor franchise. And yet, his 2016 drama, Mr. Church, came and went without audiences so much as shrugging over it. And that was his first major film role since 2012’s A Thousand Words.
But he hasn’t been active as a stand-up comic for decades. His much ballyhooed return to SNL three years ago had him barely saying a word. Perhaps that’s because he’s smart enough to know we wouldn’t welcome back his brand of raw, hilarious, and politically incorrect comedy with open arms.