Eddie Murphy's Best 'SNL' Characters (VIDEO)
by Ryan McKee, posted Nov 22nd 2010 4:00PM
This week marked the 30th anniversary of Eddie Murphy joining the cast of 'Saturday Night Live.' An unknown comedian outside of the New York standup scene, Murphy became the show's standout performer and revitalized the series during its first true slump.
1980 was a volatile time for 'SNL.' Lorne Michaels had left and new producer Jean Doumanian hired a completely new staff. She passed up Jim Carrey, John Goodman and Dom Irrera for actors who went on to do nothing. She almost hired another no-name over Murphy, but the staff persisted and convinced her to add him by the fourth show, which aired Nov. 22, 1980.
10. Tyrone Green, Prisoner Poet
The 'Pros and Cons' sketch is one of the most unique from this 'SNL' era. Shot documentary-style with production credited to Norman Mailer, it presents the literary phenomena of prison writers. Murphy's character doesn't appear until the end, but adds the perfect closing punch line. Tyrone Green just won the prison's poetry contest and recites his winning entry.
9. Michael Jackson
Obviously Michael Jackson impressions became a dime a dozens during the 1980s. Murphy's portrayal is spot-on and hilarious. What makes it even better is the knowledge that Jackson and Murphy became friends. They sang together in the music video "Whatzupwitu" and buddied around at awards shows. Plus, it's nice to see this moment from a simpler time when people only made fun of Jackson's lack of interest in females.
8. Mr. White
Long before The Wayans Brothers wrote 'White Chicks' or "the nerdy white man voice" became a staple of every Black comedian's routine, Murphy performed this hilarious sketch of him going undercover as a white man. The voice and way he walks has been copied countless times since. It is a sneak preview into the insane characters and fat suits he would late become known for in the '90s.
7. Clarence Walker, The Fifth Beatle
There continues to be much debate over who The Fifth Beatle is. George Martin? Pete Best? However, could the fifth Beatle be African-American? After all, American blues singers heavily influenced the Fab Four. Clarence Walker claims he is The Fifth Beatle, saying he founded the group as a saxophonist, lead singer and lead songwriter. He even has "proof!" -- a photo of him superimposed with the Beatles and poorly overdubbed songs with him singing and playing sax.
6. Little Richard Simmons
Most of Murphy's characters are straightforward impressions or specific running jokes. Little Richard Simmons is the only character mash-up on this list. Combining the flamboyant singer Little Richard with the equally flamboyant exercise guru Richard Simmons, Murphy creates a unique personality all to its own. If you've ever wondered what it would look like if those two men had a baby (we doubt you have), wonder no longer.
This character is as meta as Murphy ever got. He transformed a lovable children's character into a cantankerous washout with the catchphrase, "I'm Gumby, damnit!" That line alone became enough to elicit a gigantic laugh from the audience. The costume is now featured in various traveling Gumby exhibits.
4. Velvet Jones
The Velvet Jones School of Technology will teach any woman how to become a high-priced ho in only six weeks. Long before jokes about outrageously dressed pimps became a stereotypical joke, Murphy popularized the character at a time when mainstream America didn't even know the genre blaxploitation. Hilarious and edgy, the writing has Murphy's fingerprints all over it.
3. Mr. Robinson
Watching "Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood" as a child of the '80s, it was difficult to understand what our parents were laughing at so hard. It seemed perfectly normal that a man would invite us in his home for polite conversation. Mr. Rogers did it every day. Now we realize the humor comes from the creepy notion that any man should host children in his home. Let alone a man living in a slum and possibly insane.
2. James Brown
While hilarious and timelier in its day, the James Brown Hot Tub sketch is even better in hindsight. Now we can see the influence that Murphy's portrayal of the over-the-top singer has on sketch comedy today. It's easy to recognize elements of "James Brown" in Dave Chappelle's "Rick James" or Kenan Thompson's "Deandre Cole" in the sketch "What Up With That?"
Oftentimes the most hilarious comedic premises are also the simplest. "What would Buckwheat be doing as an adult?" That basic question led to Murphy's most popular character. Dressed in childlike clothing, a huge afro wig and still speaking with an impediment, adult Buckwheat could do anything and make it funny – even get assassinated.
Honorary Mention: John David Stutts
The insane man who killed Buckwheat.
What are your favorite Eddie Murphy characters?