I remember the first time I saw Eddie Murphy – Delirious, the 1983 concert film that captured the comedian as he was rocketing to stardom. I must have been 12 or 13, and we were huddled in a friend's basement with a VHS rental. In the movie, Eddie talks about going to a summer camp and finding out some white kids were allowed to swear in front of their parents and being shocked that they got away with it. I think the friend who had acquired the tape had those kinds of parents, because as Eddie delivered his routines--full of curse words, scatological humor, and sex--I knew something like this would never fly in my house.
Of course, when you're that age, you really remember the raunchiest bits. If you were going to quote Delirious, a practice Eddie even makes fun of in his act, you were likely going to quote gay Mr. T first, or talk about how STDs were getting so bad, a guy's penis would explode on contact with a woman. Never mind that my antenna wasn't going to be getting close to a transmitter any time soon to get one of these diseases, it was scandalous to say such things!
Twenty-four years after the fact, Delirious still seems scandalous, perhaps even more so after surviving political correctness in the 1990s. It's also still incredibly funny. Some of these bits--including the gay Mr. T (and the gay Honeymooners and Ricky Ricardo)--have taken on legendary status, and outside of the fact that Eddie could have chosen a better word to use than "faggot," it's not at all mean-spirited. Sure, it's dirty and a smidge adolescent, but it's not hateful. Some of the references are a little outdated--Reaganomics, calling AIDS "new," jokes about Michael Jackson being a ladies man--but the pop culture elements are big enough that they still retain their humor.
When you boil down the whole program, too, those outrageous jokes are really only a small part of it, and now that I'm older, not even the most enduring. It's no surprise that Anchor Bay chose the "ice cream song" for the DVD menu on Delirious. You probably remember the song well enough from whenever you might have seen the film that when you read that just now, you started singing it. That's the kind of material that really made Eddie Murphy so hilarious. It's the stories he tells about his family and his childhood--chasing the ice cream truck, playing the "Fart Game" in the bathtub, his mother throwing her shoes, the family barbeques--that inspire the most raucous laughter. Like all the best comedians, Eddie Murphy is a master at spinning a yarn.
What most impresses me now is the ease and grace with which he does his thing. This is a well-practiced act, and yet Eddie goes from one story to the next, from joke to joke, in such a way that makes it sound like he's just telling us whatever comes to mind. He can be talking about sex in one breath, pause to note that he's hot, and then somehow go from being hot to eating ice cream. He slips in and out of voices and characters--his drunken father, the vanilla-sounding white guy voice, singing like James Brown--without batting an eye, never coming off as anything less than spontaneous.
It's hard being funny. It's even harder to be funny and timely and yet still manage to have material that can span decades and cross over into a whole other century. When he was at the top of his game, a rock star comedian in a red leather suit, Eddie Murphy was the best. I probably busted a bigger gut now than I did in my teens, because a lot less of Eddie Murphy – Delirious went over my head. There have been rumblings that Eddie might be considering getting back behind the microphone, and I for one wouldn't mind seeing if he can still deliver it like he used to.