You know, these days, it's pretty easy to forget how funny Eddie Murphy could be. In fact, it occurs to me that there are some people out there who may not know that he was ever funny. If all they've seen are his middle-of-the-road family comedies and junk like Norbit, they might be baffled as to why Murphy was ever allowed to make movies in the first place.
In answer to that, I present those people with Saturday Night Live - The Best of Eddie Murphy, a compilation of 17 of the comedian's most famous sketches from the early 1980s. Watching Murphy's impressions of James Brown and Stevie Wonder, and his original characters like the pimp Velvet Jones and Mr. Robinson, the ghetto Mr. Rogers, after all these years, I'm reminded of how edgy and creative Murphy once was. This DVD contains the roots of so much of what was to follow in comedy. Not only would Murphy's "Black History Minute" and "Film Focus" (included here as a bonus) influence guys like Chris Rock and Chris Farley when they joined SNL years later, but with stuff like the "Little Richard Simmons Show" and the gay hairdressers he performed with Joe Piscopo (another bonus), Murphy was laying the groundwork for In Living Color. And without the short film pieces like the two-part (and overlong) "Buckwheat is Shot/Dead," the prison literary mockumentary "Prose & Cons," and the infamous "White Like Me," where Murphy dons whiteface and infiltrates the secret Caucasian underground, there would be no Dave Chappelle.
Though some of the cultural references on the disc are dated--Reagan was President, Jesse Jackson was still a contender (Murphy plays him as a Motown-style crooner apologizing for his anti-Semitic comments through song)--the humor is still sharp. Murphy's parodies and impressions are dead-on, and though much of his material is cynical, there is at least one warm-hearted piece on this collection. The "Solomon & Pudge" sketch featuring Murphy and Joe Piscopo as two older men gabbing in a piano bar tugs more at the heart strings than it strikes at the funny bone. And since Murphy's character just lost his job, it's also timely.
The one thing that kind of surprised me about this disc is that there are no big guest stars in the main skits. Where are all the high-profile hosts? Piscopo is in quite a few of the sketches, and the Gumby bit on here has the famous cast members Martin Short, Billy Crystal, and Christopher Guest, but most of the faces are otherwise unfamiliar. Well, except for the quick Stevie Wonder appearance in the final selection.
The full list of material is as follows:
* "James Brown's Hot Tub"
Closed Captioning is available for the deaf and hearing impaired.
Saturday Night Live - The Best of Eddie Murphy has been on DVD before (and indeed, was on VHS before, and for folks still holding a grudge about the sketches that were on the tape and not on disc, keep holding it). This 2010 re-release is some kind of "Bonus Edition," and so the main program is rounded out by a photo gallery, a collection of outtakes (Murphy flubbing lines, cracking up, etc.; with appearances by Drew Barrymore, Ron Howard, Robert Guillaume, and more); and a wopping 8 additional sketches. Those new sketches are: