Murphy is on fire as a 22-year-old stand-up comedian, reinventing the rules and breaking down unspoken limits on appropriate subject material in the comedy world. Nothing is sacred. Murphy’s opening joke is about how gay people give him nightmares – and he goes on to wax poetic over the new AIDS epidemic.
It takes no time at all to realize that the buttons Murphy is pushing with his jokes are just that – triggers to release pent up gut reactions to issues of class, race and sexual preference. Murphy’s frequent dropping of the f-bomb in all its permutations was pretty scandalous at the time as well. Subject and language boundaries beware – you have ceased to matter.
Murphy doesn’t spare himself as subject matter for comedic derision. He describes getting in trouble with his mom, getting picked on at school, and getting action figures stuck in unmentionable places. Strutting across the stage in that iconic red leather outfit, Murphy owns the crowd and is at the top of his game.
Though his language may be dated to our ears today and his sense of political correctness nonexistent, Murphy is always funny, and no one is safe from his taunts. Many of his references are still current and even funnier through the lens of two and a half decades: Michael Jackson is still in the news, Spock and Scotty are still polar opposites, and many of us still lose our minds for ice cream.
Once you’ve seen his ice cream bit, you’ll never forget it. Murphy jokes about being a kid and hearing the music that announced the ice cream truck approaching the neighborhood. He goes on to say, “I’d get my ice cream and I didn’t eat it – I’d sing for a little while.” Swinging his hips back and forth like an excited child as he sing-songs, Murphy continues, “I have some ice cream, I have some ice cream” and then starts to taunt an invisible playmate: “You don’t have no ice cream, you didn’t get none, you didn’t get none, you didn’t get none” – and he pauses – “’cause you are on the welfare, you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it”. Once you get that song stuck in your head, it’s hard to avoid singing about ice cream all day long.
Even if you’ve never seen the original 1983 footage of Murphy’s performance at Washington DC’s Constitution Hall, many moments may seem familiar. Whole new generations of comedians have taken inspiration from Murphy’s classic act, borrowing bits, adapting others, and possibly even stealing a few choice snippets outright. In a recent interview in the special features section, Murphy tries to be magnanimous about the thievery – imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and all that.
The greatest thing about this new release of Delirious is the addition of a second disc full of candid commentary by comedians who have followed in Murphy’s footsteps, talking about their favorite parts of the show. The special features editors have done a great job interspersing Delirious footage with these parts, emphasizing the points the comedians make by showing exactly what moments they remember most clearly and were influenced by.
Chris Tucker, Martin Lawrence, and Wayne Brady are among the comedians who chime in with testimonials about Murphy’s impact on their careers. Chris Rock talks about Murphy’s influence on his own comedy, how he was inspired to become a comic and how he used to rush home after school to watch Delirious over and over again.
Arsenio Hall talks about how impressed he is with the range of Murphy’s abilities at such a young age. Murphy delivered pitch perfect impressions not only of TV personalities and celebrity voices, but of their singing voices and mannerisms as well. Hall comments on Murphy’s comfortable stage presence, and how shocked he was to realize that comedy and leather can actually go together!
Speaking of that red leather extravaganza, Murphy talks about the outfit in a special features interview with fellow comedian Byron Allen and reveals a couple of surprises. First, the jacket and pants were apparently two different shades of red. Crimson and fire engine. I don’t believe the crowd noticed.
The second surprise is that the red leather was a total accident. Murphy recalls that something went wrong with the outfit he was supposed to wear that night, and the red leather getup was brought in as a last minute replacement. It seems like one of the gods of comedy must have been laughing at him that night. But Murphy pulled it off.
In the interview with Allen, Murphy is immaculate in a black suit with black tie and checked white shirt. At Allen’s prodding, Murphy reminisces about the beginning of his career in comedy and emphasizes his desire as a teenager to follow in the footsteps of Richard Prior. He cites Bill Cosby as another major influence, recognizing the power of the storyteller in that legend of comedy.
Murphy recalls his worst night on stage as a budding comedian. At 16 or 17-years-old he was just getting started, and he admits that he used his audience as his testing ground. He would practice in the mirror, but not in front of his family or friends, then go for it on the live stage. On this particular night every last joke bombed and the club owner told him to get lost rather than pay him. Murphy gets himself all worked up, even 30 years later, over that bad performance.
Though that one bad night stands out clearly in Murphy’s memory, he is at a loss when asked by Allen to talk about the best night he can remember. There are just too many to describe.
Delivered in a box as red as the fire hydrant colored leather getup Eddie Murphy paraded around in 25 years ago, the 25th anniversary edition of Murphy’s classic stand-up tour Delirious has arrived.