Talking with Charlie Murphy about Spike TV’s Eddie Murphy Tribute, Dave Chappelle, and His 10 Country Standup Tour
This piece is brought to you by Eddie Murphy: One Night Only, a star-studded celebration of one of the greatest comedic minds of the past half-century. Check it out tonight at 10/9c on SpikeTV!
Three decades into a career that’s seen him working as an actor, standup, and writer, Charlie Murphy is continuing to pound the pavement to hone his craft. Most recently, he traveled the world, headlining an ambitious 10 country standup tour, traveling from Scandinavia to Australia to perform before sold-out crowds. Murphy, whom you may know best from his work on Chappelle’s Show (or as Eddie Murphy’s brother), also keeps busy with movie and TV roles, having played recurring roles on The Boondocks and Are We There Yet? Charlie Murphy also recently took to the stage at Spike TV’s tribute Eddie Murphy: One Night Only, appearing alongside huge names like Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, and Samuel L. Jackson, amongst others, to honor the life and legacy of his brother Eddie. I recently had the chance to talk with Charlie Murphy about his country-hopping tour, what it was like performing at the Eddie Murphy tribute, and whether we can ever expect Dave Chappelle to make a comeback.
How was Spike TV’s tribute to Eddie?
Oh it was a thrill, man. I can’t wait for the world to see that. It was a big moment for Eddie, and it was a huge moment for everybody in his family because we’ve been watching his journey from its beginning. For it to come to that point to see all his peers come out and honor him, that was a tremendous thrill.
Who were some of the people that were there to honor him?
Oh, everybody, man. Sam Jackson, Jamie Foxx, Tyler Perry, Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan, Adam Sandler, Keenan Wayans, Russell Brand, Stevie Wonder, Martin Lawrence – everybody – and myself, I can’t leave that out. I was there too. We had a great lineup, everybody was very funny. Everybody was very touching – very poignant. We recapped Eddie Murphy’s career up to this point pretty well, I think.
What was it like when Eddie first got cast on SNL for everyone in the family?
It was great. I was in the Navy when he got cast on SNL, so I was extremely proud because I had seen my brother for years doing something that I had zero understanding of: the whole world of acting, drama class, whatever. The interest in being in show business was alien. I had no interest in that – understanding of how it worked – the terms of it, any of that. So to see somebody doing something that you paid very little attention to because you didn’t believe they was going to do nothing that, then all of a sudden you see them show up on a major stage, that was a good feeling, man. I wish everybody could get to feel that feeling, you know?
He was a huge part of SNL too. It wasn’t like he was just a small part of it.
Yeah, well when he was on the show, it was basically his show. That’s the reality of it. He took it over. It was amazing times, and he did some very funny stuff. It was beautiful. It’s like this guy, his whole journey was geared to getting him to this stage and now he’s totally ready for the moment. One of the big sketches he did on Saturday Night Live was when they had Stevie Wonder host the show, and they had Eddie come out and they sang “Ebony and Ivory,” and Eddie’s doing Stevie. And in the tribute, there’s a moment like that where Stevie’s singing “Higher Ground,” and Eddie runs up on stage with some shades on. He’s sitting on the stool right next to him. “Right in this moment, I can’t wait to be with Stevie.” It’s going to touch everybody. Definitely.
So you didn’t get into standup until you were 41. Had you wanted to perform comedy your whole life or was it something that occurred to you later in life?
No… I walked down the path that I’ve been walking for a long time, and this was one of the stops that was on it. When I first got into acting, I had to go out to California like everybody else, sleep on the floor, go to casting calls. I was doing all of that for years, then I finally got a job – one line and one sound, whatever – and it went from one sound to one sentence to a paragraph to a character to being one of the featureds in a movie. All this happened before I was on Chappelle’s Show.
I worked my way all the way up, and then Chappelle’s Show took place and boom. The door was open where I guess this is something you could try – standup. Before that, it wasn’t available to me. It was viewed as an absurdity. Before that, it was viewed as just like, for instance, if all of a sudden, Martin Lawrence’s brother – who you’ve never heard of – showed up: “It’s Martin Lawrence’s brother doing standup!” Nobody’s taking that serious. Because we’ve known Martin so many years, “We’ve never heard of you doing standup!” What was different about me was I had the background of being in a gang of movies and a gang of comedies where I did well. So, when I went on Chappelle’s Show and did well on it, it was a comedy show. That created a portal where it’s, “Okay, we’ll allow you to give it a shot. We’ll see what you can do.” And when I went in there, I was able to hang out, man. I’m still here. It’s been arduous, but I’m handling it. I’m still here, and I get better every time I go out there. And people see that. So I feel extremely humbled and extremely blessed to be able to do something that very few, if any, have done. And still be here. And still be relevant.
What are you excited to work on next?
Right now what we’re focusing on is, we were doing a big push. We just did a 10 country tour. And it’s going to all lead up to what would normally be a DVD release, but I want to do it differently this time because I want to cut the middle man out. I’m going straight to the internet. I’m going to do a global Ustream. Online only, two dollars, anywhere in the world. Trying to break some new ground, do something different, and then after that, do a DVD situation. But I want to do a Ustream thing first…We’ve done something that’s never been done before. There’s no comedian from the US that can tell you he went on a 10 country comedy tour, based on his name. Not 10 comedy festivals. You wouldn’t have to add his name – it’s sold out. There’s never something that already exists, and you just showed and it features you. No, you went out there specifically as you and sold out. I’m the only person in the world that did that…
We’ve put 15 different videos out, Charlie Murphy Acid Trip Tour 2012. 15 videos out right now on YouTube, recapping all the countries I went to and recapping the reaction from the crowd at shows and showing what my experience was when I was there. So, anybody that wants to get caught up on it, it’s available right there on YouTube… You can see exactly what went down. And we had a lot of fun.
I know you’ve been in the Navy, but aside from that, have you travelled a lot prior to this tour?
I’ve been traveling all my life, since I was 19… At first I went a few places within the boundaries of the US, and then I was in the Navy, and I went all over the world in the Navy. Then I got out of the Navy, and I have a job where I’m blessed to be working with somebody who was an international personality, and I got to travel all over the world with him! And then after that, I started traveling all over the world with my own thing!
You had a webseries, “Charlie Murphy’s Crash Comedy” and you worked with Jay Pharoah on that, has it been crazy seeing Jay’s career blow up?
I’m very proud of what’s happening with Jay. I feel very good for him. He deserves it. From the very first moment I seen Jay, I told him, I said, “You got it bro. Excellent.” [laughs] First time I seen him I said, “You got it bro, it’s just a matter of the world finding out that you got it.” And look where he is now.
You perform live a lot. Have you ever tried to get Eddie back into performing standup?
Nope… All I worry about in standup is my place in it. Eddie Murphy is already acknowledged as the all-time great. ‘Why am I putting energy into trying to get him back into when I’m trying to work on being the best comedian I can be?’ If he wants to get back in it, he’ll do it. I don’t have time or energy to waste on trying to get Eddie Murphy to do something he already did. It’s done already.
There’s nothing for Eddie Murphy to gain by doing standup at this point. You’ve got to realize this: it gets to a certain point when you’ve done a certain amount of stuff in your life [that] people know about and they can take anything you say or do goes away your rank at it in society and twist it and hurt you. A lot of things are necessary to be the kind of comedian I am, for instance. Somebody who has the money Eddie has may not be that willing to express himself quite as freely because he may create enemies for himself that he don’t want, where somebody in my position is not worried about that. That little bit of adjustment makes you not really come off as edgy or whatever because you’re careful… If you’re too careful, you’re not gonna come off, man. People like to see a comedian who takes risks that walks around to the line but he never goes over the edge. When you practice doing that, every now and then, you’ll slip and go over the edge. Now, do you want to do that if you’re in Eddie’s position? He might not be willing to take that risk. I can’t blame him.
Have you talked to Dave Chappelle recently?
Yeah, I’m in contact with him quite often.
Are you guys ever gonna work on something together again?
No, I think Dave’s out of the business, man. That should be obvious to everybody at this point. We’re going into almost 11 years. Dave, he still comes and does standup and does pop-ups and goes onstage… he’s doing it for fun. I mean, I don’t know which way he took his life, but he’s pretty happy. Right now, he’s riding a motorcycle across country. Last I heard he was doing. Stuff like that.
Dave Chappelle, he quit. That’s what he said, right? “I quit!” I never heard him say anything different. A lot of people find it hard to believe and hard to understand, but this is what makes it a little easier because this is reality: everybody that you can name that made it, that made big money, got a big check and all that, and was born poor, man, they know how to live honestly. They was brought up that way.
So, if you happen to be a guy who was brought up in the hood and now you find yourself with a bank account of five million dollars, guess what? You can say “I quit” and never work again. Are you gonna be living in a big mansion? No. Are you gonna be throwing big elaborate baller parties? No, but you’ll be not worrying about work, not worrying about money. [With] the interest of five million dollars, you have a nice home, bills to be paid, all that, for the rest of your life… Dave Chappelle is content. He got his money and he owns his house. He lives in the rural area of Ohio. Low overhead, he’s a simple living guy. He’s good guy.
What can people expect from the special?
You can expect the laughs, you can expect your heart to get touched, and you can expect to go down memory lane with a lot of different things that makes you like Eddie Murphy because… a lot of things that people remember about Eddie Murphy that they like, they’re gonna revisit. And they’re gonna also be exposed to a lot of the people that they like. A lot of people like Jamie Foxx. A lot of people like Sam Jackson, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock… A lot of people like Charlie Murphy, Tracy Morgan… I can’t think of no other way that you can get that lineup of comedians on the same show other than what we did… If you said, “Go on the same show and you all do 20 minutes,” they wouldn’t have done that. They wouldn’t have shown up for that. The only way we could get onstage together was the way it happened… There’s no other way you can get a lineup like that.
Yeah, it’s a very impressive lineup. You guys got everybody.
I think it’s the Dallas Cowboys, baby! [Laughs] That was the Dallas Cowboys of Comedy, that’s what I’m calling that.