In the new Netflix movie "Dolemite Is My Name," Eddie Murphy plays the late Rudy Ray Moore, a comedian whose life was going nowhere. "I ain't got nothing nobody wants," he says.
In desperation, Moore created Dolemite, a swaggering, profanity-spewing character who became a sensation in a series of low-budget action films:
Murphy says he doesn't look at reviews – but correspondent Tracy Smith did. She read him a few: "Pure joy." "Eddie Murphy brings down the house." "It's a triumph." "Eddie Murphy gives a killer comeback performance."
"Is it a comeback?" she asked.
"I guess, you know, they like to say comeback," Murphy said. "I don;t know. Let's make it easier. Yes, it's my comeback. Yes, it's my big comeback! Every ten years or so I launch a big comeback. I've been doing that for the last 40 years. Every ten years, I come back!"
Comeback or not, the movie has set off an avalanche of accolades and award nominations, including a Golden Globe. It's another high point in a career with too many high points to count.
Eddie Murphy was only 19 when he joined the cast of "Saturday Night Live" in 1980, bringing new life, and a new sense of racial awareness to a show that was then on the verge of cancellation.
He also broke new ground in movies like "48 HRS" and "Trading Places," turning likable characters into box office heroes. And then, there were his standup specials, where he'd say everything he couldn't say on network TV, plus a few things that would make the internet explode if he said them today, as from his 1983 special "Delirious," in which he said, "I have nightmares about gay people. ... I kid the homosexuals a lot, 'cause they're homosexuals."
Smith asked, "When you watch that stuff, do you laugh? Is it still funny to you?
"Some of it. Some of it, I cringe when I watch," he replied. "I'm like, oh my God, I can't believe I said that!"
"People were picketing you. Did that bother you?"
"No. In the moment, you kind of was like, hey, it is what it is, you know?"
"Does it bother you now?"
"I've seen stuff that I'll go, like, oh, that's, ooh, yeah, you'll get a joke that's cringey. But that's not to say that I don't appreciate it. I still appreciate it. And I'm looking at it within the context of the times, you know. And I'm going, okay, I'm a kid, saying that."
And he has no regrets about the 1988 Oscars, when – years ahead of his peers – he called out the Academy for its lack of diversity. "I'm going to give this award, black people will not ride the caboose of society and we're not going to bring up the rear any more," Murphy said.
Smith asked, "At the time, did you have people saying, 'Ooh, Eddie, you shouldn't have done that'?"
"No," he replied. "You know what's interesting? After I said that, it went the exact opposite way. There was no mention – it was almost like I wasn't at the awards that night. The next day, there was no mention of it in the papers. Not a blip. And there were no pictures of me at the Oscars."
"You said in that speech, you know, this probably ruins my chance of getting nominated for an Oscar …"
"And then I didn't get nominated for Oscars for years!"
"You think that had something to do with it?"
"I don't know. What do you think?" he laughed.
He did eventually get a nomination for the 2006 movie "Dreamgirls," and he might be in line for another Oscar nod soon. But Murphy said his staying power is about more than just talent.
He told Smith, "I've always been really comfortable in my skin. It's 'cause I've always been grounded spiritually, you know? I believe in God and I believe in prayer."
"Do you pray every day?"
"Yeah, I pray all the time, you know. I pray all the time. And you don't have to, like, get down on your knees and pray, you know. You can pray wherever," he said.
"You know what I found? A lot of of people in show business that get really successful at an early age, a lot of them go through a lot of stuff and have issues and drug problems, and all these are self-destructive. And I never had that because I was grounded spiritually."
Murphy said what also grounds him is family. He has 10 children, aged 1 to 30.
At 58 Murphy still has a lot of game left in him. Earlier this month he made his triumphant return to "Saturday Night Live":
And there is a new standup special in the works.
With Eddie Murphy, like any great comedian, it's all about perfect timing.
Mr. Robinson (Murphy): "My neighborhood has gone through so much. It's gone through something called gentrification. Can you say 'gentrification,' boys and girls? It's like a magic trick. White people pay a lot of money, and then POOF! All the black people are gone!"
Smith asked, "What's it like to get that kind of laugh from somebody like that? Fall on the floor, gut-busting laugh from somebody?"
"There's nothing like making people laugh," Murphy said. "And being able to do that for a living is a blessing and a privilege. There's no higher calling for an artist. There's nothing like hearing that big crowd of people, just hearing people laugh, there's nothing like that. Nothing."
To watch a trailer for "Dolemite Is My Name" click on the video player below:
For more info:
- "Dolemite Is My Name" (Netflix)
Story produced by John D'Amelio.