There was a plan. Two weeks ago, Eddie Murphy told his pal Arsenio Hall that he was mulling over a special way to close the show when he accepted the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center Sunday night. He was actually going to tell a few jokes.
That may sound like a small thing — except that Murphy, the most successful standup comedian of the 1980s, hasn’t told a joke in front of a live audience for 28 years.
In a D.C. hotel room Saturday, Murphy, 54, made it clear he was ready to go. He tried out his short routine for his tiny but influential audience: Hall and Chris Rock.
In Murphy’s best Pudding Pop voice, a voice best remembered from his live, 1987 concert smash, “Raw,” his Cosby got a full update.
“You may have heard recently that I allegedly put the pill in the people’s stomach,” Murphy popped out perfectly as the audience erupted in delight. “…If I ever see or meet this Hannibal Buress in person I am going to try and kill this man!”
Backstage, watching on a TV monitor as Murphy worked smoothly through his short routine, Rock turned to Hall.
“That f—-r is killing,” he said.
Hall recounted talking through the bit with Murphy and Rock in the hotel room.
“[Eddie] said, ‘Because Cosby gonna get sick of this soon, he’s gonna get sick of people hating, and eventually he’s gonna have to say something,’” Hall said Sunday night. “And we were like, ‘That is funny, man. Are you willing?'”
He was, which is notable as Murphy decided he didn’t want to poke fun of Cosby on the “Saturday Night Live” 40th anniversary special earlier this year.
Did Hall, who has been plotting ways to get his “Coming to America” pal to return to live performances, think this could spark a full return to the stage? Coupled with his thank yous and a few jokes about the Mark Twain Prize not coming with any financial award, Murphy spoke for about seven minutes.
“It’s a glimpse of a man who has one foot on a standup stage and another foot on a banana peel, and I just hope he can get to the stage,” Hall said.
There is one issue that may cause a hiccup in a return to comedy for Murphy, Hall remarked. “I said the only problem now is from now on when you do standup, you’re gonna have to hold Mark Twain’s head because you were awful comfortable in that position,” Hall said. “…Take the Mark Twain head on the road, even though Mark Twain would not have liked it.”