In his very first film role, Eddie Murphy pioneered a genre. 48 Hrs. set the tone for every other buddy-cop action movie in which the buddies privately hate one another and sometimes punch each other in the face. Lethal Weapon, Tango and Cash, Rush Hour, Bad Boys and just about every other movie where a no-nonsense cop reluctantly teams up with a smartass owe their existence to 48 Hrs.
"There's just so much character conflict!"
But the movie's success is almost directly attributable to Eddie Murphy. While Nick Nolte is good as a surly, jaded detective, moviemakers figured out pretty quickly that, in the blueprint for Eddie Murphy cop movies, the partner is interchangeable. The Beverly Hills Cop franchise, for instance, is just a variation on the same formula someone discovered with 48 Hrs.
Caught on film: The exact moment Nick Nolte became expendable.
It's ironic then that the first movie proving that Eddie Murphy could be paired with any nameless white cop(s) contains so much generality and overt racism against black people that entire scenes are missing when it shows up on basic cable. Nolte's character is very careful about not letting a single epithet slip through the cracks, calling Murphy everything from "spear chucker" to the more confusing "watermelon." But all that bigotry only makes the most iconic scene of the movie that much more enjoyable: Eddie Murphy schools an entire bar full of cowboy rednecks by mocking their accents, their silly hats and their ignorance. It's enormously gratifying to watch him command control of a room where everyone could literally hate him to death. He insults them so hard that they're too disoriented to fight back. That scene is a testament to the fact that Eddie Murphy never needed chemistry with anyone else on camera; he could carry an entire scene by himself and make us love him for it.
DONKEY! Everyone loves Donkey. Kids, adults, whatever's between kids and adults. Heck, even Shrek loved Donkey, and he hated everything and everyone. You can say it was Fiona, but Donkey is the one who finally warmed Shrek's heart. And that was all thanks to the vocal talents of the great Eddie Murphy. He was not only hilarious, but he also gave us some truly heartfelt moments that made us want to hug Donkey and punch Shrek. Or, in our darkest moments, to donkey-punch Shrek.
"Wait, Donkey, we've changed our minds."
It was Eddie Murphy's erratic, hyperactive vocal stylings that made Shrek a hit. Kids didn't flock to the theater over and over because they thought Mike Myers did a great Scottish accent and couldn't wait to watch the green guy go through some significant character development. They went because a talking donkey named Donkey said funny things in a funny way. In the way only Eddie Murphy could say them. Murphy has made a career of being a living cartoon, often playing multiple characters in the same film. Each character has a different voice, but they all have the same basic quick-talking, hyperactive energy. Unbeknownst to him, Murphy's career had been training him to be the voice of one of the most popular cartoon characters ever in one of the most successful animated franchises of all time.
He was Donkey the whole time.
There's a reason Donkey is No. 21 on Empire's list of 50 Best Animated Characters and Shrek is nowhere to be found. Because Eddie Murphy's Donkey stole the show, like Eddie Murphy's characters always do. He's simply the best. That'll do, Murphy. That'll do.
22. Eddie Murphy was 22 years old when he recorded the 1983 stand-up special Delirious. Sometimes we forget that when you're talking about Eddie Murphy, you're talking about a prodigy, like Mozart, or the band Prodigy, but if they were younger. At an age when most of us are filling out our first Wendy's applications while Mom and Dad mail out the college graduation invitations, Eddie Murphy held the whole country in the palm of his dazzling, hilarious hand. Delirious was the moment when Eddie Murphy took America to the back room and made sweet but nasty love to her for 70 whole minutes.
And here's the thing: We can watch Eddie be Eddie delivering other people's lines, and he's going to do a good job, because he's Eddie. He's entertaining to watch. I'll sit here and wait all day for you to name another stand-up comedian who transitioned to movies as successfully as Eddie Murphy.
(Eight hours later.) But Delirious was the first (and maybe best?) time Eddie gave us his own lines -- and they're good. This is Murphy before he grew up. This is the kid who saved Saturday Night Live with the sheer force of his personality, who could nail everyone from Elvis to James Brown and talk about Stevie Wonder like Stevie Wonder was a back alley hobo. Who does that? Besides members of the Stevie Wonder Is Secretly a Back Alley Hobo Society, I mean?
Name any other great stand-up comic, or plain ol' comedian for that matter, and there's a good chance the guys (or guy-ladies) had at least a decade of experience under their belt before the camera ever caught them in action. And none of them, not one, is going to bring you the poetry of the Ice Cream Song and Dance. Which I will do to this day if you give me some ice cream.
Wanna lick??? PSYCH!
I was 13 years old when Eddie Murphy released his second standup feature, Raw (also known as "not the red leather outfit -- the blue one"), and it single-handedly changed the way I thought about comedy. In that set, he used the word "fuck" 223 times, which landed it in a spot on top of the hidden porno magazines in every teenage boy's bedroom. It was the crudest stand-up set I had ever seen, and without it, my writing would be much different from what it is today. No one did it better. Not George Carlin. Not Bill Hicks. No one. Raw defined how a feature comedy film should be paced, delivered and edited. It was perfect.
We did feel mildly cheated that he didn't once dance with zombies.
If you ever think about getting into stand-up and you want to see how the masters do it, look up Murphy's story about the time Bill Cosby, whom he had not yet met, called him to give him a lecture about his use of profanity. Or the last 10 full minutes of Raw, where he does an impression of his drunken father that starts off as the vulgar, ridiculous rants of a drunk and then slowly transforms into a surreal landslide of bullshit, which includes his father recounting his childhood where they had to eat cakes made out of Etch-A-Sketches and wear suits made out of Twister mats.
And there was no icing for the cakes.
The man made profanity an art form, but the most impressive part about Raw is that if you take away all of the "fucks," "shits" and "pussies," it's still just as funny. That is the mark of true genius.