Friday, August 3, 2007

DVD Review: Eddie Murphy - Delirious

“Ice cream man! Ice cream man!” After 24 years, Delirious is finally available on DVD. Say what you will about Norbit, Eddie Murphy gets mad props as a stand-up comic. Twenty two freakin’ years old in that famous head-to-toe, unzipped to the navel, red leather jumpsuit and gold medallion on a bare (hairless) chest, Eddie Murphy rocks Washington D.C.’s packed Constitution Hall looking like Elvis in the Comeback Tour but not coming back, coming into his own. Known for Saturday Night Live, people didn’t see Eddie as a stand-up in 1983. But he’d been doing comedy since he was 15 years old, doing impressions and telling jokes in local bars in Long Island. No one expected Eddie to give a performance that night that would deliver him the crown passed down from Richard Pryor. Even Richard didn’t see it coming.

Watching Delirious again after all these years, I was transformed listening to the bits that have become such a part of the collective vernacular. It was hard to wrap my head around the fact that these people were hearing these classics for the first time ever. “The ice cream man is coming; the ice cream man is coming!” Eddie dances and sings like a child, “You ain’t got no ice cream. You can’t afford it. Cause you are on the welfare. And your father is an alcoholic. ”

I was holding myself laughing at Eddie’s mama throwing her shoe at him like a boomerang. I actually started crying when the Big Footish Aunt Bunnie (goonie goo goo) fell down the stairs. “Oh Lord Jesus Christ help me Lord Jesus please…I’m halfway down…help me Lord Jesus please.” I’ve become so jaded over the years in comedy that I had forgotten what it was like to laugh so hard it literally hurt.

Eddie’s dad gets drunk and starts yelling at everyone at the family barbeque (slurring), “This is my house. I pay the bills in this mother fucker and if you don’t like it you can get the fuck out.” It was like listening to an old song from my youth that transported me back in that exact time and place. It’s like losing your virginity. I’m pretty sure I was wearing white lace fingerless gloves with one big cross earring and tri-colored hair. Everyone knows where they were when they heard Delirious for the first time. Or when Kennedy was shot, I always get those two confused.

When Eddie starts talking about the first Black president dodging bullets during his speeches, at first you think it’s hack. And then you remember, Eddie invented that bit. The same is true for the hysterical Amityville Horror bit:

“Nice house, beautiful neighborhood”.
“Get out!”
“Too bad we can’t stay.”

I’m not saying Eddie Murphy invented black people being afraid of ghosts, but it sure as hell wasn’t hack in 1983. A million comics have ripped off those bits and tons of other Eddie Murphy jokes in the last 24 years. But nobody does it like Eddie.

His impressions of Elvis, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Desi Arnez, and James Brown were spot-on and his love of and talent for singing were a humorous foreshadow to his current accolades for Dreamgirls. His big grin and now-famous laugh serve to make him so charming that his personality alone might be enough. (And might I add, red leather: not unkind to a nice ass.)

Eddie Murphy is one of my biggest influences as a comic. I was 15 years old in 1983 when Delirious came out and I was profoundly affected by it. I was so moved by Eddie’s ability to take family situations, especially unpleasant ones, and spin them into brilliantly funny stories with complex characters. This material is just as funny now as it was then. I’m reminded of what I saw initially all those years ago. When your material is personal and based on real life events that are universal, people connect with you and respond to you in a much deeper way than if you talk “at” them about airplane food and traffic.

The world has changed a lot in 24 years. Watching this performance again, I’m shocked at some of the topics. AIDS? I don’t remember AIDS being around back then. Eddie Murphy was one of the first comics to talk about it. To say that Delirious is politically incorrect is an understatement. The homophobia that starts the DVD has clearly not stood the test of time. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good Ed Norton/Ralph Kramden anal sex joke as much as the next fellow. But, I felt uncomfortable listening to all the overt gay bashing and it put me in mind of a little story about a transvestite hooker. I feel like Eddie missed an opportunity in the DVD bonus interview to set it right. He looks back on Delirious with (of all people) Byron Allen and I was really hoping for, well not an apology for all the homophobia really, but a kind of disclaimer about the context of the time period. But, alas, nothing.

Not a lot of extras to speak of. The deleted scenes were funny, but you can understand why they were deleted. The interview with Byron Allen was cool. In the interview, Eddie also talks about his influences. Richard Pryor was his number one inspiration, as is obvious in his work. Like Richard, Eddie combines a personal story-telling style with rich characters and an enthralling persona in real-life colorful language. He calls Richard Pryor’s In Concert “the best stand-up performance ever captured on video.” Eddie said when people come up to him and compliment Delirious, he says, “Watch Richard’s In Concert. I’m the leaves, Richard’s the roots.” He also is a huge fan of Bill Cosby, calling him “prolific” and “brilliant”, as well as George Carlin. I would have liked Byron to ask Eddie about Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, or Martin Lawrence. It seemed an obvious way to go and I wanted to hear Eddie’s take on them and about Richard Pryor’s illness and death.

Byron asks Eddie if he will ever do stand-up again. Eddie said that every now and then he thinks about doing another special and then remembers that in order to do that he’d have to spend 3-4 nights a week in a comedy club for the next two years. Eddie said stand-up is like being on the front lines of a war. Now that he’s a General, he’s not real anxious to go back to the front lines.

Oh well. We’ll always have Delirious. The best ending was after tearing it up like a mofo in a packed theatre in front of thousands of people, 22 year old comic Eddie Murphy walks off stage, camera following, looks at his crew and says, “What club are we going to?” Any club you want, Eddie. Any club you want.

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