Revisit 8 iconic Eddie Murphy Saturday Night Live characters
The famed comedian and former cast member will host Dec. 21’s episode, stepping into Studio 8H for the first time since his brief appearance at the show’s 40th anniversary special in 2015 and since he last hosted back in December 1984, just months after leaving the cast.
Murphy’s 1980-1984 stint on the show’s cast is often credited with saving SNL during a rough transition period when creator Lorne Michaels departed along with nearly the entire cast and writing staff, and the ratings took a huge hit under new producer Jean Doumanian. Murphy, who started on the show at just 19 years old, proved to be a bright spot in the new cast and when SNL changed leadership yet again (this time to Dick Ebersol), Murphy and Joe Piscopo were the only players who made it to season 7. With Murphy scoring hit and after hit as the show’s MVP, viewership rose, and the rest is history.
After leaving SNL in 1984, Murphy continued to rise as a box office star, appearing in hit films such as Beverly Hills Cop, Coming to America, The Nutty Professor, and Doctor Dolittle, and lending his voice to movies like Mulan and Shrek.
With a catalog spanning many decades and characters — along with a singing career! — there should be plenty for Murphy to talk about in his monologue. But what we’re really excited about is the possible return of some of his iconic characters, and seeing as Murphy has talked about wanting to bring back classic impressions like Gumby and Buckwheat, it only makes sense to revisit some of the comedian’s greatest hits before the big night.
Mister Robinson’s teachings may not have been parent-approved, but hey, kids would’ve learned words like “bastard” and “scumbucket” eventually. Plus, viewers could never see Robinson as totally crooked; Murphy’s parody of a street-smart Fred Rogers was too beguiling, and it remains one of the comedian’s most iconic recurring characters.
Murphy was so electrifying as singer James Brown, with his spot-on mannerisms, that we want him to riff on more than just hot tubs: Mid-century modern design, property taxes, Costco — any boring topic, Murphy could make it compelling.
Before Michael Che transformed into a white woman named Gretchen, Murphy became the briefcase-carrying, Dynasty-watching Mr. White in the mockumentary “White Like Me.” His commentary on white privilege was illuminating, hilarious, and boundary-pushing, especially when it aired in 1984 when Murphy returned to host the show the season after he’d left the cast.
Murphy’s most recurring character was an adult version of Our Gang/The Little Rascals character Buckwheat, still using the “O-tay” catchphrase. Murphy appeared as Buckwheat a dozen times during his stint on the show, even killing him at one time. But according to the final Buckwheat sketch in 1984, the Little Rascals character faked his own death. Thus, it’s totally possible for Murphy to revive his popular impression, even if it’s only so poor Buckwheat can get shot again.
Murphy’s numerous turns as Gumby had everyone on the floor, including the character’s creator, Art Clokey. The animator even said he preferred Murphy’s temperamental green giant over other parodies like MADtv’s, which he felt “went over the line.” That’s because Murphy is Gumby, dammit.
Murphy’s Stevie Wonder was ebony to Frank Sinatra’s (Piscopo) ivory in this 1982 bit (one of three times Murphy impersonated the musician on the show). Their rapport and duet on racial harmony were funny, but our favorite is still the real Wonder appearing by Murphy’s side on SNL a year later, schooling the comedian on how to properly impersonate his singing (unfortunately, the full video isn’t available online). The legendary musician recently volunteered to serve as musical guest on Murphy’s upcoming episode; although Lizzo ended up nabbing the spot, we hope Wonder still makes a cameo this weekend.
We have so many burning questions for the salesman: Is he still hawking his erotic materials, like the I Wanna Be a Ho book? How has #MeToo affected his business model? We may be getting answers soon, as Jones is one of the characters Murphy said he wants to revisit.
Raheem Abdul Muhammed
With Murphy gone for so long, we’ve missed pop-culture critic Raheem’s hot takes on entertainment in the last 35 years, and you know he has thoughts on Euphoria. Raheem was one of Murphy’s first characters on SNL, but the cast member would later pop up behind the “Weekend Update” desk in the same tracksuit to rant as himself. Either way, we want one of them to pay a visit to Che and Colin Jost this Saturday.
SNL airs Saturday at 11:30 p.m. ET/8:30 p.m. PT on NBC.