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Jeneé Osterheldt

When Eddie Murphy returns to SNL, will he be raw?

Eddie Murphy in September.
Eddie Murphy in September.DANIEL DORSA/NYT

My mama loved Eddie Murphy.

And this weekend, wherever she is in the afterlife, she’ll howl deep and disruptive belly laughs during “Saturday Night Live.” It’s been 35 years since the comedian has really rocked the SNL stage, but he’s hype to revive Buckwheat, Gumby, and take a few shots at Bill Cosby, too.

And I hope he doesn’t hold back any more than can fit in that little purse SNL musical guest Lizzo carried to the American Music Awards.

Murphy is legendary. Some remember him for “Dr. Dolittle” and “The Nutty Professor.” But there was nobody funnier than Murphy in the ’80s.


“Raw,” his 1987 comedy concert, is the highest-grossing stand-up film ever. He’s a billion-dollar-box-office leading man. “Beverly Hills Cop” remains the third top-grossing comedy ever.

I was just starting elementary school when “Raw” came out. I can quote it, ”The Golden Child,” and “Coming to America.”

Were they child-proof? Nah. But I had a mama who cursed like a sailor and counted on comedy to get her through hard times. And her challenging times were constant. So I was always in the background, laying on a couch, playing with toys, coloring, and listening.

What do we see in everyone from Dave Chappelle and Kevin Hart to Lil Rel Howery and Jerrod Carmichael? Murphy taught them. His effect on comedy is undeniable. Even his peers, such as Martin Lawrence and Chris Rock, have borrowed Murphy’s swag.

Earlier this year, Lena Waithe remade his 1992 rom-com “Boomerang” into a BET series. His recent soulful and unabashed portrayal of blaxploitation star Rudy Ray Moore in “Dolemite is My Name” has Oscar buzz.

Murphy has the skills to bring humanity and softness to the hard, heavy, and entirely unruly.

I don’t want him to come out on stage and spew hate and hurt folks’ feelings. For his entire career, he’s been double-dutching over problematic lines.


In the first few minutes of “Raw,” Murphy acknowledges his offenses.

“Every now and then I take a joke too far and get in trouble, that’s why I haven’t been on the road for a few years,” he says in all his leather glory.

In 2011, Murphy told Rolling Stone he quit stand-up because of the controversy.

“It stopped being fun,” he said. “In the beginning, it was fun, then I was controversial. Whenever I would do anything, there would be picketing, negative backlash. I thought I should just do movies.”

He needed to apologize for his AIDS jokes and gay slurs. Just like Kevin Hart needed to apologize and Shane Gillis didn’t get canceled, he’s living with the consequences of his prejudice.

After the year we’ve had — honestly, with the unraveling of this whole decade — Murphy is the comedian we deserve to make us laugh through the pain and injustice of a system that produced a president like Donald Trump.

Life is hard. Sometimes it’s cathartic to let it all out in a fit of mad laughter.

“As it is, one can only say, that to the oppressed and unfortunate, to those who suffer, God mercifully grants the divine gift of laughter,” W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in The Mark Twain Quarterly 1942-43 Fall-Winter issue. “These folks are not all black or all white, but with inborn humor, men of all colors and races face the tragedy of life and make it endurable.”


Satire has always been used to expose injustice, hurt, and social ills with laughter. Dave Chappelle used comedy to talk about racism. Hannibal Buress used stand-up to help expose Bill Cosby.

”Political correctness has its place,” Chappelle told The Hill in October. “We all want to live in a polite society. We just kind of have to work on the levels of coming to an agreement of what that actually looks like.”

I’m a feminist woman, a black woman, a black woman with a white mama. Murphy has made jokes about women, about black women, and about white people, period.

I’ve laughed at them all, even when I’m rolling my eyes, even when I’m annoyed, even when I’m in disagreement and uncomfortable. But I also have a certain amount of privilege because of my education, my fair skin, my heterosexuality, and my income.

I fight for my rights and the rights of others, but yet, I still laugh at “Raw.” I still consider “Harlem Nights” and “Boomerang” classics, and I’m excited for the sequel to “Coming to America.” I still think Chappelle deserved the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Perhaps we all don’t just have problematic faves. Maybe we all are problematic faves to someone.

I think of “Tearz,” by Wu-Tang Clan and its Wendy Rene sample in the hook:

After laughter, comes tears

If we can’t laugh at the complicated and messy ways of our human errors, we are only left with tears and rage in reaction to our tragedy.


When Murphy takes the stage on Saturday night, I hope he is as big and bold as he’s always been. I hope he shows his ass, not hatefully, but with the enthusiasm and freedom that Lizzo exuded when she showed hers at that NBA game.

In a Saturday Night Live teaser, Lizzo stands by Murphy and Kenan Thompson, so excited to see Murphy live she can’t help but twerk and make jokes that reference the “Sexual Chocolate” of “Coming to America,” and a Hercules “Nutty Professor” throwback that makes even Murphy and Thompson laugh.

This is the content we deserve. We’re all heartbroken and laughter helps us pick up the pieces when we lay our burdens down and release for just an hour.

And who better than Eddie Murphy, if only for one night, to make everything Otay?

Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sincerelyjenee.

Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com and on Twitter @sincerelyjenee.