Delirious / 1983
dir: Bruce Gowers
Raw / 1987
dir: Robert Townsend
In the final moments of Delirious, Eddie Murphy mentions Marian Anderson, the African-American singer who in 1939 was denied from performing in Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Hall, where Delirious was filmed in August 1983. “Here we are not even fifty years later – a 22-year-old black man onstage gettin’ paid to hold his dick. God bless America.” He drops the mic and leaves the stage, followed by the camera and an attentive entourage through the hall’s tunnels to a feast in his dressing room.
From 1981 to 1990, ages 19 to 29 Eddie Murphy was the biggest celebrity in the country, maybe the world. He started on Saturday Night Live at 19, and would soon begin starring in some of the most iconic comedy and action movies of the decade. Beverly Hills Cop, Trading Places, 48 Hrs., Coming to America (and don’t forget The Golden Child!) – each holding strong as all-time greats. (Maybe not The Golden Child…)
But what really put Murphy on a separate plane were his two stand-up specials, Delirious and Raw. You weren’t about to see any other young comedians doing crossover action movies in 1983; no other action star would be caught dead doing ten minutes of stand up, let alone over an hour. Onstage, Eddie was immature, brash, and ridiculously crude; the candid style, rapid-fire pace, and loose structure reminded the audiences of just How Fucking Cool he was, and they ate it up. Twenty-five and thirty years later, though, the vulgarity and the bluntness and the outfits leave Murphy looking unhinged, deep into some ego (cocaine) fueled tirades that have become increasingly less resonant with anyone that isn’t Eddie Murphy.
These specials – 1987’s Raw was actually a theatrically released concert film directed by Robert Townsend that grossed over fifty million dollars – document the divide between Eddie Murphy: Mega Star and Eddie Murphy: Human Being. Obviously, those halves had to meet somewhere. The necessity of red and purple leather suits, however, is less apparent.