Review by Yvonne Kendall
Originally posted February 10th, 2014
Norbit’s Older Brother:
A Night with Charlie Murphy at Caroline’s on Broadway
Not a Review
“Martini, mojito, Michelob, margarita?,” the waiter confidently inquired, balancing a tray high in the shadows above our table. “No,” we kindly replied, “We didn’t order those.” “Oh,” she hurried away.
Eddie Murphy, one of the pantheon of rapid-fire improvisers capable of riffing through multiple characters without breaking a sweat, has starred in 38 films since 1982: he’s large and in charge. This had to be a hard act to follow, especially if you’re his two-years-older brother and got in trouble as a teen. Charlie Murphy, Eddie’s brother, served 10 months in detention, then decided to clean up his act. On the very day he stepped out of jail, he rolled straight into the U.S. Navy recruitment office and signed up. After serving six years, he decided to create a new act. Soon as he tacked ashore, with help from his brother he spliced together a career based on pieces of acting and writing for film and television supplemented with video game voiceovers, and bits of stand-up comedy, all documented in his 2012 book, The Making of a Stand-Up Guy.
I’d gotten used to Charlie Murphy (for some reason, he’s always known by both names) in his common role as a streetwise sidekick in films like Harlem Nights, Mo’ Better Blues, et al. The nearest he ever got to a stand-out performance was in recurring appearances in “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories.” In these Chappelle Show sketches, Murphy serves as laconic narrator to some dreamscape encounters that might be the second cousin, once removed, to Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” incident.
In one story, after a concert appearance, he and his crew played “shirts v. blouses” basketball with—the artist known then, but-not-then, now-once-again as—Prince and his Beau- Brummelled entourage. Sneering from shadow world of stereotypes, Charlie Murphy and pals expect to wipe the floor with his royal purpleness and the fancy-pants crew, but were, instead, pantsed. Turns out, Prince and Court could really play some ball. Charlie Murphy just bemusedly flashes his super megawatt grin and gently shrugs his shoulders in a “who knew?” fashion.
“Stella, champagne, chardonnay, whiskey sour?” she hopefully inquired for a third time. “No,” we tiredly replied, “We didn’t order those.” “Oh,” she scurried away.
I was seated at a microscopic table barely big enough for me. Three strangers were brought over to share this “space.” Crammed together in the darkened comedy club with its bright Pierrot diamonds illuminating the walls, we envied canned sardines their spacious accommodations.
My friendly new tablemates, a thirty-something married couple and their middle-aged friend, were clearly buzzed about a night out. The husband wore pressed jeans with his spiffy polo shirt and a close-cropped fade, while his wife bulged here and there from her short-sleeved faux satin dress divided by an unwisely thin belt with a diamante buckle. It was the kind of outfit my mother (hopefully, but not necessarily, out of earshot) would have called “cheap” with a devastating admixture of scorn and sympathy. The friend, in her leopard skin top and dark jacket, sported a jaunty cap. They were eager in their knowledge of comedians:
Polo Shirt: Chris Tucker isn’t funny.
Faux Satin: Yeah, he’s loud, but he’s not funny.
Jaunty Cap: Oh I thought he was okay.
Polo Shirt: No, he’s definitely not funny. But Eddie Griffin is really funny.
Faux Satin, chuckling: That’s right, I remember him from last time.
Jaunty Cap: He’s so funny.
Faux Satin: And what about Gary Owen?
Polo Shirt, with a guffaw: He’s really funny.
“Pinot, Pepsi, amaretto sour, pale ale?” she rather desperately pleaded. “Yes, those are ours.” “Oh,” she relaxed.
Right on time. Kind of. We got our drinks, but before we could take two sips, big food platters teetered on our tiny tables just as the show took off. And then we forgot the tight squeeze, the late drinks, the mediocre food, because Charlie Murphy was funny. When he couldn’t remember Paul Ryan’s name, but instead referred to him as Eddie Munster, we howled. Though common now, it was fresh at the time. As leitmotif, he kept returning to his one experience with LSD and its capability to mess with your reality forever, hence the “Acid Trip Tour” moniker for his current act. In the best tradition of Pagliacci, he mentioned the cancer that took his wife’s life after 17 years of marriage, leaving him as a single father of a boy and, with greater challenge, a girl. Deftly questioning: “Is this real or am I butt-naked in the county lockup,” he obviously hoped the vague recollection he had of himself as a grown man doing Barbie’s hair might not be real. And when he spliced together a tale of SeaWorld with the kids, repatriated killer Killer whales, and the Casey Anthony verdict, the audience went wild with his quip that as an un-convicted murderer, Anthony could get a job with the other murderers at the theme park. No more Mr. Sidekick, Charlie Murphy killed.
Note: Charlie Murphy’s “Acid Trip” tour has recently been filmed for DVD release.
Yvonne Kendall is a second year MFA student in creative nonfiction and literary translation. She has read as part of the Lamprophonic Writers Series and at the KGB Bar. An essay on humor and irony in Negro Spirituals is forthcoming in a volume on irony and music to be published by Ashgate Press. Yvonne is a political contributor to chocolatecity.cc.