Editor’s Note – This is a Guest Post from my good buddy Dan Sweet who runs an unbelievably economical and well-written movie review blog over at Sweet On Film. I asked him to review one of the most popular comedy specials of all time: Eddie Murphy’s Delirious.
I’ve come to the realization that a person’s view of Eddie Murphy drastically depends on when they were born. For someone like myself, who was born in 1984, Eddie Murphy is foremost an actor who starred in famous R-rated comedies such as Coming To America and the Beverly Hills Cop series. People who were born in the 90’s most likely think of Eddie Murphy as an actor in family friendly movies like Shrek, Dr. Doolittle, and The Nutty Professor. However, anyone born before the 80’s knows a totally different Eddie Murphy. That Eddie Murphy not only was the star of Saturday Night Live, but a force in stand up comedy whose energetic delivery and controversial material helped him pack theaters across the country. I had heard tales of this Eddie Murphy before, but I had never seen him for myself.
As a fan of stand up comedy, I had always wanted to watch Delirious. I have heard many comedians over the years reference Eddie Murphy, and this special in particular, as an influence on them. Not to mention that red leather jumpsuit is more iconic than any outfit in the history of comedy. So with much excitement and curiosity, I sat down to watch this special with very little idea of what to expect.
Although he was already thought of as controversial in the 80’s, Delirious starts off with a bit that would most likely get him fired from any job today. He begins by referring to gay men using a certain disparaging word and stating a rule that they aren’t allowed to look at his ass while he is on stage. He then proceeds to explain that he is afraid of gay people and has nightmares about going to Hollywood and discovering that some of his favorite actors are gay. This segues into a bit on how straight girls are hanging out with gay guys now and he doesn’t want his girl to come home with AIDS on her lips from kissing them. While watching this, I couldn’t help but think of the 2008 Louis CK special Chewed Up. That special begins with Louis calling an audience member by the same derogatory term, and then proceeds to go into a very well performed bit in which he negates the usual connotations from that word and others, by using them in a different context. Eddie Murphy on the other hand was not trying to do such a thing. It is very possible that in 1983 the views he is portraying on stage might have been commonly held by a lot of people, but when watching it in 2014, it just comes across as embarrassing and blatantly homophobic.
Fortunately, he soon moves on to other material and that is where he truly demonstrates why he is so highly regarded as a comedian. Throughout the rest of the special he performs many impressions, sings beautifully, and delivers jokes that play just as well in 2014 as they did in the 80’s. All while demonstrating impressive stage presence and managing to interact with an audience of thousands in a way that makes the performance feel much more intimate. The fact that he pulls all of this off at the age of 22 is simply ridiculous. When analyzing any artistic endeavor that is several decades old, you need to look at it context, and comedy is certainly no different. While some of his material is dated in the worst way, and some in a humorous way, there are enough laughs in Delirious for me to understand why it is thought of as a classic.