Every year since 1998, the Kennedy Center has awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor to some of the greats of American Humor–and also Lorne Michaels. The 18th Annual award will be presented to Eddie Murphy on Sunday, October 18th. Tickets still available. I would be happy to attend said gala with you should you have an extra ticket (and tuxedo).
Murphy’s importance for American humor is clear, despite some movies in the 1990s that weren’t so great.
“Eddie Murphy has kept us laughing for 30 years. He’s like Mark Twain. He gets to the heart of a provocative issue, and he’s damn funny while he’s doing it,” said Cappy McGarr, one of the show’s executive producers. “He has had incredible influence over so many comedians who have followed him.”
Growing up, for me Saturday Night Live was Eddie Murphy–Buckwheat, Gumby, Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood, James Brown… only later did I see the original cast. From that period, almost all the sketches I remember were Murphy. And they were hilarious.
At school, we would quote lines from Murphy as part of our everyday patter. But I also remember the satire of Murphy’s “White Like Me” video causing me to think about race and privilege in ways I hadn’t before.
I also watched Murphy’s stand-up specials when I was much too young for such language. Here, I should thank my brother, who also let me watch Trading Places and 48 Hours.
While some of Murphy’s work hasn’t held up, his brilliance as a comic is unquestionable, and his influence American comedy is clear. Most years, the Mark Twain Forum has some grumbling when the Mark Twain Prize is announced–discussion of whether the recipient is worthy of Mark Twain’s legacy. No such discussion this year.