You have to give Charlie Murphy credit. When you are the brother of one of the biggest comedians and movie stars to ever walk the earth (that’s Mr. Eddie Murphy to you), living under such an immense shadow can be suffocating. But for Charlie, it was just another challenge to meet head on. The hilariously deadpan writer, who found his voice during a memorable run on the game-changing Chappelle’s Show with his uproarious True Hollywood Stories sketches, has since cleared another hurdle: respected standup comedian. VIBE sat down with Charlie to discuss why he was shocked that Prince used his infamous pancake sketch as album art for his newest single, how he looks at his brother and other comedians as the enemy, and why his upcoming standup special will go down as some of his best work.—Keith Murphy (@murphdogg29)
Charlie Murphy: It was all over Twitter and Facebook…all over the place. For many years after that came out I thought that Prince didn’t like me because of that sketch. I’ve seen him a couple of times, but then I realized it wasn’t that he disliked me. He just has a different type of energy. I’m very regular when it comes to hanging out with other guys. If you act mysterious around me I want to slap the shit out of you [laughs]. But that’s just Prince; that’s what makes him great. I wanted to mess his hair up and tell him to put some Levis on. But seriously, big up to Prince and much success to his new record. I love all of his music. The fact that he made this record “Breakfast Can Wait” and he merged something that links us all together that…that’s great.
When you, Dave and the crew were filming the Prince sketch, did you realize you were creating something special?
Not at all…not at all. You can’t predict lightening. It happened and people said, “Wow.” It’s kind of like what’s going on with Lee Daniel’s The Butler. I saw Lee up in Maine. My kid’s camp is up there, and he was all laidback. I asked Lee, “Hey man…what are you doing up here?” And he tells me the story of how he just screened his movie for George Bush. And that was the big deal at that time! But when the movie came out and I saw him the very next morning on all the news stations being interviewed that told me that The Butler was huge. Not the fact that Lee screened it for President Bush, but the fact that the general public gave it a thumbs up. That is who your target is…not another artist or politician. It’s about the general public. All this means that I’m a part of something that was a home run, out of the park. We connected in a huge way. I can always be proud of that.
What was the funniest reaction you received from the Prince sketch?
I seen Morris Day [lead singer of the legendary Prince created band the Time] in Atlanta and he didn’t look me in the eye, man. He was talking to me, but he was looking away. It made me feel, “Is he worried that I’m going to do a Morris Day story? Is this what’s going on?” [Laughs] People think that I’m going to write a True Hollywood Story about them and everybody is going to be laughing. Because that wasn’t my intention when I wrote the Prince story.
It’s been over a decade since the Chappelle Show ended. How has your transition to doing standup comedy gone? It has to be a kick to prove people wrong, right?
It’s been a riot. It’s been fun. But all the people that have been wondering if I could pull this off and wondering if it was real, that’s human nature. Given the opportunity to do this I’m not going to make a fool of myself or besmirch my brother’s legacy. Before I started doing standup, I knew that I had what it takes to develop an act. I went down to clubs with not many people there and I just worked on it, man. A lot of my friends are comedians, so that part had a lot of encouragement, even though the shows were very caveman like.
You were pretty raw back then, huh?
I really was. Back then, I was able to get over because Chappelle’s Show was so hot. A lot of people were coming out not because “Oh, this is Charlie Murphy, the funny comedian.” They just wanted to see Charlie Murphy, the guy that did those skits on Chappelle. So that brought them in, and then when they got there they saw that I was okay. Being okay was enough back then. But now 12 years later, being okay is not enough. If I didn’t develop into a real standup, I wouldn’t still be doing it.
Was there anyone on the road that you looked at and said, “I like what they are doing…I want to go that direction…?”
Nope. There’s no one on the road that I tried to pattern myself after. There’s no one in history that I tried to pattern myself after. Because one thing I was told that in standup you want to develop your own voice. There are other guys right now who are big names. They are not going to be around forever. I know where they got their whole shit from. It’s stolen…their persona, their tone…everything they do that people like is stolen from another comedian.
Anyone we know?
I’m not naming names. But they steal other people’s jokes. Eventually they are going to fizzle out because they never developed their own voice. Even if you get super hot you can’t maintain stolen goods.
Is Eddie your hardest critic?
Absolutely not. The audience is my hardest and best critic. I don’t perform in front of my brother every night. At this point I don’t even care what Eddie thinks [laughs]. When I go onstage at night there’s an audience of people there that came to see me. It’s not like I’m sitting there on a panel with Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, and Martin Lawrence. It doesn’t work like that. I don’t care what any of those guys think. I’m not being arrogant or disrespectful, but I’ve been around long enough doing this to now look at any of them and say, “I’ll eat you.” That’s what I’m in this to do. I’m not in this to just be one of the guys. I’m in this to be one of the best.
Can you talk about the stand-up special you have coming up?
I’m about to do my next comedy special this coming October, which will be a direct download. I’m just getting everything tight for that, and I’m doing it live. It’s going to be called Acid Trip, and it’s appropriately named. This is my second one…for all those who really doubted me they can ask someone, “Is this really happening?” Yes, it is happening. I didn’t sit on my hands to wait for somebody to do it for me. I did the work. Just log in and watch it all across the globe. It’s a Lex Luthor program…I’m trying to get a couple of million bucks in just one night and not split it with anyone.