Richard Pryor and Chris Rock both talked about painful experiences in their youth that informed their comedy, but Eddie Murphy has said he was just a class clown. Did you take the pain from your youth and turn it into laughs? Or were you just a clown?
I think it was a little bit of both for me. The class clown, sometimes you don’t know what he’s going thru at home— that’s why he’s doing what he’s doing in school. Because he feels great around his peers, that’s how I was. But people didn’t know certain things when I wrote my book, I Am The New Black, but they found out what was going on. Nobody knew that I had been touched by my baby sitter at eight years old—she touched me. Nobody knew that. My mother didn’t even know that. Nobody knew that my father was a junkie from Vietnam—even though I love my father—and he left the house when I was six years old. They didn’t know that pain. Not in school, they just thought I was being the ‘class clown.’ They didn’t know that my oldest brother was crippled and that it broke my mother’s heart. And then I was born and then my sister was born who was the only girl and I was born in between that stuff. That’s what makes me a comedian, that what comedy is, turning tragedy inside out.
So all of that combined was ‘your pain’?
That, and the fact that growing up I felt like if I didn’t get any love. I didn’t know my mother loved me until I was a grown ass man. But then I manned up and realized, ‘Oh, I must have been the strong one.’ That’s why I’m where I’m at. I’m strong one. My mother loved me, it’s just that her husband was a junkie, and then she had to raise five of us, then her older son was crippled and her daughter was right there and my two youngest brothers they were the babies— so yeah, that was my pain.
Another difficult episode in your life was the drinking problem you had a few years back. Can we talk about that a little?
If it’s gonna help somebody else to stop let’s talk about it. But I’lll say this, when you’ve got Jesus in your life you don’t need it [alcohol.]
So what made you start drinking?
What made me start was the pressure. Being funny, fitting in, being all this and not having anyone else [to talk to do.] This [fame] thing doesn’t come with instructions, and I didn’t have anybody to go to and ask how to do this, so I would go to the clubs and everybody else was drinking. I thought I was just having fun, then I started getting in trouble and it was well documented. That’s what made me start [drinking.] I started making money, having money not having someone there to guide me. It’s what it is for a lot of yes people, just living the life of decadence and debauchery. And I went through it cause I thought that’s what I had to do.
And what made you stop?
What made me stop is when I woke up and my wife who I was with for 21 years, Sabina Morgan left me. She wanted off the rollercoaster. And that was it. I thought I was winning because I was on TV, I had money but I loss. And when we got divorced, I was like, ‘whatever she wants give it to her.’ And I love her, she’s still my best friend. Twenty-one years later, nothings changed— we still say I love you. Sabina still gets on my nerves sometimes, but that’s my girl, that’s my baby. So having gone through all of this—it’s made me a better man, rather than just a funny man. I’ve always wanted to be a good man, a better man.