One of the greatest disappointments of Eddie Murphy's decline into slack family-movie purgatory—Dreamgirls excepted—is that he used to work so hard. Watching the 1983 HBO special Delirious now, it's startling how engaged Murphy is, commanding an arena full of fans with an act as exuberantly raunchy as Richard Pryor's in his prime. It isn't as riotous or profound as Pryor, mainly because Murphy apes his idol too much, right down to the multi-voiced sketches about childhood and relationships. Or maybe Delirious doesn't seem so hilarious now because anyone who grew up in the '80s heard most of its best routines over and over, mainly from friends at school. But on a performance level, Delirious is still exciting. It showcases Murphy's magnetism, even as his ridiculous red leather suit and unironic jokes about "faggots" hint at the steely, closed-off movie star he was about to become. As a document of one of the 1980s' dominant personalities, Delirious is fascinating even when it isn't funny.
The same can't be said of Paul Mooney's new stand-up DVD Know Your History—Jesus Was Black So Was Cleopatra. Mooney is a comic legend, responsible for writing some of Richard Pryor's best material and discovering one-of-a-kind talents like Sandra Bernhard and Jim Carrey. But as a performer, he's too self-satisfied by half. It isn't just that his jokes aren't funny—though bits about how black Mexicans "can pick oranges and breakdance" are painfully dumb—but that he frequently pauses, Carlos Mencia-like, to applaud himself for his courageous insight. And when Mooney isn't stroking himself, Know Your History brings in other comedians to rave about how Mooney speaks "a lot of truth" when, for example, he points out how George Walker Bush Jr.'s name adds up to 666. To his credit, Mooney's conversational style is engaging, and he occasionally hits a streak where the jokes are moderately amusing and even as boldly honest as he thinks they are. But generally, Mooney seems like he'd be a great guy to pal around with only if he'd let you tell him how full of shit he is.
Key features: A jovial, surprisingly probing 35-minute Byron Allen interview with Murphy on Delirious, and further Mooney worship on a Know Your History featurette.