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Eddie Murphy didn’t always need a fat suit to play multiple characters

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Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Obvious Child, featuring Jenny Slate as a struggling comedian, has us thinking back on some of our favorite stand-up specials and comedy concerts.

Eddie Murphy Raw (1987)

Before Coming To America, before The Nutty Professor, and long before Norbit, Eddie Murphy proved he could occupy the skin of multiple characters without the aid of elaborate prosthetic work. Raw, his 1987 blockbuster stand-up movie, remains the fullest showcase of the comedian’s gift for impression. Over a long, consistently hilarious set at Felt Forum in New York, Murphy imitates Michael Jackson, Mr. T, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, an Italian hothead, a Jamaican lothario, an African trophy wife, philandering guys, gold-digging women, and—in the film’s showstopper of a final bit—his own inebriated, self-aggrandizing father. He’s a one-man Saturday Night Live, and there’s a control of inflection and facial expression on display that marks Murphy as one of the great comics of his generation. It’s no wonder the full show was never released in an audio-only format. Simply hearing Eddie perform would do no justice to his animated, physical approach to the craft.


Nearly 30 years later, Raw is still the highest grossing comedy concert ever to open in theaters. That probably has less to do with how flat-out great it is and more to do with when it was released: Murphy was already a huge movie star in ’87, and had appeared in one of the biggest hits of his career, Beverly Hills Cop II, just a few months earlier. Raw thrived off the man’s celebrity, but it also used his overexposure as a marketing tactic, promising an “uncensored,” “uncut” version of an artist whose edginess was already being sanded down by Hollywood. Regardless of whether the headliner selected his jokes with controversy in mind, there’s no disputing the politically incorrect fervor of his material.

Thankfully, the rampant homophobia of 1983’s Delirious is mostly MIA, relegated almost exclusively to an opening callback. Murphy instead devotes the bulk of his set to deeply cynical observations about gender; in his bleak worldview, all men are unfaithful, all women are vindictive, and most relationships are doomed to implode. (His late-film advice that everyone find a nice partner and settle down feels almost obligatory—a Band-Aid slapped onto the gaping wound created by his harsh truths.) But one need not take the philosophy as gospel to appreciate the manner in which it’s delivered. Beyond the charismatic swagger and the blue streak of “filth flarn filth,” Murphy is an excellent storyteller, capable of occupying multiple sides of a conversation. Raw builds to his best anecdote, moving from a fist fight in a club—complete with inner monologue, as the comic wrestles with his ego—to a long, inspired telephone conversation with his father. He simply becomes these characters. No fat suits required.


Availability: Raw is available on DVD, to rent or purchase through the major digital services, and to stream on Netflix.