Charlie Murphy has been in movies since he was nine. But he shot to fame as a storyteller in 2004, when on Chappelle’s Show he described encounters with celebrities he met as head of security for his younger brother Eddie (you may have heard of him). After he introduced his “True Hollywood Stories”—about how he came to kick Rick James across a hotel room and have the odd pleasure of being served pancakes by Prince—some enterprising folk dared Charlie to try standup in a club setting. He’s been on the circuit ever since.
CHARLIE MURPHY Jan 11 Neptune Theatre stgpresents.org
Where did you get your sense of humor from?
I guess from my DNA. We’re second-generation entertainment. My dad, before he became a police officer, did standup. My Uncle Ray who just passed away last month, God bless him, was a standup comedian.
How does being brother to a comedy legend affect you?
I’m unfairly compared to him. Somebody on Twitter said like three days ago, “I just seen your show in Nashville. You’re no Eddie.” So I messaged him back: “You’re right, I’m not. And who out there is?” And he had no answer. But people do that. Producers do that.
Feeling your own sense of self worth, all that was part of the journey. Whenever I leave this country and get off the plane in another country, people come up to me and they say, “Charlie Murphaayyyy!” But it’s only here in this country, where I’m from, that I can get off the plane and hear: “Eddie Murphy’s brother!” For years, that was like a negative thing for me.
Is there any material about your family that’s off limits?
No! In fact, in my show, I let people ask me questions. I’m doing it as an improv exercise, but I always turn it into a joke.
What was your first standup set like?
It was crazy. My instructions were, “We want you to just go up there and talk and be yourself. Talk about whatever you want to talk about. But talk about it the way you talk to us about stuff.” I sat on a stool, and I looked down at the floor. I didn’t even look at the people, and they was laughing, and I was like, “Is this really happening right here?” I kept doing it, they kept laughing, and it started feeling good. I was supposed to be there for three minutes—I stayed for 15. The very next day, I was so proud of myself. They called and said, “We’re going back tonight, man, we’re gonna do four clubs,” and I was horrified. I was like, “That was luck last night, bro. Why you gotta keep making me do this till something bad happens?”
Was this before or after Chappelle?
I never did standup till after Chappelle’s Show. Let’s say you met me in the ’80s. I was like, I’ma get a career doing movies where I beat people up. I’m good at stuff like that, man, to roll with the mean guys. It wasn’t about making people laugh. And there is a transition that goes along with this. You know comedy has hecklers. And a good comic dispatches a heckler with his mouth. I handle you intellectually, and people appreciate that, man. But in the beginning, I didn’t have that confidence. So whoever heckled me, I used to go really, like, crazy, for about the first year. I remember Dave Chappelle was like, [impersonates Chappelle] “Charlie, I seen how you handling them hecklers. I’ma tell you right now, it’s a matter of time before you run into Charlie Murphy. What’s gonna happen then? It’s gonna be something bad.”
Is there anyone you get starstruck around?
When I seen Muhammad Ali, I was starstruck. I was starstruck [chuckles] by Kareem Jabbar, he almost beat me up on a plane. I know what I did was wrong, you know? I touched him. [shouts] “Kareem Jabbar!” and I grabbed his arm and I had an eaglelike clutch on his shoulder. I know I would get mad if somebody did that to me.
Do you have any storytelling tips?
Don’t be afraid to let your imagination wander. Let your imagination be a part of it. That’s all I’m actually doing. I’m taking something that you already know, that you’re already familiar with, and adding my imagination to it.
Do you have plans while you’re here to see any sights?
I’m not there to sight see, I’m not there to party, I’m not there to do anything but the show. Everything else I’m not there to do. If anything’s gonna go wrong, that’s the way it’s gonna go wrong. I go to the hotel and watch movies. I go over my stuff, I read, just take it easy and relax. When the show is over, there’s a million people saying, “Oh we got a party over here, a strip club over there, we could go to my house over here…” I can imagine if I was doing all the other stuff, I probably would have had a nervous breakdown by now or just kicked out.
What makes you laugh?
Life. My jokes is all about things you’re very familiar with: what’s going on in politics, what’s going on in parenting, what’s going on in schools, what’s going on around the world, global economy. My show is questioning, Is it really going on? Or is something in the water, ’cause this shit is crazy. Things like a white man, Dave Wilson, pretending that he’s black in a black community in Houston and getting elected to office. That’s unbelievable! That never happened before! It happened yesterday. Life is an acid trip.
I used to talk about, years before Blackfish [the documentary about an orca at SeaWorld] came on, that they had a killer whale that killed three people in San Diego, and you guys are still going to the show. They show him at the end of the movie in the tank just floating like a log. You go to the show, you get the show, and then you go on about your life. You don’t even think about what’s happening to whoever did that show? That’s messed up, man. Soon as everybody leaves, it’s like now here’s the rest of your life. Wow. That’s why I’m in control of the rest of my life. What are you going to do after the show? You going to the strip club? Here’s the rest of your life. Or you gonna go to a party at somebody’s house you don’t know? Here’s the rest of your life. You gonna hang out and spend a lot of money and drink and all that and blah blah blah, stay up all night long and gonna be tired and stay in the next day? Here’s the rest of your life. I’m into touch with that.