Charlie Murphy heads to Rockland as 'real comedian'
As Eddie Murphy's brother and Dave Chappelle's on-camera muse, Charlie Murphy has reaped the benefits of comic credibility for decades. But after 10 years of honing his own stand-up, he may be most familiar to audiences these days as, well, Charlie Murphy.
"When people come see me, they know they're not coming to see a gimmick," said Murphy, who's performing Thursday through Saturday at Levity Live in West Nyack. "They're coming to see a real comedian."
Murphy insists that, as a kid growing up in Roosevelt, Long Island, he never saw himself taking that career path. "I never thought, 'Oh, yeah, I'm a funny guy,'" he said. "It was just my personality. I look back, and thought I was funny, but I wasn't thinking that, you know, being who I was back then."
Taking a more direct route, however, was younger brother Eddie, who was in his late teens when he joined the "Saturday Night Live" cast in 1980, and who followed that up with now-legendary stand-up specials "Delirious" (1983) and "Raw" (1987).
Charlie says he never worries about comparisons with his brother's oft-repeated stand-up routines.
"When Eddie was developing those sets, I was in the military; my brain was in another place while he was doing that," said Murphy, who served with the Navy in the late '70s and early '80s. "He did a great job between those legendary [shows], and when I decided to get into stand-up, I also knew that that was taboo. Anything associated with Eddie Murphy as far as stand-up [is concerned] is taboo for Charlie Murphy. Another comedian can, you know, study him and take on some of Eddie's subtleties and nuances, or maybe even straight-up rip off one of his jokes, but I can't do any of that, because the moment I remind a person of Eddie, I become LaToya Jackson."
That's not to say Charlie's early progress as a stand-up comedian was easy. Unlike comedians who have the benefit of being relatively anonymous while they refine their routines, Murphy says his professional growing pains were under a microscope.
"Every mistake I made was seen, you know?" said Murphy, who toured internationally while crafting his act. "And I was judged on it, as if I'm not supposed to make that mistake. But, you know, everybody makes the mistakes I made. Everybody has failures; everybody bombs, the whole nine. You name the person [in comedy], they have that common experience. That's what makes you a comedian."
According to Murphy, there's a fundamental divide between his own stand-up and his brother Eddie's vintage material. "The biggest difference is that he was doing stand-up when he was 21; I'm 52, so that's a huge difference," he said. "When I talk about the subjects I talk about, and the way I approach them, it's not the way a 21-year-old man would. I've lived a whole lot longer than him [at that time]. ... I've traveled the world; I've been married twice; I've got four kids; I've got a political sensibility and sensitivity that most 21-year-olds don't have."
One could argue that, in the entertainment sphere, Charlie has become Eddie's peer, especially of late. But that doesn't mean that he was looking to take over as host of the Academy Awards ceremony once Eddie stepped down last year.
"It would have been really interesting, but I think it would have felt weird," he said, laughing. "I's like, I'm sure they'd ask me, 'So, what big movies have you been in lately?'"
To be fair, Murphy's stepped up his cinematic presence in recent years, both as an actor ("Roll Bounce," "Night at the Museum") and as a writer ("Norbit" topped the domestic box office in its opening week in 2007).
As part of Comedy Central's groundbreaking sketch series, "Chappelle's Show," Murphy became a breakout star for chronicling his experiences with Prince (played by Chappelle) and Rick James (played by both Chappelle and James, himself), in a recurring segment called "Charlie Murphy's True Hollywood Stories." Over time, Murphy learned how those singers felt about their portrayals.
"[James] laughed, laughed and kept laughing," he recalled. "It was universally accepted as funny. ... [Prince] is a whole different situation, right there ... He didn't want to be involved with it. Not at all. Not at all. [But, lately,] I've seen him associating with Dave, hanging out with Dave."
Although Murphy thought he'd contribute a bit to the show and be on his way, Chappelle kept him on the writing staff. He says he's grateful for the opportunity and inspiration that Chappelle provided, and that he has a new perspective about Chappelle's decision to leave $25 million on the table rather than return to Comedy Central for two more seasons.
"I was in shock and in disbelief," Murphy said. "Now, I have a totally different perspective, because none of this stuff that I'm doing right now would have happened [if Chappelle didn't leave]. I wouldn't be a stand-up comedian if he didn't."
IF YOU GO
Who: Charlie Murphy
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, July 19; 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., Friday, July 20; 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., Saturday, July 21; 7 p.m., Sunday, July 22
Info: Levity Live, 4210 Palisades Center Dr., West Nyack; 845-353-5400; www.levitylive.com; $27, with a two-item minimum per person