Eddie Murphy is returning to Saturday Night Live on Saturday, December 21 — and it is actually his first time ever hosting the show in its 45 seasons on the air. Here’s what you need to know about Murphy’s history with SNL.
Eddie Murphy Started at SNL in 1980
Murphy joined the cast in 1980 at the age of 19. It was a time of great upheaval at Studio 8H. Producer Lorne Michaels and the show’s original writers and cast members had all departed at the end of the 1979-1980 season and the ratings were tanking.
New executive producer Jean Doumanian hired a group of new cast members that included Gilbert Gottfried, Joe Piscopo, Charles Rocket, Yvonne Hudson, and a virtually unknown 19-year-old comedian named Eddie Murphy.
Murphy quickly became popular with viewers and was promoted to series regular (he had started as a featured player). By the end of the season 1980-1981 season, where the show had still continued to limp along in the ratings, everyone on the cast was fired except Piscopo and Murphy. It was in the 1981-1982 season that Murphy’s star took off like a rocket, as he created the iconic characters of Buckwheat, Dion, Gumby, Mister Robinson, and Velvet Jones. He also became known for doing spot-on impressions of Muhammad Ali, James Brown, Bill Cosby, Jesse Jackson, Michael Jackson, Mr. T, and more.
Murphy is Credited With Saving the Show
In a 2015 interview with ThinkProgress, James A. Miller, who authored the book Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers and Guests, said that Murphy was “vital” in saving the show from cancellation all those years ago.
“He saved the franchise. I think there are a lot of arguments to be made over who may have been the best cast member or the funniest cast member, but I think 19-year-old Eddie Murphy hopped on Saturday Night Live at a time when its future was very uncertain. It was a time when it was without its godfather, Lorne Michaels. It was a time when there weren’t a lot of other standouts in the cast … Many others played critical roles in SNL reaching 40 years on the air. But Eddie was vital,” said Miller.
In the book, Chris Rock also said that Murphy was the “biggest star” of SNL and “anybody who says different is making a racist argument.”
But He Wasn’t Happy and Wanted Out
As Murphy took off as an SNL star, his comedy and movie careers were also taking off like rockets. And then Murphy started to feel like SNL wasn’t that funny anymore and he wanted out.
“I can’t wait to leave. I don’t like the show, I don’t think the show is funny. I hate it,” Murphy told Rolling Stone in 1984, just before he was set to make his final appearance.
He later added, “I haven’t written very much this season, and I think it shows. I don’t think I’m funny. Do you know why? Because I approached the show this season like, ‘Look, I got 10 f*cking shows. I’m doing them and getting the fuck outta here. I hate this fucking place.’ And when you don’t like what you’re doing, it shows — which is very bad, and I apologize for doing it.”
Murphy Only Returned Briefly Once Before Now
Over the years, a lot of the cast has returned to the show to guest host once they’ve departed as a regular cast member, but Murphy never has. For a while, he had a lot of animosity toward the show because it sometimes made fun of his post-SNL career.
“They were sh*tty to me on Saturday Night Live a couple of times after I’d left the show. They said some shitty things,” Murphy told Rolling Stone in a 2011 interview. “There was that David Spade sketch [when Spade showed a picture of Murphy around the time of Vampire in Brooklyn and said, ‘Look, children, a falling star’]. I made a stink about it, it became part of the folklore. What really irritated me about it at the time was that it was a career shot. It was like, ‘Hey, come on, man, it’s one thing for you guys to do a joke about some movie of mine, but my career? I’m one of you guys. How many people have come off this show whose careers really are fucked up, and you guys are shitting on me?’ And you know every joke has to go through all the producers, and ultimately, you know Lorne or whoever says, [Lorne Michaels voice] ‘OK, it’s OK to make this career crack…’
“I felt sh*tty about that for years, but now, I don’t have none of that. I wouldn’t go to retrospectives, but I don’t let it linger. I saw David Spade four years ago. Chris Rock was like, ‘Do you guys still hate each other?’ and I was like, ‘I don’t hate David Spade, I’m cool with him.'”
Murphy did appear on the star-studded 40th-anniversary show, but he famously refused to participate in a sketch making fun of Bill Cosby, who at that time had started to be embroiled in a sexual assault scandal that eventually landed him in prison. Instead, Chris Rock paid tribute to Murphy in a funny monologue, then Murphy simply came out and said a few words about his time on the show.
“This show was such a big part of who I am and my life and I’m so happy to be back here,” said Murphy. “It’s just a magical feeling. It actually feels like going back to my old high school. It’s a good feeling. I’m really happy that so many people here value the stuff I did 35 years ago on this show. It makes me really happy. I’ll always love this show and let’s keep on, let’s have some more show.”
But Murphy Is Now Ready to Do SNL Full Blast
In an interview leading up to his Saturday Night Live hosting gig, Murphy told the Today Show that they’re definitely going to be bringing back some of his iconic characters — and he might be busting out that Cosby impression this time, as long as it’s “really, really funny.”
“We’re talking about a Gumby thing, we’re talking about a Buckwheat thing, we’re talking about a Bill Coby thing, maybe. It’ll be very funny. I don’t know if he would think it was funny,” says Murphy with a laugh. “Mr. Robinson, Velvet Jones, I’m down for whatever, as long as it’s really, really funny.”
He also says that he’s been wanting to host the show since making that appearance at the 40th anniversary special five years ago. He tells Al Roker that he was a little “ambivalent” about appearing on the special before he went on stage, but afterward, he had nothing but good feelings and was glad he had done it.
“I may have been ambivalent before [the show], but then when I got in here, I felt this spirit in this room and I saw all the other people that worked on this show over the years and I felt this kinship. I felt like, ‘Wow. We have this thing in common’ and it was this great feeling. Since then, I’ve been wanting to [host],” says Murphy.
Eddie Murphy’s full return to Saturday Night Live airs Saturday, December 21 beginning at 11:35 p.m. ET/8:35 p.m. PT because NBC is airing the show live across all timezones.