Midway through what we’d now yawningly call an ”un-PC rant,” Murphy – sleek, cocky, indomitable – declares himself a realist. (The subject is the inherent vindictiveness of women, balanced against the inherent unfaithfulness of men – good old equal-opportunity stereotyping.) It’s the comedian’s ultimate defense against charges of egregiousness: the appeal to regular-guyness. Of course, Murphy, at his buff, leather-clad ’80s peak, was anything but a regular guy. Watching his deft, effortless character work chafe against the outermost boundaries of the stand-up format, you sense the transgressive energy of Richard Pryor filtered through leading-man charisma – albeit tinged with hostile paranoia.
Which isn’t to say you laugh. Mostly, you smile nostalgically, and wince a bit. Murphy’s most famous material has been either culturally internalized (remember when scatology wasn’t a cable staple and ”white people can’t dance” was a joke, not a cliché?) or infused with unintended irony: The lisping, predatory ”faggots” and nagging, conniving females of Murphy’s imagination took on eyebrow-raising significance after his good-samaritan incident with a transsexual hitchhiker in 1997. (Meanwhile, Murphy’s gay-baiting ”Delirious” – more raw than Eddie Murphy Raw, and more troubling – remains AWOL from DVD.)
”Regular guy” Murphy hasn’t been seen since. Nor will you hear from him, or anyone else, on this disc. There’s no commentary, no interviews with the countless comics influenced by Murphy (or ”Raw” collaborators Robert Townsend and Keenen Ivory Wayans), no look back at this milestone of comedy mainstreaming, still the top-grossing concert film of all time. Which is a pity, because ”Raw” is at an awkward age – its jokes somewhat calcified, its impact notable but ill-defined – and it needs context. Maybe it’s just too soon for that to be realistic.