That comedy has a lot to do with timing is certainly underscored by the first DVD release of the 1983 concert film Eddie Murphy Delirious. This famous stand-up special, which originally aired on HBO, is fondly remembered for a 22-year-old Murphy, clad in a tight red leather suit, holding forth with seemingly effortless mastery. Whether he’s doing a spot-on impersonation of Elvis Presley or reminiscing about waiting, as a child, for the ice cream man, Murphy’s tone is generous, his detail work impeccable (his Elvis croon is fantastic), and his beguiling smile an unguarded joy that would steadily diminish over the years as he became a big, more self-conscious movie star.
But the freewheeling atmosphere of this time-capsule DVD also captures a few moments that now seem pretty dicey, to say the least. Within minutes of taking the stage of Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Hall, Murphy says he’s self-conscious about wearing those red pants because of the gay men in the audience — except he doesn’t say ”gay,” he uses the F-word uttered by Grey’s Anatomy’s Isaiah Washington about costar T.R. Knight. Given that slur’s fresh timeliness, hearing it come out of Murphy’s mouth repeatedly, casually, is startling — and robbed of humor. Similarly, Murphy suddenly veers off onto another topic, ”that new AIDS s—” that ”kills motherf—ers.” He chides married women who spend time with gay male friends, kiss them goodbye, and then ”go home with that AIDS on their lips” to pass the infection on to their husbands. The crowd goes wild; you’re likely to just gasp.
Actually, great comedian that he is, Murphy does work up a funny bit with this subject matter, when he envisions The Honeymooners’ Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton as lovers. This material works for two reasons: He imagines the pair as having really fun sex, and his Gleason is hilariously precise. (In the only significant DVD extra, a new interview with comic Byron Allen, Murphy says a false rumor spread for years that the Great One wrote him a letter that read, in its entirety, ”Murphy: Stop! Gleason.”)
The rest of Delirious is pretty wonderful, for both the killer quality of his material (the ice-cream-man routine can stand with the work of his idol, Bill Cosby) and its period details (his mention of then president Ronald Reagan prompts an eloquent heckle: ”Reaganomics sucks!”).
And don’t miss the brief extra scene that shows Murphy’s response to a crowd member calling for his Buckwheat impersonation. Murphy’s reply is less unprintable than unreproducible here — I can’t show you where he puts his hand, but trust me, it’s funny.