If you Google, "What's Alan Watching?" you'll likely end up at TV critic Alan Sepinwall's column on HitFix. But in 1989, What's Alan Watching? was a TV sitcom pilot Paramount had produced for CBS that didn't make get a green light. Nothing weird about that, right? Most pilots don't get ordered to series.
But this show's pilot featured Eddie Murphy doing his James Brown impersonation. It starred Corin Nemic (who went on to star in Parker Lewis Can't Lose the following year) as a teenager who blends his real life with what's on his TV, Fran Drescher as his mother (a few years before The Nanny), and parts in the pilot for Shelly Berman, George Carlin, the Smothers Brothers, Ellen Cleghorne, and as the end credits show, bit parts for Pauly Shore and Brent Spiner.
CBS aired it once, and that single airing earned TCA (Television Critics Award) honors. Go figure.
Here's a clip from the final segments, featuring Eddie Murphy as James Brown in 1989. Roll it!
Here's that clip of Eddie Murphy appearing as a guest on Friday's telecast of The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Murphy reiterated his intention to mount a comeback as a stand-up comedian (as Murphy told Jay Leno this week), saying he has begun writing new material, and figures he may have a good 15-20 minutes. But he acknowledged that it'll take a while for him to regain his stride and shake off 20 years of rust, telling Ellen and her viewers that it would be a good year before he'd be ready to tour again. Oh, he also admits to having a fetish for funny women (I hear that!), and says Ellen smells really nice. Aww. I'd love to be in Los Angeles when Murphy decides to start dropping in clubs and trying out the new stuff. Roll the clip.
Did you know that Eddie Murphy was a guest last night on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno? I know, I know. Perhaps you don't think that's an exciting thing worth tuning in to see in 2010. But the chat segment last night yielded some interesting fruit for comedy fans.
For one thing, Murphy, now 49, told Leno that he has been writing new jokes and is itching to return to stand-up -- something he hasn't really done in more than two decades. Murphy is one of those stand-up superstars who, when he became a big box-office movie star, focused more on that and other interests and dropped the stand-up entirely. He has put out more music albums than comedy product since his 1987 stand-up concert film, Eddie Murphy: Raw. In recent years, his older brother Charlie Murphy has launched his own stand-up career and been the more visible fixture in that regard. So there's that. Though being subdued for most of his panel session with Leno last night, Eddie Murphy did show the audience that he still remembers how to impersonate Bill Cosby.
And that prompted another interesting nugget, as Leno talked about a rare, possibly out-of-print album that Cosby had recorded called "After Hours" that contained more adult subject matter than the standard Cosby stories. Cos apparently recorded that at the old Village Gate in NYC, a site now known as Le Poisson Rouge. If any of you have a copy of it (it's not on iTunes or Amazon), please let me know.
Here's the clip. The second half gets into plugging the new 3-D Shrek film, and Murphy jokingly suggests that when he dies, there'll be a picture of him as Donkey on the obit. If that's not enough detachment, he also jokes about trying to date, and how he only just now got his first cell phone because he's a complete technophobe. Wow. Roll it!
Based on the book "Black Comedians on Black Comedy" by Darryl Littleton, Robert Townsend's documentary Why We Laugh debuted at Sundance in 2009 and just came out on DVD this week. Before you get to the documentary, however, you see six separate trailers for stand-up comedy specials, each one touting it was the event of the year. Sure, Codeblack Entertainment is responsible for them as well as this documentary, but the sales pitch leads to a misdirect when the main feature plays, and you hear the voiceover narration from Angela Bassett, footage of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and commentary from former NAACP head Kweisi Mfume and former Congressman Walter E. Fauntroy -- you know this isn't going to be a joyride.
Instead, the documentary uses cultural critics and comedians alike to tell the story of black Americans, and how they have used humor throughout the past century as a way to rise above their pain and oppression. Here's the extended trailer:
The path is traced from minstrels and blackface, to early stars such as Bert Williams and Lincoln Perry (better known as Stepin Fetchit), who made far different career choices with implications for generations to follow. You see how Nipsey Russell was a star at the Apollo long before he held a regular seat on Match Game in the 1970s, and how Amos 'n' Andy both helped and hurt the cause of black comedians. The careers of Moms Mably, Redd Foxx and Dick Gregory are examined, then the sitcoms of the 1970s (Good Times, The Jeffersons), Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor, through Eddie Murphy, Whoopi Goldberg, a too-short segment on the start of a separate black club circuit and Robin Harris, In Living Color, Def Comedy Jam, the Kings of Comedy and Dave Chappelle.
Most everyone interviewed continues to express awe and admiration for what Pryor accomplished. Princeton professor/author Dr. Cornel West called Pryor "the freest black man America's ever had. He is not just a genius, he exercises parrhesia. He exercises the most plain, frank, honest, unintimidated speech we had in the 60s, even more than Martin and Malcolm!" That's followed up by Townsend himself, who adds: "He gave to the world a gift, you know, like none other, that opened the playing field. And the only thing that I hate now is that, a lot of comedians, the only thing they took from Richard was the cursing. They didn't take his social commentary."
So last week, everyone was talking about Susan Boyle this and Susan Boyle that. But for comedy fans, Simon Cowell had made a bit of news by inviting a 13-year-old aspiring stand-up comedian from Idaho to take part in this summer's edition of America's Got Talent. I don't care how talented Trevor Hattabaugh is (here is the local TV news report on Hattabaugh out of Boise), because I'm not sold on the idea of kids that young performing their own stand-up.
Talk to almost any legendary comedian and he or she will regale you with stories of how, in their youth, they entertained family members and schoolmates with jokes -- usually copying the acts of older stand-ups they admired. Eddie Murphy famously made his Saturday Night Live debut when he was 19, and a hit stand-up CD when he was 21.
But most teenagers are not Eddie Murphy. What do those kids have to joke about onstage? What could they possibly have for material? There's a certain amount of living you have to do -- don't you?! -- before you have more to offer the world than an amusing one-liner or a juvenile routine. Not that that's stopping kids from getting onstage. In fact, here in New York, an outfit called Kids 'N Comedy puts on a monthly showcase at Gotham Comedy Club. I can see how it would help coax teens out of their shells and build performing skills. But still. Not sold on the idea of kids doing comedy. Even when footage exists of famous people such as Seth Rogen doing stand-up at 13. Actually, let's examine that.
Yesterday, Entertainment Weekly said writer/director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) was shopping his own script with Eddie Murphy set to star in Richard Pryor: Is It Something I Said?, while HitFlix went further to say it had been shopped to Fox Searchlight with a $25 million budget. Condon helped Murphy get an Oscar nomination in Dreamgirls, and Murphy used to impersonate Pryor in his young stand-up act, so you'd think this would be a solid choice. Roll the NSFW clip:
And here is a classic clip from Richard Pryor (also NSFW) about going to prison in Arizona:
Then again. Two things.
1) Eddie Murphy is such a star himself, that despite the impersonation, I'll be curious to see how he slips into the role and life of the groundbreaking Pryor without reminding us that he is Eddie Murphy. In Dreamgirls, he was playing off of his James Brown/SNL riffs without having to play the actual James Brown, so it was a little easier to follow. Yes, yes, Jamie Foxx won an Oscar playing his Ray Charles. It is possible. And in a more of an apples-to-apples comparison, Jim Carrey pulled off Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon. But I sometimes watch Eddie's brother, Charlie Murphy, and find myself thinking about Eddie. I'm not the only one who does that, right?
2) Which leads me to a previous attempt at a Richard Pryor biopic. Just a few years ago, comedian Mike Epps was telling MTV News that he would play Pryor, saying in 2005 he was personally auditioning for the family. In December 2006, Epps said a family fight over the late comedian's assets had delayed the project, along with a desire to rewrite the script with material from Pryor's daughter, Rain. Pryor and wife, Jennifer Lee Pryor, had been producing that project, and Jennifer had told Variety back in May 2005 that they originally had thought of Damon Wayans for the role, but reconsidered. "The material is larger than life, and you need someone to fit into it who's not extraordinarily famous or else it would be like Al Jolson playing Malcolm X," she said. "Richard and I saw Mike's standup, and there is a dangerous edge, a Richard-esque quality about him." Pryor died in December 2005.
Naturally, then, I wonder what the family thinks of this latest development.