The impossible is happening.
After decades of acrimonious stalemate, Eddie Murphy is headed back to Saturday Night Live, the show that made him a star. (Or, more accurately, the show that gave him the opportunity to make himself a star and then reaped the rewards.) To put it in musical terms, it’s sort of like Paul McCartney and John Lennon reuniting at Coachella in an alternate reality. In order to understand fully why it’s such a big deal, though, you need to know the whole story.
Nobody at the end of this decade is a superstar in quite the same way Eddie Murphy was in the 1980s. Not Leonardo DiCaprio, not Ariana Grande, not even Beyoncé. Murphy won a coveted slot on SNL in 1980 reportedly by showing up to 30 Rockefeller Plaza each day and doing bits for whoever was sent to kick him out until he finally won over enough people to do bits for upper management. He was 19 years old. Soon, he applied the same force of will to all of Hollywood and conquered everything he touched. By 1985, he had become the biggest movie star in the world, with Beverly Hills Cop breaking all sorts of box-office records, and left SNL in the dust of his gold record for “Party All the Time.”
At the first sign of serious turbulence in Murphy’s career—the rocky reception to Beverly Hills Cop III in 1994—David Spade made a joke about the star during a Weekend Update segment on SNL. “Look, children, it’s a falling star!” he said, gesturing toward a picture of Murphy. The former cast member immediately called up Spade to ream him out, and then forever swore off the show that would allow this joke to air. Though he made a brief appearance on SNL’s 40th anniversary show back in 2015, Murphy never properly returned to host the show.
The reason that Murphy is finally doing SNL after all this time is simple: he is ready for a full-blown comeback. After years spent in the comedy wilderness of forgettable kids movies and mind-boggling flops like Meet Dave, he sees an opportunity to relive his former glory, reach new audiences less familiar with him, and maybe get some Oscar shine in the process. Dolemite Is My Name, his Rudy Ray Moore biopic on Netflix, is far and away the most prestigious (and best!) project he’s starred in since 2006’s Dreamgirls, and a return to standup is reportedly on the horizon. Hosting SNL at this time cements this moment as Murphy’s renaissance. He is back, he is serious about being funny, and he also wants an Oscar, dammit. For the first time in a while, expectations are high for whatever he’ll do next.
Considering that Adam Sandler’s similarly long-awaited return to SNL earlier this year went swimmingly, expectations are high for Murphy’s SNL visit as well. While some of Murphy’s famous characters from the 1980s probably wouldn’t translate well for 2019 audiences—ahoy, Gumby, Velvet Jones, and James Brown—it’s likely that we’ll get at least one trip down SNL memory lane this weekend. It seems most likely that Murphy will don the yellow sweater once more for Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood or revisit the bold, ahead-of-its-time short film, White Like Me.
Either way, it’s exciting to imagine that Murphy is currently holed up in the studio with the SNL cast, putting the finishing touches on his first new sketches in 35 years. Let’s hope he invents some new classics that he can revisit on his less-momentous post-Oscar return to the show in a year or two.