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Oh, Brother!

Charlie Murphy brings his comedy routine to Helium

Eddie Murphy was the comic to be in the 1980s, so it’s no surprise that his older brother knows how to spin a pretty hilarious tale himself. Charlie Murphy rose to prominence when “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories” on Chappelle’s Show became some of the most iconic and most quoted pieces of comedy in decades. He stars in the new show Black Jesus, which premiered last week on Adult Swim to big ratings, and will be performing at Helium Comedy Club this Thursday through Saturday (Aug 14-16). He spoke to Artvoice about his role on Black Jesus, critics, why his brother won’t go back to stand-up, and Rick James

Artvoice: I saw Black Jesus and it was hilarious. You were great in it.

Charlie Murphy: Thank you man, I appreciate that. [Show creator] Aaron McGruder is a bright, man. He’s been around for a minute and anything that he does, it’s not gonna be some dumb shit. That’s important. A lot of people who criticize it expect it to be more negative, more buffoonish. And then when people see it, it takes the wind out of a lot of people’s sails who were expecting something negative.

AV: And they’re going by the title, I mean everyone’s going to have a different reaction to hearing “Black Jesus.”

CM: Right, and that in itself made a lot of people have problems, those two words next to each other. The reality is this: We live in this world and the world is composed of people of different degrees of intellect. That’s why you have conflict. It’s based on a lack of understanding. So someone can see this show or hear about the show and become angry not because the show is negative, they’re angry because they don’t understand the show.

AV: They don’t want to like the show going into it.

CM: Right, right. Somebody called me yesterday, this girl, she’s a journalist, and told me her editor ordered them to create a negative article about Black Jesus because he’s a Christian. And I’m like, ok, I understand, I know you gotta do your job, but think about what you just told me. Your Christian editor came and demanded that you write a quote-unquote “negative” article about Black Jesus, the TV program that he has never seen before. We didn’t do [Black Jesus] to be negative, we didn’t do this to ridicule or mock, we did it to be funny. We didn’t say, “Let’s plan a show making fun of Christians.” But [her editor], on the other hand, this so-called good guy, you wanna order somebody to write these negative articles about us. Who’s really the bad guy? You know what I’m saying?

AV: So much for journalistic integrity.

CM: Yeah man. He said write a negative article, She said “What if I like the guy?” [He said] “I don’t care if you like him, I want a negative article.”

AV: We got to see a little bit of your character Vic last night. He’s clearly the antagonist.

CM: Vic is an asshole, man. Straight up. I mean, I don’t—[Laughs] I don’t wanna be friends with somebody like Vic. He’s an asshole, but he is hilarious; he’s a hilarious asshole. When you see what the characters in the show are doing, you see, they’re good things! But Vic is so bent on, “[Black Jesus] as a fraud,” like Jim Jones, you know, one of those guys. “You guys better stop following him before you end up like the followers of those people.” That’s Vic’s attitude.

AV: Are you religious?

CM: No. I’m not religious but I’m a very spiritual man. The reason why I don’t have religion is because I actually think I think a whole lot more of god than I would be allowed to if I were part of religion. I think he’s bigger than they describe. I think he’s wiser than they describe him, I think he’s more powerful than they describe him.

AV: Do you have friends or family who are religious and were skeptical that the show would be disrespectful?

CM: No, not that they’ve expressed to me. The reality is that the topic is not new! Let’s do a little history. Oh God! and Oh, God! Book II, we’re not talking about playing Jesus, we’re talking about playing God. Nobody had a problem with that! And Bruce Almighty! Morgan Freeman played God. That movie was a hit! There was no protest and all that. And if you look at Passion of the Christ, which, I’m gonna be honest with you man; a lot of people for whatever reason they went to see that movie because they thought it was their religious duty to see that movie. I tried to watch the movie and I couldn’t watch it, because I can’t see anyone—take Jesus Christ out of the equation—I can’t watch anyone get beat for an hour.

AV: It’s a snuff film.

CM: I can’t sit down in a chair and watch you get tortured for an hour, ok? That movie made six hundred million dollars! Ok? Six hundred million dollars. What we’re doing, nobody’s getting beat, nothing like that. The subject matter is associated with the Bible, and you’re gonna have people that judge it based on the way they understand the Bible, based on what they worship, they’re gonna find a problem with the show like that. We all know that. But that doesn’t mean you’re representing what’s right, it only means you’re representing a form of misunderstanding, that’s all. Nobody’s going “this is a true story.” It’s satire. It’s on Adult Swim!

AV: If you don’t want to watch adult programming, don’t watch a channel called Adult Swim.

CM: Exactly! It’s not like there aren’t 40, 50 other channels you can’t watch. If you’re up at 11 at night, watching TV on a Thursday, I mean come on man, be fair. People want to get offended. We did Norbit, ok, [the character] Rasputia was a plus-sized woman and it had jokes about people who were big. They were funny, people enjoyed it, but there were a couple of interviews I did where the journalist would say, “You know there’s a lot of big people who are upset right now about Norbit.” And I said, “You know how I know that’s a lie? Because I don’t live in a box. I walk around in the street by myself without security. I go to malls, I go to airports. I see big people all the time and guess what they say to me? ‘That movie was funny.’ ‘ Cause they don’t look at Rasputia and say, “That’s making fun of me.”

AV: Do you have any True Buffalo Stories?

CM: True Buffalo Stories? Yeah. I was staying at Rick James’ house, he had four houses that were connected. I don’t know why he did this but he got on the intercom and said, “Where’s Charlie Murphy? I want somebody to call me right now and tell me where he’s at. And if anybody’s having sex with Charlie Murphy at my house that’s fine.” I just thought it was really funny, nobody was having sex and then all of a sudden you hear Rick James say that [laughs]. I used to love going to his house, man. One big party. A lot of cool people, a lot of talented people.

AV: You said in Esquire that a lot of your humor early on came from anger, is that still the case?

CM: No. I’m not really angry any more. Being a comedian made me not angry any more. It made me change. I was an angry person before because all these things I can express now, I had no outlet. I’m a much more social person than I was before. I was pretty much anti-social back then. The only thing I thought about back then was beating people’s asses. [laughs]

AV: Do you think if your brother still did stand up it would be harder with people comparing you two?

CM: And for a myriad of other reasons, man. You gotta understand, when Eddie was doing stand up, they didn’t have social media. When he was doing stand up, he could go and work on his routine in the comedy clubs and it wasn’t like the next day after you said X-Y-Z it’s on the front page of the papers. Now it’s like that. Nobody’s gonna come back and spit an hour of pristine, quality stand up. You gotta work it out. So the process for working it out, [Eddie doesn’t] have the luxury of that, because the guys who do the HBO specials, they got it down pat. They deal with words, tones, and facial expressions. It’s like playing an instrument. They’re working the song out. Now people record the entire evolution of the act, and it can be on the front page the next day.

AV: For people like Eddie Murphy or Dave Chappelle, once you’re a superstar everybody in the audience is going to have their phone out, recording you.

CM: It’s very hard. [Chappelle has] one bad night, everybody wants to talk about it. “I heard he bombed, I heard he wasn’t funny.” And he is funny! He was just learning a new song that night. It used to be a private project. Now if you’re a name, whatever you do or say on the set at a comedy club, somebody takes a sound bite from your set and there’s a possibility that it makes the headlines or local newspaper. Michael Richards, what happened to him, it wouldn’t have happened to him if nobody had a cell phone and recorded it. You think he’s the first comedian to blow up on stage? No. Just because they have one bad night, their life goes on. Nobody’s hurt, nobody’s career damaged, because it wasn’t recorded. Now you got the cell phone on you, you got the tape out; you got people calling for your head.

AV: How are comedians coping with this?

CM: They can’t, man. I used to do stand up and didn’t like to look at the audience, I would get scared to look at them till I realized you have to, you have to see if they’re recording you. [laughs].

AV: And then you call them out on it?

CM: I tell them to turn it off. It’s no big deal. I say “Whatever you’re recording, I’d like for you delete it.” I’ll explain it to them like this: You’re not a professional cameraman, I am a professional comedian. And any footage that I release is done professionally. Don’t take your amateur footage and put it out there because it’s gonna be put up next to all my good stuff and its gonna make me look bad. You may think it’s cute, but it’s not. You gotta equate what you’re doing to robbery because you can take a joke I might be able to make for the next 6 months, and you’re gonna put it on YouTube. Now it’s gone.

AV: When you come to Helium, will it be new material?

CM: Absolutely. There’s gonna be time I spend on stage doing material on Buffalo that hasn’t even happened yet! I got a whole week before I come up there. I’m gonna talk about things that haven’t happened yet. I’m constantly working on material. Constantly, constantly.

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