DESPITE THE PANDEMIC, THE COMEDY LEGEND AND SELF PROFESSED HOMEBODY IS PREPPING HIS RETURN TO STAND UP AND REVISITING ONE OF HIS MOST FAMOUS FILMS IN THE SEQUEL COMING 2 AMERICA
BY JOEL KELLER
If you glance at Eddie Murphy’s IMDb credits from the last two decades, you’ll find that, aside from reprising his Shrek role as Donkey a few times, he’s only done a handful of movies. In that 20 years exist a number of highs and a bunch of lows. In fact, some of the lows immediately follow the highs. There is scuttlebutt, for instance, that the terribly reviewed 2007 film Norbit cost Murphy an Oscar for his performance as James “Thunder” Early in the 2006 film Dream girls, for which he was a heavy favorite for Best Supporting Actor (Alan Arkin eventually won for Little Miss Sunshine; Murphy walked out of the theater after that disappointment, a move that is unheard of in Hollywood).
But what you don’t see on that list is any stand up, which is what made Murphy a superstar in the 1980s. And you don’t see any big tent, adult themed comedy films like Beverly Hills Cop, Boomerang, or Coming to America. In fact, there is likely a large segment of the young adult population that has a hard time believing that Murphy did anything but family films like Daddy Day Care and the Nutty Professor series, with a couple of more serious roles sprinkled in.
Before the pandemic hit, though, that was all about to change. Murphy, who at 59 has been on our screens for an incomprehensible 40 years, was planning a return to stand up for the first time since his iconic 1987 film Eddie Murphy: Raw. And he had started revisiting some of his classic films from the ‘80s; he was planning on a third sequel to Beverly Hills Cop as well as a sequel to his 1988 hit Coming To America.
Following the onset of COVID, the stand-up tour is tabled for now, but Coming 2 America, the aforementioned sequel to the film where Murphy plays a prince who finds the love of his life in Queens, is scheduled to be released by Paramount Pictures on Amazon Prime Video on December 18.
“I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out,” he told Ellen DeGeneres on her daytime talk show in 2019, back when he was still anticipating the film would be a theatrical release. “A lot of people have this expectation, like people would say to me when they found out I was doing it, ‘Don’t that movie up.’ So we’ve gone above and beyond what anybody would think. I’m really, really happy with it.”
Coming 2 America is directed by Craig Brewer, who also directed Murphy’s critically acclaimed 2019 Netflix film Dolemite Is My Name, and written by black fish’s Kenya Barris along with the original film’s screenwriters, David Sheffield and Barry W. Blaustein. In the sequel, Prince Akeem Joffer (Murphy) is set to become the king of Zamuda when in a stunning revelation he finds out he has a son named Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler). After his dying father (James Earl Jones) tells Akeem that he should groom this son as a prince, Akeem and his loyal assistant Semmi (Arsenio Hall) return to Queens to find Lavelle.
Not only are the legendary Jones and Hall returning, but just about everyone else is, too: John Amos, Shari Headley, Garcelle Beauvais, and Louie Anderson all reprise their roles. New cast members include Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, KiKi Layne, Rick Ross, and Wesley Snipes (who co-starred with Murphy in Dolemite and tried out for the part in the original Coming to America that eventually went to Eriq La Salle).
And, yes, Murphy will reprise the other roles he played in the original, including Randy Watson, the lead singer of soul band Sexual Chocolate. He’ll also play some new characters. As he joked to DeGeneres: “Every time I do a makeup movie, I always say, ‘This is the last time I’m doing this,’ and then I always wind up back in the makeup chair.”
If it seemed like the last couple of years have been a nostalgia tour for Murphy, you’re not mistaken. He won his first ever Emmy, for instance, for his 2019 hosting turn on Saturday Night Live, the show that launched his career in 1980 at the tender age of 19. It was the first time he was on the show except for its 40th anniversary special in 2015 since 1984. During the hosting stint, he revived beloved characters like Buckwheat, Mister Robinson, and Gumby, and had a grand time doing it.
“They did a little remodeling in the offices, but it was still the same spirit up here,” he told the TODAY Show during the week he was preparing for his hosting gig. “This is like the Harvard for comic actors, and I knew I was doing something at a special place.”
Why did he stay away for so long? Well, part of the reason was because he was there during the five years Lorne Michaels wasn’t in charge, so the two of them likely didn’t have a professional relationship. There’s also the matter of a ‘90s era David Spade joke at his expense on “Weekend Update.” That took some time for Murphy to get over.
“What really irritated me about it at the time was that it was a career shot. It was like, ‘Hey, come on, man, it’s one thing for you guys to do a joke about some movie of mine, but my career? I’m one of you guys,” he told Rolling Stone in 2011.
But after appearing briefly on the 40th anniversary special, he decided it was time to come back.
“I got this big burst of nostalgia, and I said I wanted to go back,” he told DeGeneres. When it was time to promote Dolemite, where Murphy played filmmaker Rudy Ray Moore, it was the perfect time for him to return to Studio 8H.
Criticism and protests were the big reasons he gave up on stand up, after the controversial jokes he made about gays and AIDS on both Raw and his classic 1983 special Delirious, jokes that make him cringe in retrospect. He told the New York Times in 2019 that he regretted giving up stand up three decades ago, and that, with ten children ranging from two to 31, and now a grandchild, he’s in a good position to weather whatever criticism his stand up might generate.
“I now have a whole lifetime of experiences to draw upon,” he told the Times. “There was a time when I was at the center of everything, what I was doing, and how funny I was and how popular. I’m not at the center. Now my kids are and everything revolves around them.”