Chris Rock once called Charlie Murphy “Eddie Murphy on acid.” In interviews, Eddie Murphy has referred to his older brother Charlie as the “funny one” in the family.
Charlie Murphy has worked steadily over the past seventeen years, making a living with brief but outrageous appearances in movies like CB4, Jungle Fever and The Players Club, all the while writing screenplays intended to be vehicles for Eddie Murphy, and selling them to major studios.
Charlie Murphy wasn’t officially invited to the party until 2003 when Dave Chappelle, a longtime Charlie Murphy fan, hired the older sibling to appear on the now cult sensation comedy sketch program, Chappelle’s Show. Though Chappelle exited his own show in the middle of the third season, yanking it prematurely from Comedy Central’s lineup, and leaving behind a trail of questions marks, the show has achieved legendary status. Charlie Murphy’s memorable characters and flare for storytelling have become that of legend, with thousands of young guys repeating his catch phrases and re-telling his anecdotes of 80s Hollywood-lore. Even his name, Charlie Murphaaay!, called out from across a crowded dance floor by an intoxicated Rick James (played by Dave Chappelle) has achieved pop culture icon status. After Chappelle’s Show came to an end in a cloud of controversy and non-disclosures, Murphy moved on and struck gold again with his younger brother when the two co-wrote the film Norbit, which went on to gross three hundred million dollars worldwide in 2007.
Charlie Murphy’s latest big screen comedy, The Perfect Holiday, is the very first African American ensemble holiday themed film, featuring an array of heavy hitters: Terrence Howard, Queen Latifah, and Gabrielle Union. Charlie Murphy plays J Jizzy, a comically self absorbed hip hop mogul of side splitting proportions. In the film, Murphy’s comic timing and delivery have the unshakable rhythm of a Shakespearean sonnet.
PR.com: I was watching some clips of your movie, The Perfect Holiday, and I noticed that your character in the movie, J Jizzy, has his own MySpace page. Are you doing something else with that character?
Charlie Murphy: That’s some kind of marketing they’re doing. The character of J Jizzy, they want to do another movie on him. That’s why he has a MySpace page and he has a [music] video.
PR.com: As soon as I saw the MySpace page I knew they were doing something else with that character. The music video is absolutely hysterical. I watched the J Jizzy music video over and over and over… and I couldn’t get the song out of my head!
Charlie Murphy: (Charlie breaks into character and sings J Jizzy’s Christmas song for my benefit.) Jing-gle all the wa-ey-ey (laughs).
PR.com: (Laughs) Last night I was singing it over and over. I was like, “I can’t get this f-ing song out of my head.” What attracted you to doing The Perfect Holiday?
Charlie Murphy: Oh, the cast. That was the first draw. When you have Queen Latifah and Terrence Howard in the same film and you have the opportunity to be in it, it’s like, come on man. Those are the people that everybody’s fawning over right now. I would love to be in the film with them. And then I heard about Gabrielle [Union] and Morris [Chestnut], and Katt Williams, who’s one of my favorite comedians. I was like, “Hey man, there’s no way we can lose with this.” And I jumped right over there.
PR.com: Is your character a parody of P. Diddy?
Charlie Murphy: No. He’s a parody of their position. P. Diddy is not the only person who’s a mogul and owns multiple business ventures. There’s several guys like that, that fit that description now. So you can’t say that he’s P. Diddy. He’s all of them. J Jizzy’s not a P. Diddy impression. He’s his own dude.
PR.com: Do you feel more comfortable playing characters that you’ve written and helped to create, or a role that someone else writes where you’re just cast in the role?
Charlie Murphy: I would say the ones that somebody else writes and you get cast and do a good job is more rewarding because it didn’t even come from you, and you were still able to make it happen.
PR.com: Why did you start out in the Navy? And did you always want to go into show business?
Charlie Murphy: When I was a teenager, my whole thing was… I was a street guy. I hung out with street people and when you hang out with a crowd like that you will end up in trouble. So I got in trouble and it was like, “Ok, you wanna to go to prison or you wanna go to the military?”
PR.com: Is that what the judge said?
Charlie Murphy: That’s what I said. Because it was like, this is not gonna stop. When you get out [of jail], if you don’t go away right away, you’ll be coming back there. I got out on a Monday and I signed up for the Navy the same day. It was the best move I could have possibly made because everybody else that I know that I grew up with, two guys survived and everybody else is dead. And out of the two guys that survived, one of them just got out of prison, like, two weeks ago. He went to jail when he was nineteen. There’s only one dude that didn’t go to jail. He’s a barber and he’s still in Roosevelt (Long Island). But, everyone else is dead. So, I did the right thing by leaving. Those guys went on to do hard prison sentences, and get killed and horrific stuff, man. I became a man in the Navy. That’s where I got my first apartment, my first marriage, my first bank account, my first car… it all happened there. That was a good experience.
PR.com: You have a very similar story to my dad. When you’re young it seems like fun and games, but my father used to say that you don’t see old wise guys walking around. You don’t see old street guys walking around. They’re either dead or in jail.
Charlie Murphy: Right. They don’t get old.
PR.com: Yeah, they don’t get old (laughs).
Charlie Murphy: And when I went into the military is when I realized I had a very good brain. It’s very easy to learn, very adaptable and very creative. And I started believing in it. Once you start realizing that you can do these things and you believe that you can do something, you start making an effort and you start doing. I took it upon myself when I went to Hollywood to work for my brother, to say, “You know what, I want to try writing.” I learned how to write films. After Norbit came out last year and made three hundred million, that was a great move for me. I wrote it and that was my reward for all of the scripts I wrote before that, and all of the hard work.
PR.com: Did you and Eddie [Murphy] write Norbit together?
Charlie Murphy: Yeah. We wrote it together but it was mainly, the way it was written, that I did the physical part.
PR.com: What do you mean by the physical part?
Charlie Murphy: I’m the one whose hand was hurting when the movie finished being written.
PR.com: What was your very first writing job or the very first character that you wrote?
Charlie Murphy: The very first movie that I ever wrote was called The Peddler. It was written in 1986 and it sold to Paramount for a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. And they own it. The movie was about Nicky Barnes, and the only reason the movie didn’t get made is because back then you had dudes that were not visionaries and they were happy with my brother doing the same thing over and over again because they didn’t know what they were doing. So, the whole idea of Eddie doing a movie where he would play a villain, to them, was like, “We can’t allow this to happen! He’s Eddie Murphy. He has to do the cop movies over and over.” And it’s like, no, he’s an actor.
PR.com: That was back when he had that contract with Paramount when he was doing Beverly Hills Cop?
Charlie Murphy: Right. They didn’t want him to play against type, or to play a bad guy. If you think about it, you’ve never seen Eddie Murphy play a bad guy in a movie. I think, to this very day, that not only did he have the chops to pull it off but it would have opened the playing field up?
PR.com: Do you think people would have accepted him in a role like that?
Charlie Murphy: Yeah, because he would have done it right. You could come there with your face twisted up and say, “Ugh. This is not gonna be good.” And if it’s good your face won’t be twisted when it’s over. People come to see me do stand up with a preconceived perception of what they’re going to see me do, and they never leave with that. When I’m on stage, I’ve seen people looking at me before the show even starts, like, “He thinks he’s all that. Let’s see. Yeah, I heard he’s supposed to be funny. Yeah, ok.” Then after the show is over, those same people come over and hug me.
PR.com: You’re actually an amazing story teller.
Charlie Murphy: Richard Pryor was an amazing story teller.
PR.com: Yes, he was. He didn’t tell jokes. He told stories and he had a way of telling a story…
Charlie Murphy: …that was funny…
PR.com: It wasn’t just funny. You could actually visualize all of the characters and what was going on. You have that same quality, especially in Chappelle’s Show with Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories. And that brings me to another question. How did you wind up on Chappelle’s Show and how did some of those characters evolve?
Charlie Murphy: It was a result of my previous work. I had been in Players Club, CB4, Jungle Fever, and all those movies. A lot of people had seen these movies and my character was one of their favorite characters. Dave Chappelle, he’s a fan of CB4 and Players Club, and all those films. They said, “Get Charlie Murphy in here!” They called me up and I wasn’t doing anything. I came down and I just did my thing. I let loose and when it was over with they said, “We want you on the next show.”
PR.com: You weren’t originally a series regular?
Charlie Murphy: No. I never even had a contract. That was week to week the whole time. They were under the assumption, I guess, that they were getting over. My thing was, because I had people say to me, “You’re only getting paid SAG minimum? They’re pimping you.” I was like, “Look man, let them pimp me. They’re putting me on TV every week. Eventually that’s gonna lead to another job where they won’t be pimping me.”
PR.com: You know what? You’re smart, because that show gave you such a launching pad.
Charlie Murphy: I know five other comedians who walked away from that show because of money, because they weren’t being paid enough or they couldn’t shoot because they had another gig. None of those guys are famous today.
PR.com: What was the atmosphere like on Chappelle’s Show? Was it like a Saturday Night Live, where there’s a bunch of writers that would sit around and come up with skits?
Charlie Murphy: Yeah, definitely. It was that and at night when you went home, you were just trying to come up with something. You wanted to contribute. You wanted to go back the next day and say, “Hey, guess what? I got a great sketch!” I would call Neal Brennan (co-creator of "Chappelle’s Show") at three, four o’clock in the morning with sketch ideas and stuff. It was very much a fun thing, being on that show and to be around the people who were involved with it. The energy was always good energy. Dave, not only was his show good, but the guests that he would bring on [were great]. It was Ludacris, Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West, Mos Def and Common. I would never have gotten to meet those guys, man. Chappelle’s Show brought on Snoop Dogg… everybody came through there, man.
PR.com: The Charlie Murphy's True Hollywood Stories, you have to tell me how you came up with that.
Charlie Murphy: People that have been knowing me for years go, “I can’t believe that you got famous talking about something you’ve been talking about for twenty years.” They [already] heard those stories and they’re like, “And you actually got famous off of that?” (Laughs). For some reason when I describe something it becomes funny to other people. Now I’ve learned how to tap into that whenever I want.
PR.com: Was the fight with Rick James true?
Charlie Murphy: Oh yeah, all that was true.
PR.com: The basketball game with Prince?
Charlie Murphy: True.
PR.com: Did he play in his outfit, that Prince outfit?
Charlie Murphy: No, he didn’t play in his outfit (laughs), but that wouldn’t have been funny if he had trunks on and sneakers. But we did play ball and he did win.
PR.com: Going back to the theme of the movie The Perfect Holiday, when you were growing up did you have any special Christmas traditions in the Murphy household, or any favorite holiday memory that you can remember?
Charlie Murphy: It was all about eating and drinking eggnog and just having a day where you knew you didn’t have to do anything. You could just lay around and somebody always had a train or something electrical that you just left on, and you hear that sound in the background. That’s what Christmas was.
PR.com: Who are your professional role models and whose comedy do you admire?
Charlie Murphy: My brother (Eddie Murphy), Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Steve Harvey, Bernie Mac, D.L. Hughley, Tracey Morgan… all those guys… Mike Epps, Katt Williams. There’s a lot of talented guys out there. They all put it down when they show up. That’s one of the reasons that I work so hard. I know dudes that are really doing it and out of respect for them, man, anybody who you see who’s really doing it, that guy worked hard to get to that position. So I’m not going to disrespect the art form by taking it lightly. When I first started doing comedy, I didn’t have my own voice. I was forced to do primitive stuff, like jokes about doo doo, or whatever (laughs).
PR.com: (Laughs) Right, right. That seems to be a big one in your family.
Charlie Murphy: (Laughs) Yeah, yeah. But, I had a lot of shock jokes, like jokes about people with no teeth. I don’t even tell jokes like that anymore. When I used to do that stuff, I used to be mad at the end of the night, going, “This shit is so primitive.” I wanted to be more of a cerebral guy, so I made the changes that I had to make.
PR.com: What was your biggest challenge going into this business as Eddie Murphy’s brother and what was the greatest blessing about it?
Charlie Murphy: The biggest challenge for me was just not giving up. To continue believing that you’re going to one day be acknowledged for what you’re doing. For many years I was that dude that could say, “Yeah, I was in this movie and that movie,” but it wasn’t like I had an agent or a manager or anything. Nobody wanted to handle me because it was like, “We want to handle people that get work. Charlie Murphy does a movie every two years.” After a while you start wondering, “Am I really what I think I am?” You start second guessing yourself. The greatest blessing is what’s going on right now and that’s that I stayed with it. I’m a living symbol of tenacity for other people and this is what happens if you don’t give up. The only thing that can stop it is you. It’s when you get lazy and you sit down, or when you allow somebody else to implant in your brain that you can’t do this. That’s when you lose.
PR.com: Will we be seeing you on Comedy Central again any time soon?
Charlie Murphy: There were a few things that came across the table but I didn’t want to do them, because it has to be something that I look at and go, “This is gonna work for me.” Comedy Central doesn’t really know what they would do with Charlie Murphy. It’s like they’re throwing stuff on the walls to see what’s gonna stick. When the right thing comes, I’ll know.
PR.com: When Dave Chappelle left Chappelle’s Show in the middle of the third season and he went on Oprah, he insinuated that he felt like some of the white staff on the show turned on him, and he felt like he was being mocked in some way…
Charlie Murphy: I wasn’t aware of any of that.
PR.com: Did you feel any of that?
Charlie Murphy: No.
PR.com: Were you angry with Dave for leaving the show?
Charlie Murphy: No, but I was shocked. I never was angry. I was just like, “Wow! What happened?” You know? I still, to this very day, can’t tell you what happened. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know how it got to that point.
PR.com: Have you spoken to Dave since? And does it come up?
Charlie Murphy: Oh yeah, several times. I don’t bring it up. I’m the kind of dude where if I come over to you and you have one hand, I won’t even look at that stub. I won’t even bring it up. I don’t want you to be uncomfortable. If I see you got a hand missing, I’m not gonna come up to you like, “What happened to your hand?” I don’t ask questions. If you come to me saying you need some help, that’s one thing. But I’m not gonna come to you and start trying to dig all up in your business.
PR.com: Do you think there will ever be a point where you’ll stop doing stand up and focus on movies and TV, or is it too much in your blood?
Charlie Murphy: There may be a point where I stop doing movies and TV, but I ain’t never gonna stop doing stand up. It’s my voice and it’s me. There’s no band behind me, there’s no special effects. It’s just me.
PR.com: When it comes to comedy that perpetuates stereotypes, whether it be black, gay, Jewish, Asian, whatever, in your opinion is that destructive or constructive humor?
Charlie Murphy: It’s neither one. It’s comedy. The best comedy is when it’s unbridled. The best comedy to me is when a comedian is being real, ‘cause it’s about vulnerability. If you’re a racist and you go up on stage and you’re being honest, I’m not leaving the room ‘cause you said something about black people. I’m gonna listen to you. Some people get up and walk out. I’m not going nowhere. But the society that we live in right now is kind of going against that. For Charlie Murphy there’s no show where I would go, “I’m appalled!” But a lot of people will be appalled if you use certain words or talk about certain issues. To me that’s destructive to comedy. When you start putting clamps over a comic’s lips, then the comedy is dying. In a comedy club, it’s no holds barred and no rules. You should be able to say whatever you want.
PR.com: And find the funny in everything.
Charlie Murphy: Find the funny in it.
“The Perfect Holiday” is now open in wide theatrical release. Check local listings or visit www.theperfectholidaymovie.com.