Why Eddie Murphy Hasn’t Done An R-Rated Comedy In 20 Years

Eddie Murphy in Dolemite Is My Name

Eddie Murphy is back! Not that Eddie Murphy ever really left. The comedian and actor has stayed consistently busy in a string of movies, many of which are considered family-friendly (like A Thousand Words, Imagine That and The Haunted Mansion). But Murphy marks a return to R-rated comedies with Craig Brewer’s Dolemite Is My Name, which is playing in theaters and coming to Netflix later this year.

We sat down with Murphy on behalf of Dolemite Is My Name to find out why he shied away from the R-rated humor that defined the early part of his career, and the former Axel Foley explained to CinemaBlend:

I think what happened was, there was a period when Hollywood was on some PG-13… that’s how you reached most audiences. And there was, maybe, a 15-year period where that’s all everybody was doing. So I got caught up in that shit. But no, doing this movie, we went, ‘This movie has to be rated R because of the way Rudy Ray Moore was.’ But I’m doing Coming to America next, and that’s PG-13.

As our own Jeff McCobb points out to Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name is the first R-rated comedy the man has made in two decades. You have to go all the way back to Life, released in 1999 and co-starring Martin Lawrence, to find Murphy’s last adult comedy. Now, he did do plenty of PG-13 movies since Life opened. But for those of us who grew up on early Eddie Murphy, it certainly felt like his approach to comedy had changed, and even softened.

When Eddie Murphy burst onto the scene in the early 1980s, he rocketed to superstardom thanks to edgy performances in movies like 48 Hours, Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop and Coming to America. Few were as red-hot as Murphy in his prime, and it seemed like there wasn’t anything he couldn’t do on screen.

Later, as his career evolved, Murphy struck gold in the family-friendly zone, morphing his comedy to fit massive hits like The Nutty Professor and the Shrek movies. The way Murphy tells it, the industry shifted to that safer tone in comedy, to appeal to larger audiences, and he rode that wave to success.

For Dolemite, Eddie Murphy returns to his mature comedic roots to play Rudy Ray Moore, a comedian and filmmaker who conceived of an original character – the articulate pimp, Dolemite – then constructed a series of absurd movies around him in the 1970s. The movie has been burning up the film festival circuit, making it a welcome return to this style of comedy for Murphy. Here he is talking about R-rated comedies, and his role in them:

Dolemite Is My Name is in a few theaters in limited release, and will be on Netflix on October 25.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Sean created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.