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A lot of stand-up comedians have become Hollywood stars, but there’s only one Eddie Murphy. He cut his teeth on SNL as Gumby and Mr. Robinson, and did some more stand-up in Delirious and Raw. But his best, most shining moments are probably when he's been in movie star mode. That’s right, in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Eddie Murphy was pretty much the comedic equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger to action movies, i.e. the dominant, most recognizable face in the industry. We’ve already talked about the best Eddie Murphy movies, and now, I want to talk about the funniest Eddie Murphy characters.
Because while Eddie Murphy has proven that he can do the whole dramatic and dramedy thing in films like Dreamgirls and Dolemite is My Name, Eddie Murphy is usually at his best when he’s in full comic mode. With so many great characters to choose from, I know I’m going to miss a few of your favorites (honestly, I could have probably filled almost half of this list with Coming to America alone). But I’m sure there are people out there who will say that Norbit or Pluto Nash is his funniest performance, so I’m not going to worry if I miss out on your favorite. That’s what comments sections are for anyway. Now on with it!
10. Chandler Jarrell – The Golden Child
“I want the knife…pleeeease.” “Everyone! I have stolen from my brother, Numpsay!” Seriously, since I saw both The Golden Child and Big Trouble in Little China at such a young age, I honestly get the two of them mixed up sometimes. But what separates the two is all the great one-liners from Eddie Murphy as he plays private detective/”The Chosen One,” Chandler Jarrell, who’s searching for the prophesied “Golden Child,” who all the bad guys want to kill.
Eddie Murphy kind of just goes full-on Eddie in this one and breaks out into some of his more manic, silly antics, which is fine by me. The Golden Child was actually the first Eddie Murphy movie I ever saw since it was rated PG-13. And while Chandler Jarrell is not as classic as some of Eddie Murphy’s R-rated characters, he still cracks me up every time.
9. Kit Ramsey/Jifferson “Jiff” Ramsey – Bowfinger
Eddie Murphy plays two roles in this late ‘90s comedy that also stars Steve Martin, Robert Downey Jr. and Heather Graham. The film is about a low-level director (played by Martin) who wants to make a movie on the cheap (the hilariously titled “Chubby Rain”) and have a major star (played by Murphy) in the main role. But he can’t afford the major star, so he just follows him around and films him without him knowing it. But when things don’t work out, he instead hires a look-a-like (also played by Murphy) who happens to be a huge nerd. It’s a bonkers story, but it works, and Murphy pulls off both roles effortlessly.
In fact, I saw Bowfinger three times in the theater. I don’t know why I paid to see Bowfinger on three separate occasions, but I just couldn’t get enough of the nerdy version of Eddie Murphy as Jifferson “Jiff” Ramsey. He pulls off gawky and bizarre so well that you kind of think it’s the role he was born to play. Eat your heart out, Napoleon Dynamite.
8. Preacher Pauly – Vampire in Brooklyn
In the underrated classic (yes, classic) Vampire in Brooklyn, Eddie Murphy again takes on multiple roles. This time, he’s the vampire, Maximillian, an Italian named Guido and my personal favorite, Preacher Pauly, who goes on a long rant about why evil is good. The film itself is about how Maximillian is seeking out a half-human, half-vampire woman, and he thinks he’s found a suitable match in Detective Rita Veder, played by Angela Bassett.
I’ve always loved Wes Craven’s Vampire in Brooklyn because it’s so off-kilter and bizarre. But the highlight is definitely when Maximillian turns into Preacher Pauly and tries to make Detective Veder think that her man is cheating on her. And I always laugh uproariously at the scene where his hair catches on fire in the church. I don’t care what anybody says, I love this movie.
7. Donkey – Shrek
The majority of you have seen Shrek; probably all 4 of them even. But in case you forgot, it’s about an ogre (played by Mike Myers) who’s at first maligned, but is then found to be a hero once he rescues a princess (played by Cameron Diaz), who also happens to be an ogre. The movies were really popular in the early 2000s for some reason. But the best part of them was always the fast-talking, frequently frightened Donkey, played by the one and only Eddie Murphy.
Shrek was always a film with adult-humor (Lord Farquaad? Really? In a kid’s film?), but Donkey always had the best lines, with Murphy often slinging them out so fast that you were often left thinking, "Did he really just say that?" Donkey is probably the only reason to re-watch any of the Shrek movies, and I’m sticking to that statement.
6. Professor Sherman Klump – The Nutty Professor
Eddie Murphy again takes on multiple roles in The Nutty Professor remake. The story is pretty similar to the original, in that it involves a potion and a transformation. But instead of just being nerdy like Jerry Lewis’s character, Murphy’s character is morbidly obese and the potion turns him into a new, skinny man, the obnoxious Buddy Love.
Sherman Klump is just so loveable, and he’s hilarious because of it. His family (I’ll get to them soon) is profane and flatulent, but there’s just such an aww, shucks personality to Sherman that it just makes me laugh, especially when he curls up his lip like the fumes of a fart are still caught up in his mustache. I love it.
5. Prince Akeem Joffer – Coming to America
What you should know is that Prince Akeem is not rich. He’s just a typical African student… with chauffeurs and about 40 suitcases. In Coming to America, Eddie Murphy plays a prince who’s not interested in an arranged marriage, and just wants a woman who loves him for him. Thankfully, he finds her, and in Queens, no less!
I love when huge comic forces play the straight man, and there are just so many zany characters in Coming to America, that I find the subdued performance and the faces Prince Akeem makes (like when a man shrilly sings, “She’s your queen!”) to be utterly hilarious.
4. The Klump Family– The Nutty Professor
The Klumps are Sherman’s family, and while they don’t really factor much into the overall plot of the story, man, are they funny. Papa Cletus, Mama Anna (“Hercules, Hercules!”), Grandma Ida Mae Jenson and Ernie pretty much steal the movie right from under Sherman’s plump feet.
If you ask most people what they remember most from the two The Nutty Professor movies, I guarantee it will be the dinner scene where the family is just talking about everything from why people feel the need to lose weight to Oprah Winfrey. Every member of his family is memorable; every last one of them.
3. Randy Watson – Coming to America
Yeah, I could have picked Saul or Clarence in the barber shop, but if there’s any Eddie Murphy side character in Coming to America that I have to pick, it’s got to be Randy Watson and his band, Sexual Chocolate.
Randy Watson is only in the movie for around two minutes, but his presence is probably the funniest scene in the entire film. He’s playing a “concert” for Black Awareness Week, and you may know him as “Joe the Policeman from the "What’s Going Down" episode of That’s My Mama, and I’m sorry, but I get tears in my eyes when he sings “Greatest Love of All,” and nobody so much as claps (except one enthusiastic fan). It's comic gold.
2. Billy Ray Valentine – Trading Places
In Eddie Murphy’s second film, Trading Places, he plays a con man who gets to switch places with an investor (played by Dan Aykroyd) after a couple of millionaires make a wager on them. What follows is actually a pretty complicated plot for a comedy that involves the stock market and insider trading.
But let’s talk about Eddie Murphy. He’s a chameleon in this one, both wild and subdued. That said, he's at his best when he’s a mixture of both, like when he’s “traded places” and is passing a vase in-between his hands like a basketball. Or when he’s at a dinner table and people are hanging onto his every word, not knowing he was just in prison about a week ago. It’s not the loudest Eddie Murphy performance (except when he’s exhibiting his Bruce Lee skills), but there’s such an effortlessness to his comedy that it almost seems like he’s just doing a stand-up routine, but on a set.
1. Axel Foley – Beverly Hills Cop
In Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy plays Detroit cop Axel Foley, who’s out in Beverly Hills to investigate a murder. The higher-ups want him off the case, but hey, what’s vacation time for? Beverly Hills Cop is actually unlike any other film on this list since it could just as well double as a stellar action movie as well.
But Axel Foley is the quintessential Eddie Murphy character. Every line is a joke, and at least in the first movie, every line lands. Plus, the Eddie Murphy laugh (“Heh-heh-heh”) is still endlessly usable today. Coming to America might be Eddie Murphy’s funniest movie, but Axel Foley is undoubtedly Eddie Murphy’s funniest character.
Eddie Murphy has been making people laugh for decades, so it was really hard to form a list of 10, but I think I’ve come up with a pretty strong list. But are there any great ones that I missed? Leave them in the comments section.