Saturday Night Live has been home to a number of talented stars over the decades. From Bill Murry and Julia Louis-Dreyfus to Maya Rudolph and Will Ferrell, some of comedy’s biggest names got their start on the hit sketch show. Of course, one of the most iconic performers to ever grace the stage at Studio 8H is Eddie Murphy, who first jumped onto the scene in 1980. Murphy had a number of great moments on the show, but there’s one in particular that solidified him as a star.
Veteran Saturday Night Live writer David Sheffield recently recalled how Eddie Murphy rose to prominence on the show. The comedy scribe remembered that when Murphy first joined the cast at the beginning of Season 6, his first role was as a background extra in the panned “In Search of the Negro Republican” sketch. While the young and quiet Murphy didn’t get to do much in his debut, Sheffield and fellow writer Barry W. Blaustein would later get a taste of his talents on a separate occasion:
One night, Barry and I were hanging out with some other writers, and Eddie came in and started riffing as this character he did called Raheem Abdul Mohammad. Raheem was a film critic, and the joke was that he would always go to the multiplex and see the wrong movie. He would say things like, ‘I went to see On Golden Pond and Goldie Hawn wasn’t even in it!’ It was so damn funny, and Barry said, ‘We’re going to work with this guy.’
Eddie Murphy’s excellent riffing would ultimately lead him, Sheffield and Blaustein to utilize the character of Raheem Abdul Mohammad only a few weeks after the prior sketch. And Sheffield told Yahoo Entertainment that the ultimate result turned out to be the moment that truly made Murphy a star:
All the rest of the cast members were so damn nervous and afraid of making a mistake. He sat down, stared at the camera and was so cool and so calm. He was just a natural.
As many would say, the rest is history. Eddie Murphy would go onto play several iconic characters during his SNL tenure like the impoverished Mr. Robinson, a hilariously arrogant version of Gumby and slick salesman Velvet Jones. Raheem Abdul Mohammed would also become one of his biggest recurring roles, as the character showed up to provide his hilarious entertainment commentary during a number of Weekend Update segments. Check out one for yourself down below:
Murphy’s presence on Saturday Night Live was pivotal, as the show was struggling in the early ‘80s. This was mostly due to the departure of the original cast. Thankfully, the comedic work of Murphy and co-star Joe Piscopo helped the series bounce back.
Saturday Night Live may have given Eddie Murphy his first real jolt of exposure, but the show also owes him a bit of gratitude as well. The chances of Murphy returning to host again are probably slim, but it would be cool to see him back on stage at some point in the future.
You can check out Eddie Murphy’s performances by streaming classic episodes of Saturday Night Live on Peacock.