What exactly was Charlie Murphy doing before he got famous for slapping the shit out of Rick James on Chappelle's Show? "Well, I was in movies. The last 20 years, I've been writing movies, being in movies. Between that and just hustling... I was a martial arts instructor for a couple years. I did a lot of stuff, man," Murphy says. "Prior to that I was in the military, prior to that I was in jail, prior to that I was in high school not sure what I wanted to do with my life."
These days, though, Charlie Murphy is a star. He's writing books, shooting Comedy Central specials, and sipping liquid crack (AKA Cuban coffee). And this weekend, Charlie will come to the Miami Improv for a three-night stand. New Times talked to him about baby bro Eddie, eating in the Magic City, and the day Dave Chappelle went AWOL.
New Times: People seem to think you're a wild man because of True Hollywood Stories -- Rick James, karate kicks, and bitch-slaps. What was a day with Charlie Murphy like back in the '80s?
Charlie Murphy: I was a wild man. [Laughs.] They got the right impression. I mean, people can say it was wild or whatever, but I look at it like this: They just jealous 'cause they couldn't have fun. And we had fun, man. We went places, seen things, did things. It was a good time.
Now we live in the era of "I caught you!" Everybody has a cell phone with a camera on it. Everybody is Twittering. The world's a smaller place now, and you can't have fun like you used to.
How about now? Say we spent a Saturday with Charlie Murphy. Would it be crazy or chilled-out?
If I'm home with my kids, it'll be very chilled-out. But if I go out... You know, if I'm in cities like San Francisco, New York, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, or any of those major cities, I know I'm gonna be out gettin' something to eat.
Especially Miami, I love it 'cause of the different kinds of food they got. I can get some Jamaican food. I can get some Haitian food. I can get some Cuban food. It's just off the hook. You know, I'm gonna get some good Cuban chicken, baby. And the little cups of coffee they have there. The liquid crack or whatever they call it. Can't beat that either, man.
You recently started a web show called Charlie Murphy's Crash Comedy. How did that happen?
My manager has a friend over at Sony, and they were talking about an opportunity for me to do some sketch comedy on their website crackle.com. And it was a great idea because it was also an opportunity for me to show my skills outside Chappelle's Show. This is sketch comedy work directly from me. So nobody gets to twist it and go, "Well, it was Chappelle's Show. The sketch was funny, but there were other people involved and so and so and so." I did my own.
Tell us about Leroy Smith. Is that a character you created?
No, it's a character that Nike created. Leroy Smith is totally not my idea. I was hired as an actor. Nike came to me with the idea and they had a script written already. Then we went and we shot it. Now, as far as the personification of Leroy Smith, that took place when the makeup was on and I looked in the mirror. I said, "OK. I've seen this guy before and I know how he flows. He's an old-school jazz baby. I seen his car and everything!"
Is it tough becoming a successful standup with a hugely famous family member?
What if Richard Pryor had a brother who started doing standup? Look at the hard time that Tony Rock is having. He's a good standup. But he's Chris Rock's little brother. People are reluctant to accept you based on the fact that "Oh, I know your brother and he's this. How could you be that too? Unless you both came out at the same time as the So-and-So Brothers or whatever, my brain can't wrap around you showin' up now saying, 'Listen to my jokes.'" That's a huge obstacle to overcome. And anyone who's a sibling of someone who's famous, not to mention a superstar, has to contend with it.
You're the older brother. But when Eddie got huge, was there ever any jealousy?
I was proud, man. There was never no jealousy. I think for anything to happen in a family, the money's gotta be old. You gotta have generations upon generations of your family that just had money... you know, two brothers born into money and they grow up. Then I could see some jealousy and sibling rivalry and all that. But we're from meager beginnings. You know what I'm sayin'? If I look at my family tree and follow every generation before us, going all the way back to the slaves, then Eddie Murphy is the highest achievement as far as my bloodline is concerned. How could you be jealous? You can only be proud, unless you got some serious issues.
When Chappelle's Show fell apart, were you stunned? Or did you already see the end coming?
Nobody seen the end coming, man. We had a great day at work. It was a normal day, a productive day. It was funny. We had fun. And it was that day, now that I think about it, that I drove into work. I had a brand-new 750 BMW and we were shooting a scene. They said, "You have to move your car." But I couldn't leave to go move the car. So they had this guy who was dressed in an A.J. Foyt speedsuit. He was a driver. He had a special Indy 500 flame-retardant suit with his name on it and everything. And he was a driver, so I was like, "OK, I trust this guy." He was driving 18-wheeler buses, and he had an official Indy 500 suit. I gave him my car and he crashed that shit!
What? Who was this guy?
That's exactly what I was thinking. [Laughs.] "Who was this guy?" We left right after that happened. I was real pissed off and I left the set. And later that day, I got a call that the show was cancelled. All that happened the same day, man. It was like the Twilight Zone.
At the time, Dave Chappelle wasn't happy that Comedy Central was planning to air the Lost Episodes. Was it a tough decision for you to host that short third season of Chappelle's Show?
It wasn't no hard decision, man. It was an easy decision. It was like, "Do you want these episodes to be shown? Do you want closure to come to the show? Or do you want the show to end weird?" I mean, they was talking to Steve Harvey and Chris Rock and Cedric the Entertainer to host the show. But they wasn't even on the show, so why would you have them host the Lost Episodes? And the cast that was on the show, were none of them worthy of hosting? That's what you're saying. That's why I accepted the opportunity. If we didn't do it, it would have really looked bad for all of us.
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Your new book, The Making of a Stand-Up Guy, doesn't seem like your typical comedian book. It's not packed with gags.
It's not a joke book. It's autobiographical and it's funny. See, if you come to my standup show, I'm not your typical comedian. I don't just come on and rattle off jokes. I talk about things that are really happening, things you might have gone through, things that you may be going through right now. I make you laugh about that stuff. That's my style... Reality, not "the chicken was crossin' the street." I don't tell those kinds of jokes. It's all about people, places, and things, baby. That's life.
Friday, June 25. Miami Improv, 3390 Mary St., Coconut Grove. The bitch-slaps start at 8:30 p.m. and 10:45 p.m. Tickets cost $32.10, plus the Improv's two-drink minimum. There are additional shows Saturday, June 26, and Sunday, June 27. Call 305-441-8200 or visit miamiimprov.com.