Eddie Murphy appeared to have the best time of his life during his return to Saturday Night Live—his first as host since 1984—and naturally, his appearance was not without controversy.
During his opening monologue, Murphy referenced Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction, for which he was sentenced to at least three years in prison.
“But if you would have told me 30 years ago that I would be this boring, stay-at-home...house dad and Bill Cosby would be in jail, even I would have took that bet,” Murphy said before uttering the following using a Cosby impersonation, “Who is America’s Dad now?”
“Mr. Cosby became the first Black to win an Emmy for his role in I Spy and Mr. Cosby broke color barriers in the Entertainment Industry, so that Blacks like Eddie Murphy, Dave Chappell[e] [sic], Kevin Hart and et al., could have an opportunity to showcase their talents for many generations to come,” Cosby’s spokesperson Andrew Wyatt said in a statement obtained by CNN. “It is sad that Mr. Murphy would take this glorious moment of returning to SNL and make disparaging remarks against Mr. Cosby. One would think that Mr. Murphy was given his freedom to leave the plantation so that he could make his own decisions, but he decided to sell himself back to being a Hollywood Slave. Stepin Fetchit plus cooning equals the destruction of Black Men in Hollywood.”
The “Stepin Fetchit” line is considerably hypocritical, given Cosby’s “You cannot blame white people” or “Are you not paying attention, people with their hat on backwards, pants down around the crack” soundbites during his infamous “Pound Cake” speech in 2004.
Cosby has since admitted the speech was a “mistake,” but not for the respectability politics surrounding what he said, but simply because he didn’t want it to appear as if he was speaking about all African Americans.
He then doubled down on his speech, noting, “They are under siege. This thing with the drugs and the different pockets of the neighborhoods where it’s going on. When you look at what drugs are doing…things that make these people drive around and shoot into crowds…The insanity of what is the cause to the brain by all the drugs these people are dealing with. It’s exactly what I warned them about in 2004. They’ve thrown education out the window.”
Additionally, Murphy’s joke wasn’t an attempt to jump on a bandwagon simply because it’s now “cool” to disparage Cosby in public, but the two have had quite a contentious relationship throughout the years.
As the Daily Beast reports, Murphy opened up to Jerry Seinfeld about it on the Netflix show, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee:
Shaking his head, Murphy says, “He had a weird thing with me that he didn’t have with other comics. It was mean.” For instance, he says Cosby would tell him not to talk about how much money he had on stage. “You should come and see how it’s supposed to be done,” Cosby would tell him. “You shouldn’t get on the stage unless you have something to say.”
“He wasn’t nice,” Murphy says of Cosby. “He wasn’t doing that with everybody, he was doing that with me specifically. He was shitty with me.”
Well, what wasn’t shitty was Murphy’s Saturday night. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Murphy’s episode—which was SNL’s last episode of the year—was the long-running sketch comedy show’s best ratings night in two years.
The Dec. 21 episode of the variety sketch series, with host Murphy and musical guest Lizzo, averaged a 2.5 rating in adults 18-49 and 9.921 million viewers overall, according to live-plus-same-day “fast official” ratings from Nielsen Media Research.
I guess that’s the way the puddin’ pops.
The Root has reached out to Murphy’s team for comment.