For the first time in some 35 years, Eddie Murphy returned to host “Saturday Night Live” — and he didn’t come alone.
Returning to Studio 8H in 30 Rockefeller Center — the place where Murphy performed as an “SNL” cast member from 1981 to 1984, a stint that catapulted him to comedy superstardom and rescued the show from its post-1970s doldrums — Murphy arrived after the cold open every bit the conquering hero, complete with the audience chants of “Eddie!”
Murphy beamed and talked about recently becoming a father to his 10th child. Marveling at how much his life has changed, Murphy said that if he’d been told years ago that by now he’d “be this boring house dad and Bill Cosby would be in jail — even I’d take that bet.”
In a nod to one of his regular impressions (and his refusal to portray Cosby in “SNL’s” 40th anniversary special in 2015), Murphy grinned and dipped into Cosby’s voice, saying, “Who’s America’s dad now?”
Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle and Tracy Morgan then arrived to pay their respects, each offering sketch ideas for Eddie’s comeback. Chappelle credited Murphy for providing a blueprint for his success. “I became the biggest star on television and then I quit,” Chappelle said.
“You’re looking at half of Netflix’s budget right here on set,” Chappelle joked, referencing Murphy’s latest movie on the streaming service, “Dolemite Is My Name,” and recent stand-up specials from Chappelle and Rock.
Murphy then reprised some of the recurring characters from his glory days. A return to “Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood” found Murphy’s character with gray hair and a bit of a paunch but still wearing his familiar flak jacket as he sang, “The white people came and changed everything, but I am still your neighbor.”
The sketch then introduced a few concepts of gentrification, including his new neighbors, a couple who “just paid $1.2 million for an apartment where Mr. Robinson’s friend used to cook crack,” Mr. Robinson told the “boys and girls” at home. Murphy hit the familiar touchstones of his wide-eyed surprise to knocks at the door and gruff, turn-on-a-dime shifts in tone to his guests.
Murphy’s Buckwheat also returned dressed as corn on the cob from “The Masked Singer,” marking something of a visit from the grave since Murphy killed off the blockbuster character in 1983.
Best known for his hit “Wookin’ Pa Nub” in those days, Murphy touched on a few new hits, including Stevie Wonder’s “Dine, Teal, Dawibba” (“Signed, Sealed, Delivered”), Beyoncé's “Tinga Nadies” (“Single Ladies”) and, in keeping with the season, Jose Feliciano’s “Aneese Nameena” (“Feliz Navidad”).
Murphy’s wide-collared entrepreneur Velvet Jones also appeared on a “Black Jeopardy” sketch and struggled to keep up with the times before updating his self-help material to “How to Be an Instagram Ho.”
But maybe the funniest return occurred during the “Weekend Update” segment, which found Murphy back in his dress greens as the irascible Gumby, berating anchors Michael Che and Colin Jost. “I’m the one that made Eddie Murphy a star,” insisted Gumby, furious at his poor treatment. “This is the thanks I get for saving the show. Shame on you, Lorne Michaels! Shame on you, NBC!”
With a little luck, it won’t be another 35 years before Murphy pays his old friends a visit.