The Best Comedic Debuts on 'The Tonight Show'

Legendary sets that made careers of Joan Rivers, Jerry Seinfeld, Drew Carey, Garry Shandling, Roseanne and more

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Eddie Murphy

By the time Murphy made it to The Tonight Show, America already knew him from Saturday Night Live: He was goofy, he was playful, and he had a bite. For the most part, they didn't realize exactly who and what he was as a stand-up. When he strides onto the Tonight Show stage — clad in a dark suit and tie, hand casually slid into a pocket, with the confidence of a wolf in a sheep's pen — he makes that stand-up persona abundantly clear. "Thank you," he says and then, when someone in the crowd keeps hooting, barks, "Shut up." Murphy easily ropes in the crowd talking about Buckwheat, a common point of connection due to his impression of the Little Rascal on SNL, and gives them that braying laugh. 

Though he has calibrated and sanitized his club act here, he hints at the aspects of himself which will later come bursting through in concert films Delirious and Raw. His dirty side is just in sight while talking about the underwear models without a "bulge," and his politics are there while he considers the potentially dangerous life of America's first black president. While Murphy delivers this assured set on January 1st, 1982, he is already well on his way to fame; Trading Places is a year away, and Beverly Hills Cop is not far behind.

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