When Eddie Murphy returned to Studio 6H for Saturday Night Live‘s 40th anniversary show in February, it was the comic legend’s first appearance on the show since he left the cast in 1984. But the excitement surrounding his long-awaited return was quickly overshadowed by the confusion of what he did with his brief time on the air: pretty much nothing. It was awkward stuff, even for live TV, so there wasn’t much surprise when the plot thickened a few months later. It turned out that Murphy had been asked to perform a sketch mocking his former hero, disgraced comedian, hip-hop critic, and Jell-O salesman Bill Cosby. Murphy had refused, saying that he didn’t want to “kick a man when he is down.”
But a few months — and the country’s highest award for comedy — seem to have changed his tune. While accepting the prestigious Mark Twain Prize in Washington D.C. last night, Murphy took to the stage of the Kennedy Center with a smile and a willingness to get his handy dirty. Addressing the fact that Cosby was forced to return his trophy after news of the allegations came out, Murphy deadpanned “You know you’ve fucked up when they want you to give your trophies back.”
And then, sensing that the room was on his side, Murphy went for it, launching into a Pudding Pop voice for a spot-on Cosby impression in which the elder comedian says “I’d like to talk to some of the people who feel…that I should give my motherfucking trophies back!” (You can see part of this impromptu takedown at the 2:55 mark). Murphy may not have gone for the jugular — this is the kind of light-natured ribbing that you might see at a roast of someone not facing numerous rape allegations — but it was a big statement from an iconic figure who felt that the veteran comedian, as well as the current issues surrounding him, was no longer fair comic game.