In memory of a great comedian:
In the beginning of Chappelle’s Show, it was the little things that drew you to Charlie Murphy. His face of disgust and embarrassment as Buc Nasty, in response to the comment that Silky Johnston was en route to put water in his mother’s dish. Walking past Chad’s father in “The Mad Real World” sketch, stabbing him, passing off the shank, and then quickly walking away. Or, in “Calvin Got a Job,” following a comment about how proud people were for Calvin’s newfound success, pulling a ski-mask over his face while saying, “Let’s rob that nigga, man.”
At the time, Chappelle’s Show was already must-see television. The references, the characters, the jokes were all required viewing for Thursday morning conversations with friends, classmates, and colleagues. But following Charlie’s back-to-back storytelling epic, it wasn’t even worth coming to school or going to work the next day if you weren’t ready to call back every single moment from the previous night’s episode — a trend that reflected the show’s deep cultural impact, and lasted for the duration of the it’s three-season existence. Chappelle laid the groundwork, but Charlie proved he shined the brightest in the presence of legends, which spearheaded the show’s pivot toward greatness.
There was something about Charlie, where you just wanted him to win. He was so honest, mixing machismo, flickers of aggression, and pure self-deprecation to tell anecdotes like you’d never heard. In both the story about Rick James and Prince, he spends a significant amount of time losing in an embarrassing fashion. He told us about James punching him in the face, leaving a unity stamp on his forehead, and then slapping him at a bar. Then a week later, as if to defy the very parameters of storytelling itself, he unfurls an unbelievably wonderful anecdote about Prince crossing him up, while Prince’s band, The Revolution, destroyed he and his friends in basketball.