“One of the things comedians have to go through first to become a headliner is, you have to get people to like you,” he said. “There has to be something about you. ‘You hear about so-and-so?’ That’s how you pick up a fan base. I already had that from the movies I had been in before, and what happened with Chappelle’s Show sparked it off.
“Once I went onstage a couple times, the word got around very quickly amongst other comedians, because you’re not a like a new guy who is doing comedy—Eddie Murphy’s brother is onstage doing comedy,” he said, acknowledging his advantage. “So everybody came down to watch my show. Now, mind y’all, I was doing stand-up for two weeks, and I had guys that had been in the game for 15 years standing back in the room analyzing my show. I thought that was funny, ’cause I was like, ‘I’m a baby, man!’ But come analyze it now!”
Mr. Murphy grew up in Brooklyn (all over—Bedford-Stuyvesant, Williamsburg, Bushwick and Brownsville) and was in the Navy until 1984—the same year his little brother starred as Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop.
“When I came out of the military, I started working for him. That was my introduction into the game. I started working for him as security,” said Mr. Murphy. “Initially, it was like, ‘This is a great opportunity!’ I was looking at getting paid a certain amount of money, and it was a ton compared to what I was making in the service. So I took that really serious.”
The perils of keeping it in the family quickly became apparent to both Murphy brothers. “The fact that your client is your family member, that’s the worst kind of client you could have, because none of your decisions are based on logic—they’re all based on emotion,” he explained. “That’s not the way to do security.”
After a year, Mr. Murphy began what would turn out to be a lucrative writing career. “Started writin’, writin’, writin’, writin’,” he said. He sold a screenplay that he co-wrote with his brother and half-brother—the forgettable mid-90’s Eddie flick Vampire in Brooklyn. “It was the largest amount of money I ever made at one time,” said Mr. Murphy. Determined to repeat the success, he kept on writing, turning out a script a year for the last 10 years. Nine of those are sitting at the comedian’s house in Englewood, N.J. But one that he co-wrote, Norbit, in which Eddie Murphy plays about 50 roles, including a nerdy dude and a giant woman, is currently one of the top 10 money-makers of 2007.
He also had a cameo in the 2006 box-office smash Night at the Museum, in which Ben Stiller plays a night guard at the American Museum of Natural History who must control the restless historical figures and wild animals which come to life when the lights go down. Mr. Murphy only had a few lines as a taxi driver who appears at the end of the movie—“Who they gonna get to clean up all that doo?” he asks—but he expressed enthusiasm at having been involved. “I was blessed at the beginning of the year,” he said.
Mr. Murphy is hoping to record a DVD of his stand-up. “I want to take what I got, dump it, and start all over again right in front of everybody, because I know I can do this, and it’s another way of proving, of staying engaged,” he said. He’s also appearing in numerous upcoming films, including Perfect Christmas, a seasonal affair starring Terrence Howard and Gabrielle Union. One gets the sense, however, that it’s proving himself in front of a live audience that matters most to Mr. Murphy.
“I’ll put it to you like this,” he said: “Someone came to me once after the show and said, ‘You know, I came to your show, Charlie, and I was expecting you to talk about Chappelle’s Show, and Rick James and Prince, and you didn’t talk about none of that. And guess what? It didn’t matter.’ That was so rewarding to me—because that was a moment. You see, you can be perceived as a gimmick really easy the way I came on the scene, so that was my redemption right there. No, I’m not a gimmick, and no, I’m not going to be leaning on the obvious… I’m not gonna give nobody a perm; I’m not passing out cookies. I will make you laugh.”