Norm Macdonald Says Eddie Murphy Declined to Impersonate Bill Cosby on SNL 40

     February 18, 2015

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NBC’s SNL 40th anniversary special was a huge hit for the network, earning the highest-watched ratings of any non-sports primetime telecast in nearly a decade. It was also a huge hit for fans, delivering a handful of great sketches, an A-list roster of celebrity appearances, and a delightful assemblage of the most beloved comedians of our time.

If there was a sore spot for many viewers, it was Eddie Murphy‘s disappointing return to the show. While Murphy is credited for keeping the show alive during Lorne Michaels‘ five-year hiatus in the ’80s, he hadn’t set foot on the SNL stages for over 30 years, so fans were understandably expecting a triumphant return. However, after a lengthy introduction from Chris Rock, Murphy appeared on stage for just over a minute, mostly just to clap and say thanks for the memories. So, what happened?

eddie-murphy-snl-40-2Former SNL castmember and Weekend Update host, Norm Macdonald, who also helped write the 40th anniversary episode, took to Twitter this evening to give some behind-the-scenes insight. Macdonald began his story saying, “It was some week.”

He recalled showing up on Monday to write and learning that Michaels wanted a Celebrity Jeopardy sketch. Macdonald explained the format of the beloved SNL sketch, which has often been considered an opportunity to lampoon celebrities, but was in fact “a rhythm piece” that hinged on the dynamic between “Connery” (Darrell Hammond), who was abusive, “Burt” (Norm Macdonald), who was disinterested, and “Trebek” (Will Ferrell), who was always hopeful. The humor, Macdonald insists, never came from the celebrity who filled the third contestant podium, but the interaction between the three characters.

So when Macdonald and his co-writer Steve Higgins were told to write a sketch featuring a bunch of celebrities impersonating each other, they were worried that the rhythm would be destroyed, and the 40th anniversary sketch would disappoint.

But then Higgins had an “idea that would blow the show wide open”. An idea that would showcase the return of Murphy. At this point in his Twitter tale, Macdonald took some time to praise Murphy for his accomplishments and for keeping SNL afloat.

thousand-words-movie-image-eddie-murphy-01Higgins’ idea was to feature the category “Potent Potables”, a common category on Jeopardy that had never been used on Celebrity Jeopardy, in which Murphy would do a perfect impersonation of Bill Cosby mixing a drink.

The offer was extended, somehow Brett Ratner became the middleman, and they learned that Murphy was hesitant to play the part. Macdonald believed he would come around, but as we all know now. He didn’t. Instead Keenan Thompson played the part.

I think Murphy made the right choice in this instance. It would have been nice to see him do more on the anniversary episode, but the Cosby joke didn’t play for me – too tasteless, to inconsiderate. It seems Macdonald thinks Murphy made a commendable choice as well. His story wrapped up with great praise.

What do you think? Should Murphy have done the sketch, or did he make the right choice? Sound off in the comments.

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