Unspeakably vulgar, unbelievably rude, and the virtual textbook definition of “politically incorrect,” Eddie Murphy’s Delirious is not only a classic piece of standup, but an honest-to-goodness cultural touchstone for an entire generation of comedy fans. If you came of age during the ’80s or ’90s, chances are you’ve spent at least one evening – if not dozens – gathered around a television with friends, trapped in gales of helpless laughter as you watch Murphy unleash one of Delirious‘ many timeless bits. If you’ve ever screamed “ICE CREAM MAN IS COMING!” or sung “G.I. Joe is swimming in the water,” you understand – and you’re probably interested in Starz/Anchor Bay’s new double-disc reissue of the special, which first aired on HBO in 1983. (Clearly, someone at the studio isn’t so good at math, but whatever.)
We’re all sadly accustomed to the crap Murphy puts out now – as soon as you think it can’t get any worse than The Haunted Mansion, he goes and does Meet Dave - but there was a time when he could almost literally take your breath away with the force of his comic talent, and Delirious is close to ground zero. Though he’d already made a name for himself as the breakout cast member during a pretty bleak period for Saturday Night Live, he hadn’t been given the opportunity to show off his standup skills on a national stage, and here, freed from the NBC censors, he’s a man unleashed; whether he’s talking about family cookouts or what it might be like if Ed Norton and Ralph Kramden had anal sex, he peppers his speech with liberal doses of profanity. Even his between-bit riffs are devoted to such non-family-hour topics as what lurks beneath the crotch of his skintight red leather pants.
Anyone can work blue, of course; as countless authority figures have warned us, profanity is the last refuge of a feeble mind – or something like that, anyway. If being shocking was the only thing Murphy had going for him, he’d be remembered the same way as Andrew “Dice” Clay – in other words, hardly at all. But as Delirious makes clear, Murphy was so much more; here, he moves fluidly from spooky impressions (Jackie Gleason, Michael Jackson, Elvis) to observations on the battle of the then-burgeoning battle of the sexes, to the terror of living under the tyranny of a mother who could turn one of her high heels into a boomerang. Like any good comedian, he understood how to take a situation most people could relate to and tweak it just enough to make it funny – but he had a devastating stage presence and a voice made for mimicry to go along with that understanding. Delirious was lightning in a bottle – something made clearer with each step on the sad parade of Murphy’s latter-day career.
It bears mentioning that, through more sensitive modern eyes, Delirious isn’t always funny so much as it is surprisingly insensitive, particularly when Murphy’s talking about catching AIDS by kissing homosexuals on the lips – but it’s important to remember that this was 1983, and nothing resembling a real fact about the disease would penetrate the public consciousness for years to come. Those bits date Delirious, and if you’re easily offended, they may well turn you off completely – much the same way his bit about his father turning old dog shit into a coffee table would have left you cold in ’83.
What’s interesting about the new 25th Anniversary reissue is that Delirious didn’t even reach DVD until 2007; you’d think the rights holders would have just waited until ’08 to put it on the market at all. Then again, you’d also tend to think that if they were going to add another disc to the package – and $20 to the price – they’d drum up more bonus content than “The Making of Delirious,” a 28-minute featurette that revolves around a sit-down between Murphy and the nauseatingly obsequious Byron Allen, who kicks things off with “you look great” and generally asks the sort of questions you might expect from a very sleepy John Tesh. The second disc also includes a brief bit of bonus footage from the concert, as well as the uncut Allen interview – both of which were already available on DVD.
What it boils down to is that you can head to Amazon and either pay $7 for the original DVD release or pony up $27 for a package that isn’t appreciably different. Delirious remains as wonderfully funny as ever, and it’s well worth adding to your home library, but unless you’re drowning in disposable income, the choice seems pretty clear. -Jeff Giles
Eddie Murphy: Delirious – 25th Anniversary Edition (Starz/Anchor Bay, 2009)
Starring: Eddie Murphy
Director: Bruce Gowers