It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years since Delirious, Eddie Murphy’s trailblazing HBO stand-up comedy special. After all, has anyone charted quite as strange a career trajectory as Murphy, who went from deriding watered-down family entertainment in his blistering stand-up sets to starring in virtually nothing but those sorts of films? His star has fallen even more In the last several years. What, of mainstream, zeitgeist-shifting relevance, has Murphy done in the past half-decade, other than bang one of the Spice Girls, endlessly circle a return to the Beverly Hills Cop franchise, and release a string of terrible movies? Even the Dreamgirls post-Oscar nomination bump didn’t materialize, perhaps chiefly because he didn’t actually win, but also in part because of the perception that, 1) his performance was part an update/re-do of his old James Brown-in-a-hot-tub Saturday Night Live shtick, and 2) he was surly and ungrateful the entire awards season, and especially after his Oscar evening loss.
The red jumpsuit — everyone remembers the red jumpsuit (above). What about Murphy’s actual routine, though? Standing back and squinting a bit, one can appreciate the groundbreaking nature of Delirious, certainly. But while portions of the 70-minute special, taped live at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., still play, a lot of what’s been labeled by some “the defining moment of comedy in the 1980s” (at least per the video box blurb) comes across as dated, wan and crassly calculated in its offensiveness. The opening of the show, in which Murphy announces, “Faggots are not allowed to look at my ass!” introduces a bit of sigh-inducing discomfort, but even more unnerving is the raucous audience reaction. Later, when Murphy dissects the current-day climate of sexual fear by opining that a woman who cheats on him or is promiscuous might “come home with that AIDS on their lips” after kissing a gay man, he comes across as stupid but, somewhat terrifyingly, knowingly so — like he’s stoking audience ignorance merely for holler-back yelps of affirmation.
In the adolescent recollections of family barbecues and chasing down the ice cream man, one can see the template for Murphy’s multiple-Klump turns in the Nutty Professor comedies. That comprises the sweet portion of Murphy’s material, easily balanced out by the spiciness of his bizarre sexual fantasies, and vocal parodies of top American entertainers like Michael Jackson, Bill Cosby, Stevie Wonder, James Brown and Mick Jagger. Delirious provides a snapshot of Murphy, then only 22 years old, as he was transitioning into movie roles, before films like Beverly Hills Cop, The Golden Child and Coming to America would cement his status as an iconic cross-over star that white audiences would pay to see on screen. Viewed through this lens, and interpreted strictly as a piece of time capsule entertainment, it still more or less holds up. But it also provides a glimpse of the hubris and meanspiritedness that would come to characterize latter-day Murphy, not to even mention tabloid-type gossip about his sexual predilections and hang-ups.
Housed in a regular Amaray case in turn stored in a bright red
cardboard slipcover that, truth be told, doesn’t exactly match the hue
of Murphy’s suit, the two-disc, 25th anniversary edition of Delirious comes to DVD presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, with an English language Dolby digital stereo audio track. Five minutes of excised concert footage kicks off the bonus material, though it’s mostly Murphy lacing into a woman in the crowd who at various points keeps interrupting him, with a little bit of extra Buckwheat imitation sprinkled in for good measure. A 28-minute making-of/historical overview featurette offers genuflection and reminiscence from an impressive roster of comedians and actors, including Keenan Ivory Wayans, Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Chris Tucker, Katt Williams, Cedric the Entertainer, Sinbad, Wayne Brady, Anthony Anderson, David Alan Grier, John Witherspoon and, naturally, Arsenio Hall, who would go to costar opposite Murphy in several films. There’s also a 35-minute chat — though it’s the interview equivalent of a reach-around, really — between Murphy and hand-selected pal Byron Allen, who lobs him softballs in genial fashion but at least has some of-the-era anecdotes to interject. The callousness with which Murphy dismisses protesters of his show’s content is a bit disconcerting, but he does provide one affable moment of guard-down introspection, sharing that he took as his early acting inspiration for 48 Hours and other films none other than… Bruce Lee? It’s all in the eyes, Murphy says. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. C+ (Concert) A (Disc)