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PBS To Air Eddie Murphy Receiving The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize
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PBS To Air Eddie Murphy Receiving The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize

Television

PBS To Air Eddie Murphy Receiving The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize

PBS To Air Eddie Murphy Receiving The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize
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The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor went to comedian Eddie Murphy this year. Monday night, PBS will air Murphy's first jokes for an audience in 28 years, delivered during his acceptance speech.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In this country tonight, PBS shows one of the most talked about tributes of the year. It's last month's Kennedy Center Ceremony for Eddie Murphy. He received the Mark Twain Prize in humor and returned to stand up. Here's NPR TV critic, Eric Deggans.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: When Eddie Murphy took the stage to accept the Mark Twain Prize, he unleashed a comedy bit heard around the world. After refusing to impersonate a scandal-plagued Bill Cosby on "Saturday Night Live's" 40th anniversary show, he did it for the crowd at the Kennedy Center. He imagined how Cosby would react if they tried to take his Twain Prize back.

(SOUNDBITE OF KENNEDY CENTER CEREMONY)

EDDIE MURPHY: (Impersonating Bill Cosby) I would like to talk to...

(LAUGHTER)

MURPHY: Some of the people who feel that I should give back my trophies.

(LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: It was the first time Murphy had done a routine on stage in nearly 30 years. And his Cosby bit brought down the house.

(SOUNDBITE OF KENNEDY CENTER CEREMONY)

MURPHY: (Impersonating Bill Cosby) You may have heard that I allegedly put the pill in the people's chocolate.

(LAUGHTER)

MURPHY: (Impersonating Bill Cosby) I wish somebody would come up to my house talking about give up the trophy because you put the pill into people's chocolate. You get nothing.

DEGGANS: Murphy's performance was a wonderful ending to a night mostly focused on how great the comic used to be. And yet, it was also a potent reminder of what he's still capable of as a comedian. Established in 1998, the Mark Twain Prize features a ceremony where friends and performers influenced by the honoree talk about career highlights. In this case, that included Dave Chappelle talking about Murphy's first appearance on Johnny Carson's, "Tonight Show."

(SOUNDBITE OF KENNEDY CENTER CEREMONY)

DAVE CHAPPELLE: What you're going to see is something that looks inevitable. It's not like watching a guy who's doing his first "Tonight Show." If you never saw "The Tonight Show" before, you'd wonder whose show it was.

DEGGANS: Murphy talked about one of his signature impressions on "SNL," "The Little Rascals" character Buckwheat.

(SOUNDBITE OF KENNEDY CENTER CEREMONY)

MURPHY: I'm from a predominantly black family.

(LAUGHTER)

MURPHY: And I have yet to run into a relative named Buckwheat at a cookout, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

MURPHY: You can't just walk off the streets and walk up to somebody and say, hey, how you doing? My name's Tom. What's yours? Oh, my name's Buckwheat, man. Nice to meet you.

DEGGANS: The lineup of comics who cited Murphy as an influence was impressive, including Tracy Morgan...

(SOUNDBITE OF KENNEDY CENTER CEREMONY)

TRACY MORGAN: Because Eddie came from where I come from, the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. People in the projects used to call me Fat Murphy.

(LAUGHTER)

MORGAN: They did.

DEGGANS: Chris Rock...

(SOUNDBITE OF KENNEDY CENTER CEREMONY)

CHRIS ROCK: Eddie Murphy is to comedians what Nicki Minaj is to Spanx.

(LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: And Kathy Griffin.

(SOUNDBITE OF KENNEDY CENTER CEREMONY)

KATHY GRIFFIN: I am Kathy Griffin, and I am tonight's diversity hire.

(LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: But as the comics introduced video clips of Murphy playing multiple roles in "The Nutty Professor" or making arena-sized audiences laugh with his standup routines, there was a sense of something unfinished. At age 54, with his looks and wit intact, Murphy appears more like a superstar ready for a third act, barely winded by his recent string of box office disappointments. Here's hoping his latest taste of the stage fuels a return to the work that earned him that Mark Twain Prize in the first place - because if PBS's tribute proves anything, it's that Murphy at his best is a glorious sight indeed. I'm Eric Deggans.

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