The last time Eddie Murphy appeared on stage at Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center, it was during Saturday Night Live’s 40th anniversary special. Instead of portraying Bill Cosby in a star-studded Celebrity Jeopardy sketch—as the show wanted him to—Murphy instead made one brief appearance to say how “happy” he was to be back before awkwardly throwing to commercial. No jokes were told.
Tonight, Murphy finally returned for real, hosting SNL for the first time in 35 years. And he came ready to play.
There was apparently no role for him in the overcrowded cold open Democratic debate sketch, but Murphy, who joined SNL as a cast member in 1980 when he was just 19 years old, got the loudest ovation of any host in recent memory when he jogged out onto the stage for his monologue, prompting a chant of “Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!” And he was quick to address his long absence.
“This is the last episode of 2019,” he said, “but if you’re black, it’s the first episode since I left in 1984.” Showing a photo of himself from back then, he said, “You know what they say: money don’t crack.”
After referencing that he has a new baby at home, Murphy said, “If you would have told me 30 years ago that I would be this boring stay-at-home house dad and Bill Cosby would be in prison, even I would have took that bet.” Perfectly imitating Cosby, he asked, “Who is America’s dad now?”
Earlier this year, Murphy opened up to Jerry Seinfeld about his difficult relationship with Cosby. “He had a weird thing with me that he didn’t have with other comics. It was mean,” he said at the time. “He wasn’t doing that with everybody, he was doing that with me specifically. He was shitty with me.”
Over the course of his monologue, Murphy was joined first by Tracy Morgan, then by Chris Rock and then Dave Chappelle, each of whom pitched sketch ideas.
“You know, I followed your blueprint for my entire career,” Chappelle told him. “Yeah, yeah. I became the biggest star I could on television. And then I quit!” Rock joked that Lorne Michaels once thought he might be “the next Eddie Murphy” before quickly realizing he was not.
By the end, Kenan Thompson, who might actually deserve that title, joined the quartet on stage. “I’m back!” Murphy said. “I dare you to turn the channel.”