When Eddie Murphy Got Into James Brown’s Hot Tub
What happens when one of the funniest men in the world became the Hardest Working Man in Show Business? The April 24, 1982, episode of Saturday Night Live saw Eddie Murphy do his impression of James Brown for the first time.
The sketch was little more than Murphy, as Soul Brother No. 1, singing selections from Annie (the movie adaptation of the hit Broadway musical was about to be released). But it was the next time he impersonated Brown, on Nov. 5, 1983, that wound up becoming one of the most famous sketches of Eddie Murphy's time on the show, "James Brown's Celebrity Hot Tub Party."
Wearing nothing but a wig, gold bikini briefs and a bathrobe that read "Hot Tub Man #1," Murphy sang and danced around a hot tub while the band played an approximation of Brown's funk-defining tracks of the late '60s and early '70s such as "Cold Sweat," "Hot Pants," "I Got the Feeling" "Super Bad" and "Mother Popcorn." At one point, they re-created Brown's cape stunt from The T.A.M.I. Show before Murphy shed the robe and got in the water.
Murphy only played Brown one more time on Saturday Night Live, on Feb. 25, 1984, where he was interviewed by the host, veteran newsman Edwin Newman, whose lengthy questions were met with rambling from Murphy. That turned out to be Murphy's last episode as a cast member.
Fans also got a taste of his James Brown impression in the summer of 1983 in Murphy's stand-up concert film Delirious. "You don't have to be able to talk to sing and get famous," Murphy said. "James Brown's been singing for 20 years. I don't know what the fuck James is talking about. I don't understand shit James says. I met him once at Saturday Night Live, walked up to him and said, 'James, I love your stuff.' He said, '[incomprehensible mumbles].' And whatever James is saying is some real heavy shit to James. ... 'cause at the end of every sentence, he ended off with 'Huh!'"
That was followed by about a minute-long impersonation of a typical Brown song, complete with shouts to Maceo Parker and a little bit of call-and-response with Brown's hype man Bobby Byrd in "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine" thrown in for good measure.
In 2007, Murphy told Access that Brown once approached him about starring in a biopic of the legend. Murphy said, "I said, ‘James, if I do you, people will be laughing.' [He said], 'They ain’t gonna laugh if you don’t try to be funny.'"
But he also acknowledged that, at this point in his life, playing James Brown would have been too physically demanding. "I couldn’t do James Brown now until he got [to] 40, ‘cause I’m 45. I’ll be 46 in April and I’m not doin’ no splits and no shit like that and rippin’ my ass out tryin’ to make no movie. The split days are gone."
Instead, he based his performance of James "Thunder" Early in Dreamgirls on Brown. The role earned Murphy the best reviews of his film career, as well as the Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, New York Film Critics Society and BET Awards, as well as an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.