Clunk. Clunk. Click.
Oh shit! Mom’s home! She’s gonna catch me. Damn, ok relax. I can do this. Just focus. Focus. Gotta put the tape away. Fix the bed. Put everything back to normal. Gotta be like a ninja on this one.
1) Shut off the TV!
2) Take out the tape and chuck it somewhere. I’ll get it later.
Right as I’m about to chuck the tape, mom walks in and catches me mid-throw. The tape lands a foot from me, on the top end so she can’t see the label. I’m shook. She’s gonna freak when she sees what I’m watching.
She pauses for a moment to read the room. The silence is killing me. I just want to blurt out what I was watching to get the punishment over with.
She picks up the tape. She turns it over and reads the label. “Boy, what the hell are you watching?”
I just let out a weak, “Nothing.”
“Oh really, nothing? What have I told you about watching this filthy stuff? You know damn well you’re not supposed to be watching this, and the VCR is still on, so don’t tell me nothing, boy!”
Alright, it’s over, I’m finally caught. I’m done, after all these times watching the tape she finally got me when I wasn’t paying attention. Yet, she pauses for a second. She looks at the tape and then gives me a wry smile.
“So you in here watching Eddie Murphy: Delirious?” she asks.
“Yeah,” I say meekly. “I really like it, he’s really funny.”
She pulls me close and gives me a hug. She takes the tape, puts it in the VCR, and rewinds it.
“We gonna watch this together. I knew it was only a matter of time before you found it. Since all my Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce books and tapes went missing I knew you’d get to this one sooner or later,” she says.
The tape finishes rewinding and she presses play. I’m still nervous because I’ve never watched something R-rated with her before. But after an hour and a half of laughing until it hurts, I feel a connection with my mom that I haven’t felt before. My secret came out and instead of being mad she embraced my love for comedy and my obsession with Eddie Murphy.
When the credits roll she turns to me and asks, “So you think he’s funny, do you?”
“Yes, I want to be just like him.”
She moves closer and looks at me and asks, “Why is he funny?”
I’m stumped. I didn’t know what to say. All I know is that he says funny things and I laugh at them. But once she says that, my mindset shifts and I’m desperate to know why. Why is Eddie Murphy funny? She gets up slowly, and says to me, “You’re still in trouble, boy.” Then she walks out the room.
Ever since Mom challenged me with the question of why, I’ve needed to know the answer. It seems like every waking moment is dedicated to knowing the formula for funny. I record Delirious on my Talkboy — the toy Macaulay Culkin uses in Home Alone 2 — taping over Mom’s ABBA cassette.
I listen to that tape just about every day. I play it before I go to sleep. I play it when I wake up. Eddie’s set is like my bible. After I know it word for word, I study the specific aspects of his delivery — his inflection, the voices he uses. When I re-watch the Eddie special with friends, I pay attention to their reactions to gauge which antics cracked them up the most.
As I get older, I begin to perform a lot at school. I love being in front people; it brings me so much joy. It’s also the only place I feel totally safe. No one can touch me up there.
But Mom can never watch me perform. I get it: she has to work two jobs, a single mother providing for me and my sisters. Worked to the bone. So I always imagine she’s there — laughing and smiling at me — and that makes me feel in control.
When I turn 17, I do my first open mic at a coffee shop near my hometown in Connecticut. White people, dim lighting, and overpriced coffee. Terrifying. A lanky, balding comedian in a green bookie’s visor notices my anxiety and gives me a little pep talk.
“Hey kid, let me ask you a question” he says. “Who’s your favorite comic?”
“Eddie Murphy,” I say. “I learned to love comedy from Delirious.”
“Okay then, think about Delirious. Eddie Murphy was the most confident man on the planet that night. What he did better than anyone else was just be himself. With pure confidence. And he was only 20, 22. Go do that too.”
When I go on, I do what I do at the school shows; I imagine Mom smiling at me like she did when we watched Delirious together. Then I’m good to go. “I live in a house full of girls and the best thing about that is that the toilet seat is always warm.” Ever since that night I’ve been hooked.
As I continue to work on my own comedy I watch specials from Eddie, Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, and George Carlin. They each have their own style, but have this in common: confidence. A fearlessness to be themselves.
As time goes on, I do more and more stand up. I start to think less about what made Eddie funny and begin to figure out what makes me funny.
I keep getting better, and I start getting better gigs — even getting paid for a few of them. One gig is at Foxwoods Casinos out in Connecticut. There is this fellow comedian who’s very new at stand up, probably a few months in. He is pacing back and forth and reciting his lines to himself over and over. I’m getting ready to go up, getting in my zone. But I realize this kid needs my attention right now. I turn to him.
“You wrote those words, they didn’t write you,” I tell him.
“What if they don’t laugh, what do I do then?” he asks.
“Here’s what you do,” I say. “Go up there and pretend you’re 22-year-old Eddie Murphy. Be confident and have fun. Just be yourself. That’s all Eddie ever did. The rest will come with time.”
A bear and a rabbit are takin’ a shit in the woods, and the bear turns to the rabbit and says: “Excuse me, you have problems with shit sticking to your fur?” And the rabbit says: “No.” So the bear wiped his ass with the rabbit.
Edward Regan Murphy, b. 1961
As I stand behind the curtain, he buries his head in his notepad and I smile. And then I hear the words that give me the biggest rush, every single time:
“Coming next to the stage — Rob Santos!”