Charlie Murphy Talks Black Jesus, the Comedy Get Down and the Legacy of Rick James

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When Black Jesus first premiered last year on Adult Swim, there were a number of reasons to tune in. Aaron McGruder’s follow-up to The Boondocks promised to bring us a weed-smoking, foul-mouthed, Compton-raised Son of Man, the likes of which we’d never seen. We came for the blasphemy, and stayed for the incredible cast of comedians on board, the incomparable Charlie Murphy being among them.

Years ago, he became something of legend when he introduced the world to Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories on Chappelle’s Show. In addition to the Rick James and Prince sketches that will go down in history as two of the greatest moments of comedy in television, Charlie Murphy became integral to the cast of the series. Paste caught up with Murphy to talk about his role on Black Jesus as the villainous, hatin’ ass landlord, Vic, his latest comedy tour and, of course, Rick James.

Paste Magazine: I wanted to start by talking a little about your early beginnings in comedy. For a lot of comedians, there’s something unique about their family life that leads them into comedy. Did growing up as a kid in Brooklyn have an impact on your ultimate career choice?
Charlie Murphy: Now it seems like it does, but back then, no. My personality is what it is. Some people called it the dozens, I don’t know what they call it now—snappin’. We used to call it rankin’ when I was growin’ up. I used to rank people out every day. I was the dude you didn’t wanna go to school with, because I would come to school and get on your shoes. If you had a hole in your pants, I’d talk about it all day long. If your hair was messed up, if you had buck teeth, I’d talk about it all day long. And I made people laugh doing it, but it wasn’t like I thought I was a comedian.

Paste: I know this was a while back, but when you first read the script for Black Jesus, what was your initial reaction?
Murphy: Oh, I couldn’t wait to do it. Every script I’ve read for Black Jesus has been hilarious. Aaron McGruder is a straight-up G. I call him Champ. Everything that he’s written has been on time.

Paste: This is a show filled with some incredible comedians. You’re working closely with the legendary John Witherspoon and I just saw Corey Holcomb’s show a few weeks back—I’ve never seen anything like it. Now you’re on tour with other great legends. What’s the vibe like between all of you on the set of the show, and is it really different from being on the Comedy Get Down tour?
Murphy: So, I’m on tour with George Lopez, Eddie Griffin, Cedric the Entertainer and D.L. Hughley. Right now it’s a real good time. The hard work and the lack of sleep—I feel like I did the right thing.

The vibe is really no different. It’s all effortless. I’m going to work to be funny.

Paste: Right now you’re one of the main villains on Black Jesus. But last season we had a few emotional moments with Vic and we got to see the softer side to you sometimes. Will there be any more surprises for your character this season?
Murphy: It’s going to be more of that this season—some more emotional moments. The character arc is there. The funny is there. The writing is there—all of that.

Paste: People will always look at you as a funny, carefree guy but you’ve had some really big losses in your life. So many of us use comedy as a healing method, so I’m wondering who are some of the comics you’ve turned to over the years when you needed a good laugh or a break from reality?
Murphy: Redd Foxx. Very funny guy, I knew him personally. Just the other day I got all his work on my phone, so wherever I’m at I can just pop it in. He’s like my uncle in comedy. And then all the guys that I’m working with!

Paste: You’ve got an upcoming movie with Mike Epps—Meet the Blacks. Can you talk a little about that, and anything else you’re working on right now?
Murphy: Oh, it’s hilarious! I worked with Mike before in Roll Bounce. We got together again and we did what we always do. This movie also has Mike Tyson in it, George Lopez—it’s just real funny. If I was working on anything more than that, I don’t think we’d be talking right now.

Paste: I can’t wrap this up without asking a Chappelle’s Show question. Obviously, your Rick James and Prince True Hollywood stories have become legendary. But, did you have a personal favorite sketch, or any other moment from your time working with Dave?
Murphy: The Rick James sketch is my favorite sketch—look what it did for my career! My favorite sketch, man. I don’t know if you saw it on Facebook, but someone robbed a bank dressed up as Rick James (laughs). That’s crazy!

Paste: That’s amazing. I didn’t grow up listening to Rick James, and that sketch put a whole new generation on to him.
Murphy: It reinvigorated his career. I feel good about that because Rick didn’t live too long after that. He’d been through some hard times and some real sad stuff, and that put the light back in his eyes. He had that BET Awards performance with Teena Marie. He was reenergized and he didn’t go sad.

Paste: That’s the power of comedy. Well, I’ve been a big fan of yours for a long time, so thanks so much for this.
Murphy: Thank you.

Shannon M. Houston is Assistant TV Editor & a film critic at Paste, and a writer for Salon and Heart&Soul. This New York-based freelancer probably has more babies than you, but that’s okay; you can still be friends. She welcomes almost all follows on Twitter.