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Race Unwrapped: Eric Deggans on the curious and careful career of Eddie Murphy

From “Raw” to “Shrek,” the span of his work is a barometer of Black comedy in American culture.

In the early 1980s, a young Eddie Murphy stepped into the national comedy scene and revitalized a flaccid “Saturday Night Live.”

His career since then has been a fascinating reflection of how white American audiences relate to Black comedy. He was the lone Black man in fish-out-of-water movies like “Beverly Hills Cop,” then pivoted to movies like “Harlem Nights” and “Coming to America” with largely Black casts, catering to Black audiences. And though his early works like “Eddie Murphy Raw” were famously edgy, it was later family-friendly stuff that brought his career back from a slump… and seemed to make him more palatable to white folks.

On this episode, NPR’s TV critic and media analyst Eric Deggans joins me to explore what Eddie Murphy’s career can teach us about how Black humor fits into American culture.

Michelle Tyrene Johnson is the lead producer of LPM’s talk shows, and she is also the host and producer of LPM’s podcast Race Unwrapped. Email Michelle at mjohnson@lpm.org.

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