Here's why Eddie Murphy didn't appear on Saturday Night Live for 30 years

Here's why Eddie Murphy didn't appear on Saturday Night Live for 30 years

Saturday Night Live has been a comedy institution for over 40 years. From Bill Murray to Will Ferrell to Kate McKinnon, the show has created a lot of stars. And some people were just on for like one season and now they work at CVS. But mostly, stars. Many cast members came back to host the show, reprising their old characters. But one alum has never hosted, and boycotted SNL for over 30 years: Eddie Murphy.

Eddie joined the cast of SNL in 1980, when he was only 18 years old. In a cast full of unknowns, he totally stole the show. His sketches included Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood, (a streetwise parody of Mr. Rogers), Buckwheat (a grown-up, still unintelligible version of the Little Rascals character), Gumby (a jaded, cynical take on the claymation character) and White Like Me (a provocative digital short where he donned 'whiteface' to investigate the secret opportunities available to white people).

From 1980 to 1984, Eddie was the fan favorite, and carried SNL on his shoulders. He was so popular that he hosted the show, while still a cast member. At the time, creator Lorne Michaels had left, and SNL was in danger of cancellation. It's hard to imagine the show surviving this rocky period without Eddie. But after leaving the cast, he never returned -  not to host, not to do a cameo, not even for the 25th anniversary special.

Well, it's all because of a joke by David Spade. David joined the SNL cast in 1990, and his breakout segment was Hollywood Minute, where he made snarky, sarcastic jokes about celebrities. They were mean, but they were funny. Today everyone makes snarky jokes about celebrities on Twitter, but at the time, this was a fresh take. Strangely, none of these Hollywood Minute segments are currently available to watch on YouTube.

Anyway, during one Hollywood Minute, David cracked a joke about Eddie Murphy's back-t0-back film flops. An image of Eddie appeared on screen, and David said, "Look, children, it's a falling star. Make a wish!"

David Spade jokes about Eddie Murphy Credit: NBC

David thought it was a harmless joke. But the following Monday, he was sitting in the writer's room and an NBC page said Eddie Murphy was on the phone. David tried saying he wasn't there, but Eddie kept calling. He knew David was there. Fellow cast member Chris Rock said, "You better call him; you don’t want him coming down here." So, David reluctantly called Eddie. In his memoir, Almost Interesting, he wrote about the experience, and an excerpt was published by Salon. Here's his description of the phone call:

“Hey, Eddie, it’s Spade.

"(Dramatic pause. If this was a Lifetime movie we would definitely fade to commercial at this point.)

"Now here comes Eddie . . . 'David Spade, who the f--- do you think you are?!! Honestly? Who. The. F---. Going after ME?? You dumb motherf---er! I’m off-limits, don’t you know that? You wouldn’t have a job if it weren’t for me. Talking shit about me??” Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera . . . on and on and on and making me feel like shit.

"I barely spoke. I just stared at Rock in disbelief. It was so much worse than I had imagined. I wanted to apologize, explain the joke, anything, but nothing came out. Here was one of my favorite comedians of all time ripping me a new asshole. I had worshipped this dude for years, knew every line of his stand-up. And now he hated me. Like, really really hated me. The opposite of Sally Field."

At the time, David was desperate to make an impression on SNL. He considered the joke "friendly fire." But to Eddie, the joke crossed the line. Saturday Night Live was a house that he helped build, and save from falling apart. He felt like the show turned on him. As David writes, "When you are famous, you never want someone on a supposedly cool show to say you’re not cool. Even if the person saying it is a nobody like me."

In a Rolling Stone cover story, Eddie explained why that joke bugged him so much:

"What really irritated me about it at the time was that it was a career shot. It was like, 'Hey, come on, man, it's one thing for you guys to do a joke about some movie of mine, but my career? I'm one of you guys. How many people have come off this show whose careers really are f---ed up, and you guys are shitting on me?' And you know every joke has to go through all the producers, and ultimately, you know Lorne or whoever says, [Lorne Michaels voice] 'OK, it's OK to make this career crack...'

Eventually, Eddie got over his grudge, and his beef with David Spade. It's not clear exactly when. (Maybe after watching Tommy Boy? That movie's great.) But we know that in 2011, Eddie told Rolling Stone, "I don't let it linger ... I don't hate David Spade. I'm cool with him." A month after that story was published, David writes about running into Eddie at a Coffee Bean parking lot. After making eye contact, he decided to approach him.

"[Eddie] stopped in the middle of the street and I walked over. Through the open passenger window he said, “Hey, Spade, how are you doing?' I reached in and shook his hand. I said, “Hey, Eddie. Glad we’re good.” “Take it easy,” he said, and drove away..."

And just like that, a 30-year-old feud came to an end. In 2015, Eddie finally returned to Saturday Night Live, making an appearance at the 40th anniversary special. After Chris Rock's glowing introduction, Eddie says he's happy to be back comments on how the show changed his life. Weirdly, he doesn't make any jokes, but maybe just showing up was enough. As of this writing (June 2018), he still has not hosted SNL.

Anyway, the point of this article is that if you see Eddie Murphy in real life, don't say, "Look, children, it's a falling star!"