Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, Tyler Perry, Jamie Foxx, Martin Lawrence and Arsenio Hall all used the word “genius” to celebrate 30 years of the red leather suit, “the laugh” and bananas in tailpipes in Beverly Hills on Saturday night.
A rowdy crowd of diehard Eddie Murphy fans – some of whom had won essay writing contests to gain entrance -- filled the Saban Theatre balcony above the cocktail tables full of top comic talent for Spike TV’s taping of a tribute special “Eddie Murphy: One Night Only.”
Right: Keenen Ivory Wayans, Paige Butcher, Chris Rock and Arsenio Hall guard the throne. “I met Eddie when he was 16. I was 19,” Wayans said. “He walked up to me and goes, 'What's up man? I'm Eddie Murphy. I thought I was the only funny black man in New York, but I guess there's two.’"
The uncharacteristic thunder coming from Beverly Hills was part dog-pound “whoomp” chants, part “Ed-die” chants, and a parade of top-line talent crediting their own success on Murphy “holding the door open” for them.
“He is the Rosa Parks of tight trousers,” Russell Brand announced.
Left: While Brett Ratner publicized his own Bar Mitzvah photo -- a tween twig in “Delirious"-inspired crimson formal wear -- half of Tracy Morgan wore the actual iconic suit.
Despite the comic antics, the favorite guest was a surprise: musician Stevie Wonder.
While a classic "SNL" clip of Wonder and Murphy played in-house, the savvy audience picked up on stagehands rigging an electric piano and a familiar silhouette being escorted to center stage. While the clip was still rolling and the house lights dark, the crowd was already cheering and standing up.
Murphy shot out of his banquette, grabbed a hand microphone, and climbed the stairs to join Wonder at the piano for “Higher Ground,” the undisputed highlight of the night. (Top photo)
While Wonder was an unannounced surprise long in gestation, the duet was unrehearsed and Murphy’s participation unplanned. Following the song, Murphy personally escorted Wonder up a set of stairs and off stage-left.
“I have to follow that shit?” Jeffrey Katzenberg said from a drab lectern as he extolled “Shrek” and Murphy's 1980s Paramount streak moments later. “What is up with that?”
Right: Tyler Perry, Barry Bonds, Samuel L. Jackson, Wayne Brady and Sugar Shane Mosley on the floor.
Despite Arsenio teasing a Murphy stand-up set to end the night, that moment never came.
When Murphy closed the show just after 10:30 p.m., he was reluctant. “Thank you for your patience. I’m ‘Eddie’d out,” he said. He then compared the night to the feeling of receiving a two-hour version of “Happy Birthday” from your friends.
However, the man of the night proved ready to “Party All The Time,” or at least for a few more hours.
Left: The mid-century mahogany production design at the Saban echoed the Sunset Tower hotel, the setting for a small after-party.
Murphy actually showed at the party, where he remained tucked away in an outdoor corner with Chris Rock and Wayans.
With the Roots playing and the soiree in full swing, Tower Bar host Dmitri Dmitrov (“thank you, thank you”) strolled in from the restaurant, bringing Mickey Rourke with him. Rourke, excused from the strict “Hollywood Chic” dress code in a plaid shirt, made Brett Ratner’s grandmother Fanita his first stop, planting a kiss on her cheek.
Considering a Saturday night Museum of Natural History after-party on New York’s upper west side for Comedy Central’s autism benefit last month, and adopting Vanity Fair’s Oscar Party plan (e.g. covering the pool) at Sunset Tower this weekend, Viacom’s glamorous party policy of late trumps (pun intended) its basic cable peers.
Don Mischer produced the Spike special, his gap-gig between producing the Emmys and directing the Oscars.
From 2006 until this year, Spike produced the “Scream Awards” as a tentpole celebrity event in October. That show, a made-for-TV awards show with an atypical A-list turnout, used to draw names like George Lucas, Kristen Stewart, Michael J. Fox and Bill Murray (in a Ghostbusters suit). Rolling out in front of a costumed audience, I called it “The Comic-Con Oscars.”
“That’s kind of niche,” a Viacom executive told TheWrap of the decision to step away from that franchise. “This is broader and more in line with the direction Spike is headed.”
“Eddie Murphy: One Night Only” debuts on Spike on Wednesday, Nov. 14 at 10:00 p.m., before potentially multiplexing on other Viacom channels like MTV and Comedy Central.
Photos courtesy of Frank Micelotta and Brian Dowling for PictureGroup.