There is something sweet and surreal about seeing Eddie Murphy assume a more reverential role as of late. But that's what happens when an artist succeeds in show business for 40 years. Murphy, whose career skyrocketed during and after the four years he spent on Saturday Night Live from 1980-84, said head writer Michael O'Donoghue spared him from the mass firing of the cast after Season 6 because he thought Murphy had eaten dog food during a Weekend Update bit. Turns out, Murphy actually ate canned hash.
"It was hard at first for the simple fact that the show was so beloved and the whole cast had just left," Murphy said during the digital program Stories From the Show: An SNL Series regarding his debut as a featured player in Season 6. "Lorne [Michaels] left and it was like we've got the hippest, hottest, funniest show on TV and we're going to replace them with all these new faces. But I didn't get freaked out because I was like 19 years old and just so happy to be on TV.
"The whole cast was getting a lot of sh-- and they hated the show," Murphy added. "And then [O'Donoghue and the network] fired everybody. And the reason he kept me was because there was a sketch where there was an article in the paper about old people eating pet food and I went to the news desk [and] it looked like I was eating dog food."
Murphy later told O'Donoghue he hadn't actually eaten kibble, but by then it was too late. "It was just that close," Murphy said with a chuckle. "If he had known that was hash, none of this would be happening."
Over the course of his career, Murphy has starred in or lent his voice to five dozen movies, nabbed a Golden Globe win for his performance in 2006's Dreamgirls — a role for which he also earned an Oscar nod — and garnered a 2020 Critic's Choice Lifetime Achievement Award. He also received critical acclaim for his turn as the title character in Netflix's 2019 comedic biopic Dolemite Is My Name. Things came full circle for Murphy last month when he hosted Saturday Night Live. His interview for Stories From the Show was a part of that.
"There isn't a better place for me to have been than here at the that age," Murphy said with pride. "That was the age you'd be when you go to college. This is the equivalent of Harvard for comic actors because you're right in the middle of it. My life, when I look back on my experience here, before everything started, are some of my fondest memories. I had a blast up here."
Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays at 11:30/10:30c on NBC.