Would Eddie Murphy tell any jokes onstage while receiving the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center? That was the lingering question during Sunday night’s two-hour tribute, honoring Murphy as one of the country’s greatest comedians.
During the event, which featured appearances by a star-studded group of comedians including Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Kathy Griffin, and Tracy Morgan, Murphy sat perched on box seats, next to his girlfriend, Paige Butcher, and family.
But when it came time to pick up his shiny new bronze bust, Murphy expressed more than appreciation for the award. He busted out his fantastic impersonation of Bill Cosby, who received the prize in 2009. “I would like to talk to some of the people,” Murphy said, as Cosby, “who feel that I should give back my motherfucking trophies.”
His impersonation came as a surprise for two reasons. Murphy hasn’t told a joke in front of a live audience for nearly 30 years. And second, according to a Washington Post profile on Murphy published last week, the comedian declined to perform at SNL’s 40th anniversary because he was asked to play Cosby. “It’s horrible,” he told the Post. “There’s nothing funny about it. If you get up there and you crack jokes about him, you’re just hurting people.“
Clearly Murphy changed his mind–and the results were hilarious. Check out a sneak peek of his onstage appearance at around the 2:30 mark in the video below. PBS will broadcast the entire event nationwide on November 23.