Top 10 Eddie Murphy impressions

In honor of National Comedy Month, theGrio ranks Eddie Murphy’s best impressions, from Mr. T to Jackie Gleason.

What is left to say about Eddie Murphy? He’s one of the most beloved comedic minds and performers the world has ever known. Murphy has made millions laugh for over four decades through his stand-up comedy, films and tenure on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live (SNL).”

Although Murphy’s charisma, dynamic expressions and timing make him a living legend, his ability as an impressionist may be the best attribute in his canon. From Michael Jackson to Johnny Cash, it seems that there’s no celebrity that Murphy cannot masterfully evoke in both voice and facial expression. Chris Rock once said on “Questlove Supreme” that Murphy even has a KRS-One impression that’s spot-on and hilarious.

In honor of this comic genius, theGrio ranked the top 10 greatest Murphy impressions as seen on “SNL,” his stand-up routines or in talk show interviews. 

The following videos may contain language that may be triggering and deemed offensive. Reader’s discretion is advised.

10. Stevie Wonder

Murphy’s Stevie Wonder impression started when he was a teenager, near the start of his stand-up career. By the time he got to “SNL,” the impersonation was fully formed. He truly captured Wonder’s ethereal tone and positive spirit in multiple sketches. One 1983 sketch featured the real Stevie Wonder trying to get a job as a Stevie Wonder impersonator, with Murphy showing him the correct way to do it, making it a very surreal moment.

9. Mr. T 

Mr. T was one of the most recognizable celebrities in the 1980s. Murphy turned Mr. T’s overtly masculine persona on its head, doing a spot-on impression of him in a same-sex act during Murphy’s 1983 concert film, “Delirious.” Four years later, Murphy evoked Mr. T on-stage again in 1987’s “Raw” in fear that the “A-Team” actor would seek revenge on him for the jokes. 

8. Muhammad Ali

Like Stevie Wonder, Murphy began playing with Muhammad Ali’s voice as a kid. He performed two different impressions of the boxing legend during the “SNL” Weekend Update segment after the real Ali lost his final fight in 1981 against Trevor Berbick. The first impression featured Murphy portraying Ali as the young, confident Cassius Clay before his fight with Sonny Liston. In contrast, the second impression Murphy evoked Ali in a slow-speaking, stammering, punchy fashion.

7. Elvis Presley

Murphy is on record that he is an Elvis Presley fan. His flashy all-leather outfits were a homage to the King of Rock and Roll. Murphy spoke about his fandom in “Delirious,” joking that Presley’s singing voice was so good that film directors made him sing all his dialogue in movies. Murphy captured Presley’s southern singing drawl near-perfectly, even when joking about the older, overweight Presley passing gas while singing “Unchained Melody.”

6. Richard Pryor

It’s no secret that Murphy looked up to Richard Pryor. Pryor is regarded as arguably the greatest stand-up comic ever. Murphy stated in “Raw” that he patterned his early stand-up routines after the voice and rhythm of Pryor’s stage shows. He reenacted a joke from age 15 while doing Pryor’s voice. 

5. James Brown

One of Murphy’s most called-on impressions is of James Brown. He’s evoked the spirit of the late funk legend on various platforms. On “SNL,” he put Brown in outlandish situations, like hosting a talk show where he interviewed celebrities in a hot tub. In “Delirious,” he made fun of the fact that much of his voice, whether singing or speaking, is inaudible to his fans and band. As a guest on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” he did an impression of Brown once telling Murphy to “do my life story” on film.

4. Bill Cosby

Bill Cosby is another one of Murphy’s impressions that got a lot of traction. Cosby’s voice is so distinct he’s often been impression fodder by the likes of Jamie Foxx and Kenan Thompson. However, no one can capture Cosby as close as Murphy has. He’s done the impression numerous times on “SNL” and memorably in “Raw” while recalling when Cosby chastised his curse-filled stage act. Murphy got his revenge when he won the Mark Twain Prize in 2015 and during his “SNL” monologue in 2019, pointing out the irony of Cosby’s allegations and later conviction of sexual abuse.

3. Jackie Gleason

One of Murphy’s most left-field impressions is of Jackie Gleason. Murphy’s impersonation of the late actor is one of his most aurally accurate. Unlike most of his impressions, Murphy only did one documented impression of Gleason during “Delirious.” Like Mr. T, Murphy put Gleason in a hypothetical same-sex sexual encounter via a rendezvous on a fictional episode of “The Honeymooners” between Gleason’s Ralph Kramden and Art Carney’s Ed Norton. 

2. Charlie Murphy

It makes sense that one of Murphy’s best impressions is of his older brother, the late Charlie Murphy. Charlie Murphy’s success as a comic and actor came later in life, but once his voice and persona became recognizable, Eddie Murphy’s impression of him was eerily close. His anecdotes of him and Charlie during their childhood are hilarious.

1. Tracy Morgan

The true mark of a great impressionist is if the audience can close their eyes and can see the subject. Murphy’s most outstanding example of this is mimicking fellow comic and “SNL” alumnus Tracy Morgan. Like all his other impressions, Murphy captured his voice and facial expressions to the hilt. Murphy first pulled out his Morgan impression during an interview on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and again during an episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” 

Matthew Allen is an entertainment writer of music and culture for theGrio. He is an award-winning music journalist, TV producer and director based in Brooklyn, NY. He’s interviewed the likes of Quincy Jones, Jill Scott, Smokey Robinson and more for publications such as Ebony, Jet, The Root, Village Voice, Wax Poetics, Revive Music, Okayplayer, and Soulhead. His video work can be seen on PBS/All Arts, Brooklyn Free Speech TV and BRIC TV.

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