The Academy has always been particularly hostile to comedic actors and to Comedy in general. The few funnies that have roped in Oscar gold tend to be the precious, quirky festival bait (read: aerated bullshit) that older Academy voters love because it makes them feel edgy and hip. Also, more times than not, they’re rewarded for their screenplay rather than the performances involved. Jack Nicholson (As Good As It Gets), Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine) and Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda) bucked the trend by winning statues for their comedic performances, but these are classically trained dramatic actors who were already critical darlings. What about capital-C Comedian thoroughbreds?
Enter Eddie Murphy. SNL-savior by the age of 19, Golden-Globe nominee at 21 (New Star of the Year for 48 Hours), greatest standup comic alive by 25. Murphy’s genius would extend from the stage to the silver screen for over three decades, solidifying his stature as a global powerhouse. And while the Academy did nominate him for Best Supporting Actor for his commanding turn as Jimmy “Thunder” Early in Dreamgirls, his singular brand of humor would never get the awards recognition it deserved.
Murphy normalized playing multiple characters in his comedies, bringing a polymath’s understanding of empathy, color and dimension to each. From Vampire in Brooklyn, to Bowfinger, or even The Nutty Professor, each personality was diametrically different than the next, and, even if Murphy went blue with fart or fat jokes, each personality contained a deeply layered emotional nuance. He could make you cry laughing, or make you laugh to keep from crying. That’s the stuff that accolades are made of.
It’s like I always say: The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that comedies weren’t as prestigious as dramas, and making people laugh should be just as celebrated by the Academy as making people weep.