I am one of those “chitlin’ circuit” Grambling State University students who attended the homecoming comedy show when veteran comic Charlie Murphy bored the crowd, got booed and cursed us. When the 51-year-old took the stage, the room filled with resounding applause as his signature alabaster grin commanded a standing ovation.
Then he flopped. His delivery included stories that built to anti-climactic plateaus.
Where anecdotes would have appealed more to a 140-character-addicted, A.D.D. generation, he delivered anthologies about acid.
Maybe a more thorough investigation of the crowd that he was slated to serve would have conveyed that acid might not roll over so well at an HBCU in the Bible Belt of Northern Louisiana.
At least he returned the $22,000 that our student union board representatives negotiated as his pay.
Although he gave the school back its funds, he took to Twitter to rant about Grambling that night and the next day.
“You guys should take that money and go on a trip off campus,” he tweeted.
He retweeted comments questioning the university’s accreditation and made hierarchical remarks about the intelligence of people in Grambling.
The remarks symbolized a Mason-Dixon Line rift of perceived intellectual capacity.
This assumption was made clear because an opening comic told the crowd that the Yankee performer wondered why he even came to Grambling.
More interesting than his infantile Twitter one-ups are the implications of Murphy’s response to disappointed fans.
He was given an opportunity at redemption after several jokes did not fare well.
“We are bored,” someone shouted.
That was the chance to launch into an arsenal of safer material or, at least, spotlight someone in the crowd for improvised humor.
Instead, as the boos streamed in, he grew frustrated, requested his check, dropped it and an f-bomb before walking off the stage.
Grambling’s crowd is difficult to please. There is no formula for a successful performance.
Grambling is often called the Apollo of the South because it is nearly impossible to gauge what the crowd will appreciate.
Everything from praise dances to panty droppers stimulates the crowd.
That spectrum symbolizes the complex nature of the student body and respective communities from which we came.
Murphy’s response was disappointing more than anything; but, it conveyed his pained ego.
Murphy deserves his fame, but is often remembered more for being Eddie Murphy’s brother and his stint on The Chapelle Show than for his roles in movies ranging from Harlem Nights to Player’s Club and Norbit.
His cuss-out and ride-out actions are similar to Kanye West’s infamous interruption at the Video Music Awards.
West garnered sympathy as people associated his actions with unresolved pain.
Bloggers and media personalities believed that West’s response was a manifestation of his grief from losing his mother.
In Murphy’s defense, his wife died last year from cancer.
It is probably safe to assume that after experiencing a loss as grave as his spouse’s passing, he looked to performing to keep his spirits lifted and bills paid.
His exit conveyed an inability to cope with not meeting the standards of humor expected by the crowd.
Few will dispute Murphy’s talent as a performer, connections in the business and viability as a Black entertainer.
The fact remains that he came to the South with a healthy check waiting for him.
But, his heyday might have passed.
From Harlem Nights to Lottery Ticket, Murphy has managed to eke out work; but, of what nature? Was Lottery Ticket indicative of the “open market” that he boasted about on Twitter?
With that said, most times people who do the booing would never muster the chutzpah to perform for large crowds.
As a result of this incident, the nation is still talking about Grambling’s booers, rather than our scholars.
His standup routine was not funny, but ultimately his post-performance antics earned the laughs absent from the homecoming show.