Apparently “SNL” isn’t the right venue to rip into Bill Cosby, but receiving the nation’s highest honor for comedy will do just fine. Many fans tuning in for the “SNL” 40th anniversary show this past February were disappointed when — after plenty of build up for his return to the Studio 8H stage, including a long, earnest introduction from Chris Rock — Murphy merely said hello and went on his way. No stand-up, no skits and no laughs whatsoever.
It was later revealed Murphy was asked to take part in a skit as Bill Cosby, mocking the former comedian who’s been accused by more than 20 women of sexual misconduct, including instances involving drugs and rape. After the “SNL” 40th anniversary, Murphy defended his decision to not take part in the sketch, saying, “It’s horrible. There’s nothing funny about it. If you get up there and you crack jokes about him, you’re just hurting people. You’re hurting him. You’re hurting his accusers. I was like, ‘Hey, I’m coming back to SNL for the anniversary, I’m not turning my moment on the show into this other thing.'”
Murphy, however, did finally unleash his Cosby impersonation at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where he was on hand to receive the Mark Twain Prize. In above video (around the 2:25 mark), Murphy noted that Cosby also received the award back in 2009 before asking the crowd if he had to give it back. Murphy then put on his best smushy face and drawn-out Cosby voice to mock the man who’s being asked to return many of his awards.
Was this the better venue to mimic Cosby? It’s easy to understand both sides of the argument. When Murphy was asked to do the sketch on “SNL 40,” the news was still relatively fresh — even if the accusations were decades old — making it somewhat understandable why the heralded former “SNL” star wouldn’t want to shift focus from his appearance, for fear of offending the wrong people or making light of a dire situation.
Why his “SNL” return couldn’t include any sort of joke, though, remains frustrating, especially when considering the comedian’s raw talent as a stand-up; talent evident Sunday night when he decided to parody the former “Cosby Show” star while receiving an honor Cosby once did as well. Cosby’s connection to the Mark Twain Prize helps make the joke timely, but is it as timely as during the heat of the Cosby media firestorm on one of the highest-rated live events of the year? An assertive answer may come down to the nature of the sketch itself, which is an indecipherable aspect now lost to time.
PBS will broadcast the full tribute on November 23.