In a recent Vanity Fair interview, comedic superstar Eddie Murphy made an astounding statement, especially for an actor who’s starred in over 40 films over the course of four decades. I’ve only had one audition my whole life, you know,” he said. “What actor can make that assertion? …  Nobody, and no matter how great they are, they’ve been on auditions. I’ve had one audition. It was ‘SNL.’”

Murphy auditioned for Saturday Night Live when he was 18 years old. Growing up in New York, he always knew he was funny. But after seeing Richard Pryor performing stand-up, he boldly put his own stand-up routines on the line in local venues starting at the age of 15. It was the mid-70s, and the popular amateur-talent contest on TV, The Gong Show, inspired neighborhood bars to host similar-structured talent shows for a $25 prize. Eddie built up his comedy act on stages such as these, and he learned how to get laughs, often impersonating celebrities.

So when SNL hosted a cattle call to recast the show in 1980, Murphy showed up armed with plenty of material from three years’ worth of routines. Murphy told the magazine: “The first audition is literally a guy sitting in a room by himself, and he just says, ‘Make me laugh.’ Well, that would be daunting to most people, but because I had been doing stand-up, I had 15 to 20 minutes of an act. I was used to going up late at night at the Comic Strip. When you’re a young comic you don’t get good spots, so you’re going up in front of five or six people anyway.”

He distinctly remembers impersonating Jimmy Carter, Muhammad Ali, Howie Cosell, and Bill Cosby during his five-minute audition. “He didn’t laugh at anything,” Murphy recalls. “I was just doing it, he was just sitting there watching me, and looking me up and down. After I did all my s***, he was like, ‘Thank you.’”

He was pretty certain he didn’t get the position, but a couple of weeks later, he was asked to return for a callback. This time, he says, “It was two people in the room, and they said: ‘Make us laugh.’ I did the same thing—nobody laughed. Then it was three people in the room, and they said, ‘Make us laugh,’ and one guy kind of giggled a little bit.”

Clearly, he was doing something right in their eyes because they invited him back for a big audition. It was me and like maybe ten other guys that had gotten to that level, and we had to read with the cast members,” he says. “I read with [Joe] Piscopo—the sketch that I had seen Richard Pryor do when he hosted the show with Chevy Chase. I had seen that sketch a bunch of times. So it was like, ‘This is my audition?’ [Laughs.] I didn’t even need the paper! Did it—crushed it. And got the show.”

Funny enough, when he landed the gig, what most excited him was gaining exposure on television as he hoped it would benefit his career in stand-up. But over the course of three years of being a regular cast member—creating characters like Buckwheat, Mr. Robinson, and Gumby, and being in the habit of writing and performing skits—his skills went through the roof. In a SAG-AFTRA Foundation interview, he compared working at SNL to a “pressure cooker creative environment … you have to come up with something or you get fired.” Even still, he said just how much he learned while working on the show; it essentially was college for him.

Yes, Eddie Murphy auditioned to work on SNL, but from that point on, the world fell in love with his brand of comedy, and he never had to audition for any part after that.

He became a box-office superstar with his roles in 48 Hours, Trading Places, and Beverly Hills Cop within a span of two years. In fact, he went on to receive Golden Globe nominations for his performances in 48 Hours, Beverly Hills Cop, Trading Places, The Nutty Professor, Dolemite Is My Name, and he took home the award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of James “Thunder” Early in Dreamgirls—a performance that also earned him an Oscar nod.

In addition to only auditioning once, Murphy never performed in high school plays or received formal training as an actor. “I just kind of went with it. I never get intimidated,” he insists. Rather, he mostly gets excited to make something of the opportunities that come his way. His upcoming projects include Beverly Hills Cop 4 on Netflix and Coming 2 America scheduled to be released in theaters in December 2020.

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