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At a special screening of Dolemite Is My Name in New York City, Ice-T, Tracy Morgan, and Jeff Ross came out to celebrate Murphy’s comeback—and the legacy of Rudy Ray Moore.
The teenagers figured out it was Eddie Murphy inside.
A special screening of Netflix’s Dolemite Is My Name for Academy voters and VIPs like Andre Leon Talley, Tracy Morgan (wearing a black-and-green sweater featuring a designer spin on Mickey Mouse), and Jeff Ross just brought the house down at the Landmark at 57 West, a relatively new theater attached to the stylish Greek restaurant Ousia. Outside a group of Gen Z-ers were flipping out, pointing and holding their phones showing pictures of Murphy, the comedy legend who’s not only in the midst of a big comeback, but poised for his second Oscar nomination for his performance as ’70s singer, comedian, and actor Rudy Ray Moore.
The Dolemite party was technically all about Murphy, but it might have been even more for the fans—both the voters inside itching for selfies and the kids out front, who eventually got a wave from Murphy himself. Everybody loves Eddie Murphy; everyone is thrilled he’s making funny movies again; and the packed, dimly lit after-party was a cacophony of people telling one another how much they adored this film, which is now streaming on Netflix after three weeks of theatrical release.
“It’s nice to belly-laugh like this and remember what is truly funny, in a non-mean-spirited way,” Robert Wuhl said. Star Trek: Voyager star Robert Picardo (soon to be seen on Apple TV+’s Dickinson) said, “I’m very happy to see him back.”
“I’m from the Dolemite era,” Ice-T said from a corner booth, where he was eager to run down all the moments where “Eddie nailed it.” He continued, “My father loved Rudy Ray Moore, he had all those albums. Same with Redd Foxx and Leroy and Skillet. This movie really brought back the era of old black men talking shit and being hilarious. You’ve got to remember this was a time when, for some of them, doing that was all they had.”
The film shows Moore’s origin story compared, at one point, to a superhero’s. He was an entrepreneurial entertainer who, having bombed out as a singer and a dancer, created the nightclub character of the rhyming, ribald, and foulmouthed Dolemite. The legend goes that a light bulb went off when he overheard an old wino who at first seemed to be rambling but was actually, as the movie shows him, an interpreter of Afro-American lore.
“It’s funny, but there’s a lot of truth to that,” Ice-T said, explaining one theory for the origin of the term “the Dozens.” “Black kids making jokes about ‘yo mama’ and calling it ‘the Dozens’ stems from slavery, when slaves were sold in blocks of 12, even when it broke up families. So making jokes like that, it isn’t just to be crude or shocking, it goes back to this painful memory that you may not even know your own mama.”
Ice-T raced through other scenes in Dolemite that cracked him up, like any movie lover who’d seen something truly special. “There was a lot about Rudy Ray Moore’s life I didn’t know. Here was someone with no ego, who wanted to reach people. In my career those are people I can hang with. As an actor, unless your middle name is Day-Lewis, don’t come in with any ego.”
The film’s writers, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, gave the thumbnail version of how the movie got put together prior to the screening. It began 15 years ago, when Eddie Murphy called a meeting and began quoting lines from their script for Ed Wood. Then he asked if they’d seen any of Rudy Ray Moore’s movies, which they had. (Alexander recommended we all go home and watch the trailer for The Human Tornado on YouTube.) Murphy wanted them to do for Moore what they’d done for Wood.
Not every project comes together, though, so it got shelved. Cut to years later, after their People v. O.J. Simpson was a hit, and the writers met with Netflix’s Ted Sarandos. With enough juice to revive a passion project, they began their pitch explaining the importance of Moore to black culture and early hip-hop. “You don’t have to sell me,” the Netflix chief said. “I used to run video stores, I know all about Dolemite.”
“I remember exactly where I was when I first saw Dolemite,” Keegan-Michael Key said at the after-party. “I was 19, in college, someone put in a VHS and none of us knew what the hell to think.” Key, who plays the writer of the film-within-the film in the new Dolemite, is something of a Rudy Ray Moore scholar. “His best film is actually his third, Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil’s Son-in-Law. By then the crew started to know how to actually shoot a movie. You don’t see the boom mic. But it is still raw enough and isn’t quite professional-looking, like in Disco Godfather.”
Key added that working with Murphy was a dream, and he was nervous at first about “working with one of my heroes.”
I didn’t want to be so crass as to bring up awards with Murphy’s costar, but luckily Ice-T was unafraid to broach the topic himself: “Give him the nomination.”
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