We all know the limits of our collective pop-culture attention span. But sometimes things are so weird and epic that they stick with you. Perhaps to an obsessive degree. This is the story of one of those things for me: a 20-foot recreation of Eddie Murphy’s head that sparked broad interest when it went on a cross country road trip in 2008 to Dallas, Atlanta, Detroit, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and Times Square in New York as a rolling publicity stunt to promote the film Meet Dave.
Why am I writing about this thing that most people have no recollection of? For one, it’s a product of a time when social media was less ubiquitous, meaning studios had to try a little harder and think a little bigger to go “viral.” Meaning there was an art to it that should be celebrated. Especially in this case. Also, this coming out when Murphy is back in the news with the success of Coming 2 America, his first big comedic swing since… well, the release of Meet Dave, is not accidental. But really, I just want to tell you about this amazing thing and all the wild things that happened (and could have happened) to it. First, though, let’s talk about the film that sparked all of this.
Meet Dave is a mostly forgettable attempt at a sci-fi comedy with Murphy leading a crew of miniature aliens through mid-aughts New York in an Eddie Murphy sized space ship. It’s like Honey I Shrunk The Kids and Men In Black combined, only not. To me, it’s simply fine. Not laugh-loud-hilarious and not unwatchable dreck. But critics hated it (the film sits at 20% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), it made a loud thud during its opening weekend, and Murphy even took a shot at it in a recent New York Times interview when discussing his pre-pandemic plans to return to stand-up.
The plan was for all of us to be doing standup. When I got up off the couch and did this little patch of work, it was, let’s do “Dolemite.” Let’s do “Saturday Night Live.” Let’s do “Coming 2 America.” Because I want to go do standup again, but I don’t want to just pop up out there when people hadn’t seen me be really funny in a while. I didn’t want to do standup after the last movie you’ve seen me do is “Meet Dave.” [Laughter] Let me remind them that I’m funny.
Yikes. Before Meet Dave‘s failure was assured, though, the studio behind it, 20th Century Fox, made a concerted effort to see if they could spark big interest in the film. Which is why they turned to Ultra Productions and its CEO, Maximillian, a single-monikered former child actor who had come up working with Madonna’s Maverick Records promoting events for acts like Nine Inch Nails and U2 before creating several noteworthy spectacles tied to TV and film. Ultra’s portfolio includes a pop-up White Castle in Hollywood for Harold And Kumar (before such things were commonplace), a stunt tied to The Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer where skydivers jumped out of a plane to form a giant “4,” and a meticulous recreation of The Black Pearl from Pirates Of The Caribean. There have also been stunts tied to Lord Of The Rings, Heroes, and several other projects with San Diego Comic-Con often serving as the backdrop.
When I reached out, almost a year ago, to Maximillian (who is presently working to build on the success of two 2019 art shows to create a similar fan experience with movie props and set pieces called “I Like Scary Movies”), I had one main question in mind: is this pop-culture relic still out there and could I actually get a look at it? And while I found out that, no, the Eddie Murphy head got destroyed long ago for insurance reasons, multiple conversations with Maximillian have revealed that the head’s end is far less interesting than its journey (and its near second life), which was born from a want to do something big and cool and unlike anything that had been done before. So, here’s the life story of a traveling head made from 3,000 pounds worth of steel, 100 gallons of Polyurea, 5 gallons of glue, a bunch of foam, and a little bit of vision and luck.
How did this all come to be?
So, Fox came to me because I come up with outlandish, crazy things to do to get new attention for movies, and I wanted to sort of sink my teeth into something cool. I was in a meeting with them one day and they just kind of plopped this Eddie Murphy Meet Dave film on me and put me on the spot. [They] told me a little bit about what the movie was about and I immediately was like, “Well, why don’t we create a giant version of Eddie Murphy’s head and just tour it around the country and have people be able to get into it and interact inside Eddie’s head?” And the executive at Fox’s eyes just got massive and they got all excited immediately. He was like, “Can we do that?” I was like, “Why not? Let’s figure it out.”
It stood fully about 20 feet tall. We hydraulic-ed him up into place and put a little staircase out the back of his head with a whole deck system and everything so that people could literally climb up inside of Eddie Murphy’s head. It was so much fun because the movie’s poster was literally Eddie Murphy popping out of his own ear. So we recreated that and literally did it in real life so people could pop out of Eddie Murphy’s head and take a great shot. The thing that was incredible about this tour was it was long before social media existed [in its current state]. Yet, somehow it blew up and we were getting news crews and people that were taking photos of their own and putting them on the internet
I’m very interested in the road trip aspect of this.
One of the things that I was really adamant about that I wanted to figure out was… everybody that I went to try to fabricate the Eddie head all wanted to disassemble him and put him together on-site. And I was really adamant about the fact that the draw is… If I was just a normal dude, driving down the street and I saw a massive version of Eddie Murphy’s head going down the 101, I would freak out. I wanted people to see Eddie Murphy going down the freeway. I wanted that reaction. And so we figured it out. We figured out a way to have it clear bridges and that kind of stuff.
Going back, I wish to God we would’ve shot this, because there are so many things that happened during the course of the tour. This one time, the guys who were driving it had the bright idea of stopping for lunch at Hooters. One of the guys actually snapped a picture of Eddie Murphy parked in the parking lot with the Hooters sign behind him, and they thought it was funny. And it was. It was hilarious, but I was like, “Guys, we can’t have Eddie Murphy’s head in a Hooter’s parking lot. Can we please move?” So it was weird stuff like that. They stopped to get gas at one point and they didn’t look at the clearance and they smashed his forehead into a low overhang at a gas station. So I got a phone call at that point that Eddie had a nice dent in his forehead. So we had to find a local fabrication shop to kind of give him a little bit of first aid.
These stories are amazing. Anything else come to mind that happened during the tour?
I wasn’t witness to this, but God, I wish I had seen it. Fox did not get Eddie’s permission to have me do this. Apparently, they have something in his contract where they don’t have to necessarily go to him, even when it comes to likeness. Cut to his junket and Eddie Murphy is doing interviews and the press are coming in and asking all of these different questions about the giant head. So he thought they were referring to the giant head in the film. But in fact, they were talking about this giant head going across the country. Well, the way they kept phrasing it made him realize that something else was going on. So he turned to his publicist after a handful of interviews and he said, “Why do they keep asking me about a giant head, my giant head?” Because he was just playing it off like he knew what was going on, but he didn’t know. So finally the PR person said, “Well, Fox went ahead and greenlit a promotional tour of you as a giant version of your head going across the country.” And he was immediately somewhat annoyed that he didn’t know about it, but then his annoyance turned into intrigue and he immediately was like, “What? I’ve got to see what this is.” So they showed him some pictures and he loved it. It was really funny.
My favorite part of this story is what almost happened after the tour.
At the end of the tour, there was some talk about actually getting Eddie’s head delivered to his house because his kids wanted it as part of their pool in the backyard. His family was really taken by the visuals of the giant head. They wanted to be able to jump off of dad’s head into the pool and have it as a permanent fixture there. But it was going to have to be craned in and everything else. It just became like such a big thing. So we weren’t able to do it after all. But the idea that it would be a permanent fixture at Eddie Murphy’s household in his family’s backyard, I thought was such a great visual.
We sort of just kept it in storage for a while at the end of the tour because they wanted to maybe do something again for the home entertainment release, and we had all kinds of different, crazy things to do with the Eddie head because it got so much attention. One of the main things I came up with, that I would love to have seen, would have been Eddie Murphy going down Niagara Falls. I thought that would’ve just been such a great visual to see Eddie Murphy going down Niagara Falls in a barrel. So that didn’t happen. I thought it might have a little bit of a negative connotation or something like we’re trashing it, but it did get some traction for a little bit and that would have been so much fun to do.