Eddie Murphy’s comeback has been going gangbusters, first with the raucous biopic Dolemite is my Name — a turn that’s earned him serious Oscars talk — and then with last night’s SNL, his first stint on the show in a whopping 35 years. There was hope that he’d revive some of the beloved characters he created when he was a regular on the show in the early ’80s, and he did not disappoint. First up: Mr. Robinson, his rude, crude parody of Mr. Rogers, resurrected just in time for all the nice Fred Rogers movies that have hit the nation’s multiplexes.
A lot has changed since Murphy first started doing the character. For one thing, many low-income neighborhoods in our nation’s cities have been taken over by gentrification. But Mr. Robinson still abides. The sketch finds him older and grayer yet much the same, living in the same run-down apartment, but in a building that’s now flush with moneyed white residents.
“I’m gone for a bit but now I’m alright/My neighbors were all black, but now they white,” he sang in his opening song. “The white people came and changed everything, but I am still your neighbor.”
He then explained gentrification to his audience of little boys and girls. “It’s like a magic trick: White people pay a lot of money, and then poof! All the black people are gone! But where do they go to, boys and girls? Back where they came from: Atlanta!”
How does Mr. Robinson afford to live in pricey digs? That inspired the word of the day: “squatter’s rights.” He then entertained a visit from two of his white neighbors, inquiring about a missing TV that was supposed to be delivered. Mr. Robinson feigned ignorance, only to reveal to us the TV mounted on his wall, surrounded by an army of Amazon boxes left in the foyer by careless delivery persons.
Murphy performed Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood eight times in the olden days, including on his last SNL appearance, when he hosted in 1984 with Robert Plant and the Honeydrippers as musical guests. Welcome back, Mr. Robinson!