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Excerpt: 'The Making Of A Stand-Up Guy'

Cover of The Making Of A Stand-Up Man
Note: There is language in this excerpt that some readers may find offensive.

Chapter Ten

"That's what's up"

Chappelle's Show catapulted me into a rare state of popularity and name recognition. But I had to take that opportunity, figure out where I wanted it to lead, and then run with it, all while making adjustments on the fly. Chappelle's Show started me on this new career path, but I've had to figure out how to sustain it through a lot of trial and error, and by being humble and open to dealing with circumstances as they unfold. Fame is a strange thing. There is an inexplicable aura surrounding it. With Rick James, I could actually see it pulsating all around him. There's no reason to react to famous people any differently than to anyone else — after all, famous people are just people. And yet something happens when we have that split second of opportunity to engage a person whom we have always admired from afar. It even happens to me. In fact, it just happened recently.

I was on a plane headed to L.A. I had my head down, reading a book, with my iPod's earbuds tucked in my ears. I looked across the aisle, and seated right next to me was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I sat there staring at him, hoping he would look over so I couldwave and say "Hi." The entire flight, not once did Kareem look at me.

The plane landed at LAX and I started thinking, Now the dude has to look at me because we're getting off and we all need to stand up and get our luggage.

To my amazement, Kareem reached up, opened the overhead bin, and pulled down his bag without needing to stand up. He did it all while seated and facing forward. But instead of reading his body language and taking the hint that the dude was going out of his way to avoid eye contact and not interact with anyone on the plane, I stayed in my seat, staring at him, until all the other passengers had gone. Kareem finally stood up. I jumped up behind him and, without any conscious signal carried from my brain to my hand, clutched his shoulder like an eagle's talons seizing its prey. I wasn't just touching his shoulder — I had a death grip on it.

In that moment, I had an out-of-body experience. I asked myself, Charlie? What is your hand doing to Kareem Abdul- Jabbar's shoulder?

Kareem looked at me and said, "Hey, man, what's your problem?"

"I don't have a problem. I just want you to know something."


I didn't have anything to say. My mind was blank. After a long pause, I finally stammered, "They need you in L.A."


Kareem turned and stormed off the plane like I was the biggest asshole he'd ever encountered. I just stood there alone in the aisle, thinking, Wow. That was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, man. Now he thinks I'm an idiot.

When Kareem turned to ask me what I wanted, I thought to myself, Yeah, Charlie, what do you want? Why is it so important for you to detain Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on an airplane with your bullshit?

The simple fact was, I was starstruck.

When I looked at Kareem, I was taken back in my psyche to when I was a little boy and he was still Lew Alcindor, who went on to dominate the NBA with his skyhook and his big afro.

That encounter with Kareem is a reminder to me today to always go easy on people when they approach me, screaming, "CharlieMurphaaay!" or when fans get nervous and do silly

things like try to snatch off my glasses, or take my hat, or unzip my jacket for a picture, saying, "Show everybody your T-shirt, CharlieMurphaaay!"

I'm conscious of the fact that those people aren't necessarily assholes; they're just acting different because they've been momentarily thrown out of their comfort zone by the weirdness of fame — just like I was when I saw Kareem.

Since folks started gleefully screaming my name as one long word, I've had the opportunity to do endorsements for Boost Mobile, Budweiser, Sprint, Coca-Cola, and Nike, and I've done voice performances for The Boondocks and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. I never used to get those kinds of looks before from advertisers, shows, and casting directors. If you recall, I was elated that my first real acting gig was as a Jamaican assassin who gnawed off his own arm and then swam five hundred miles to freedom. But not much has changed since 1988 — I was happy to get work then, and I'm happy to be working now. I don't foresee any end to my love of doing stand-up comedy.

It's not like I got famous for being handsome. I got famous for telling stories, then I took to the road to see if I could keep it going by telling jokes. I'm no comedy expert by any means. I just try to improve every day. The only advice I will pass along to any young or aspiring comedians is this: You know, in your soul, that you're supposed to be up there onstage in front of that microphone. You know it. The audience knows it, too. Hold your ground and believe in your material. Believe in yourself.

As a stand-up comic, I hope I've earned a measure of legitimacy and originality with audiences. Chappelle's Show was hilarious and a great experience. I appreciate all the love and opportunity that have stemmed from that, but a couple of popular TV sketches were never going to make me legit as an entertainer — not in my mind, and not in anybody else's.

When I was red-eyed and exhausted, sitting in a subway car on my way home to Linden Street from McCarren Pool in Brooklyn; or when I was sitting in my cell in Nassau County Jail, serving hamburgers out from under my nuts; or when I was sweating my ass off in the belly of the USS Joseph Hewes; or when I was being swept up in a seemingly endless sea of joyous fans at a stadium show for my world-famous brother; or even as I sat, hunched over in a hotel room, tapping my feverish thoughts into my computer — I could never have imagined this life for myself. Never. So that's what's up. I turn fifty this year and hope, with all sincerity, that I continue to connect with new fans along the way. In the end, I just want people to say, "Charlie Murphy? He's a funny dude. He does a great stand-up. And he's a real stand-up guy."

Text copyright © 2009 by Charlie Murphy. Published by Simon Spotlight Entertainment, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed with permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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Charlie Murphy