The other day I was watching Ellen (my wife Tivo’s it okay…), and she had on the cast from the new movie Tower Heist. While watching the interview it struck me that Eddie Murphy is no longer funny. In fact it dawned on me that he has not been funny in almost 23 years (the last time being in the movie Coming to America, circa 1988). What was worse was that in addition to not being funny, he was actually unfunny…physically sucking the humor out of the room with every goofy face he made.
I believe that Ben Stiller, who was sitting next to him and is funny, was aware of what was happening, as he was uncharacteristically low key, I think in an attempt to be respectful to his one time comedy hero, and not make him seem even more unfunny by illustrating the “comedy gap” between the two. This was very disturbing to me because I remember Eddie as the fresh, ultra-hip young comedian who kept SNL alive with his great sketches, and then created even more comedic genius with his albums and movies.
I have a name for this condition that has afflicted Eddie, I call it the Chevy Chase Syndrome. It is named after the onetime funny man, who was the first comic that I noticed had gone from very funny to actually unfunny. Since I am a trader, I have illustrated what I mean in chart form. Take a look.
Now I assume that Chevy was born somewhat funny, but he really began his breakout with the movie The Groove Tube and expanded on it with Saturday Night Live. Then his career (and funny quotient) really took off with his first wide release movie Foul Play. Classics like Caddyshack and National Lampoon’s Vacation kept Chevy’s humor on a bull run.
But as you can see, the first hint of trouble came with 1985’s semi-bomb, Spies Like Us. I actually fell asleep in the theater when I went to see this movie. If not for the fact that I was drunk at the time, (my friends and I had snuck a twelve-pack of beer into the theater), I might have been tipped off that we were near the apex of Chevy’s comedy career.
It looked like a rebound for the Chevster with the classic Fletch, but this turned out to be a climax top, as the near unwatchable Three Amigos came next. This top was confirmed when three sequels in a row failed to be even as remotely funny as their original movies.
After that the final comedy slide came, when C.C., on the way to killing his own career, almost killed Demi Moore’s in the horrific Nothing But Trouble, and actually succeeded in killing Daryl Hannah’s in the Invisible Man. Even the most die-hard Chevy fans had to admit that the final nails were in the coffin with the disastrous Chevy Chase Show. His work since has just served to bury that coffin as it pales in comparison to his previous work and is un-chartable.
I have always been amazed by this syndrome. Remember, we are not talking about comedians who were not funny to start with, like say Bill Maher, but comics who were off the charts funny, and then ended up off the charts unfunny. Let’s look as some others who have this syndrome.
George Lopez (though if he was ever funny is up for debate)
I often wonder if this is just an inevitable fate for those that once burned so bright in comedy. Some that may have been genetically pre-disposed to the syndrome left us before we could ever know for sure like Sam Kinison, Bill Hicks, or Chris Farley.
And yet there are some who have been immune to it. Steve Martin has not had any blockbuster movies in a while, but anytime you see him interviewed, he is still damn funny. Same with Albert Brooks. Bill Murray has continued to come out with great movies and is still funny. Larry David stays consistently funny. Carson was funny til the end.
Who may be afflicted with this disease in the future? It is hard to say, but Tim Allen seems to be showing the early signs of it. Jerry Sienfeld might be a carrier too. And I am starting to see that all too familiar pattern with Dennis Miller as well. I am praying that Norm MacDonald doesn’t have it.
I think guys like Steve Carell, Dave Chapelle, and Ricky Gervais will never get it, but who knows. It is a terrible fate for a comic, with the only thing worse being the Woody Allen Syndrome, where you go from extremely funny to just plain pathetic.
(Note: Who else do you think has been afflicted with the Chevy Chase Syndrome. Let me know and I will update this post with them).