Back in February, Saturday Night Live aired its 40th anniversary special, an extravaganza featuring a reunion of dozens of former cast members and guests. Two highlights were the appearance of the famously reclusive Eddie Murphy, and a star-studded edition of the much-beloved Celebrity Jeopardy sketch. But many people were puzzled when the sketch featured a "Bill Cosby" appearance played by Kenan Thompson instead of Murphy, whose Cosby impression was a staple of SNL during the 80s.
Ultimately, Norm MacDonald (one of the writers and stars of the sketch) came out publicly to explain that Murphy was originally going to play the role, then dropped out because he felt conflicted about it. A lot of public opinion turned against Murphy for seemingly siding with a rapist. Murphy declined to comment at the time, but now he's finally breaking his silence on the issue, explaining his reasons in a new Washington Post article. Murphy told the interviewer:
It’s horrible. There’s nothing funny about it. If you get up there and you crack jokes about him, you’re just hurting people. You’re hurting him. You’re hurting his accusers. I was like, "Hey, I’m coming back to SNL for the anniversary, I’m not turning my moment on the show into this other thing."
It's an understandable sentiment. There's a difference between condoning a criminal's actions and not wanting to exploit them for laughs. But that doesn't mean he thinks the laughs weren't there to be had. He also explained that he understood the reasons behind the sketch:
I totally understood. It was the biggest thing in the news at the time. I can see why they thought it would be funny, and the sketch that Norm [Macdonald] wrote was hysterical.
It's an enigmatic answer, which isn't surprising coming from a man who was the biggest standup in the world and walked away from it at the age of 27. Speaking of which, he addressed a tantalizing possible return to the stage in the Post's article:
Every now and then when I think about it, I think, "What would I even talk about onstage?" It’s never been, "I wonder if I’m funny. I wonder if I can come up with jokes." It’s more, "What would it be like without the leather suit and the anger?"
There are a lot of people in the world who would love to find out. And none of them would hold it against him for not doing Cosby jokes.