Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


American Studies

First Advisor

Andrew Feffer




humor, film, television, white, show


This thesis examines the changes in African-American comedy during the 1980s. In exploring the changes during this decade, specific attention is paid to Eddie Murphy, who achieved incredible success beginning with his 1980 entrance on Saturday Night Live. In a relatively short period of time, Murphy was able to ascend to a level of cultural significance that far dwarfed that reached by any of the African American comedians who had preceded him. Through a comprehensive presentation of the historical development of African American humor, the following thesis challenges the consensus critical assumption that Murphy both consciously forewent opportunities to be politically relevant and actively perpetuated stereotypes as a means of achieving mainstream success. Chapter one of this thesis describes the traditional characteristics of African-American humor and provide a brief description of the progression of this sub-genre of comedy from the slavery era through the 1970s. This chapter not only provides insight into the significance of African-American comedy, but places the changes that occurred in the 1980s as part of a greater historical narrative. Chapter two explores Murphy’s early work on Saturday Night and in his stand up performance, Delirious. Chapter three focuses on film during this decade and how Murphy’s work brought components of the African-American comedic tradition into Hollywood films. More notably, his early performances provided a means of placing his comedic persona within his film roles. Each chapter will place the changes that occurred during this decade in context of the work in the 1970s, while also assessing the extent to which the developments of the 1980s were responsible for changes in the comedic landscape that occurred in successive decades.