What’s Worth Watching: ‘The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize’ on PBS for Monday, November 23

Eddie Murphy
Kris Connor/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC- OCTOBER 18: Honoree Eddie Murphy poses on the red carpet during the 18th Annual Mark Twain Prize For Humor at The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts on October 18, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Eddie Murphy: The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize, Monday, Nov. 23, 9/8c, PBS (check local listings at pbs.org)

“Next time I get on a plane to honor Eddie Murphy, there better be a coffin in the room.” That’s Chris Rock, paying irreverent homage to his legendary Saturday Night Live predecessor, whose subsequent success in movies and the stand-up stage (documented in the landmark films Raw and Delirious) draws favorable comparison to the Mark Twain Prize’s first recipient in 1998, Richard Pryor.

More tribute than roast, as befits the classy cathedral of the Kennedy Center, which issues this annual accolade to an American humorist, Murphy’s ceremony draws a strong lineup of talent from several generations, including Arsenio Hall, George Lopez, Dave Chappelle, Trevor Noah, Kathy Griffin (who announces herself as “tonight’s diversity hire”), SNL buddy Joe Piscopo, current cast member Jay Pharoah and Tracy Morgan, who gets the night’s only other standing ovation. The clips are terrific, including some of Murphy’s best SNL work (Mister Robinson, Buckwheat) and his first appearance on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show in 1982. But it’s the finale, when Murphy takes the stage to accept the prize, which will get people talking. “Bill (Cosby) has one of these,” he muses, wondering, “Did y’all make Bill give his back?” then launches into a wicked impersonation of the disgraced comedian—something he opted not to do during SNL‘s 40th-anniversary celebration earlier this year. When Murphy-as-Cosby screams, “Who is Hannibal Buress?” it brings down the house. Murphy’s still got it, and it’s a joy to behold.