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SNL Sketch Showdown: James Brown Hot Tub Party vs. Buckwheat Dead

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Welcome to the “Saturday Night Live” Sketch Showdown. Every weekday, an IFC writer will determine the winner of a matchup between two classic “SNL” sketches. You can check out the full bracket here.

Classic Eddie

“Saturday Night Live” has launched numerous actors into the mainstream, but none of them have flaunted the unholy trinity of cockiness, talent and popularity quite like Eddie Murphy did. Too many bad recent family comedies may have tarnished his reputation, but in the early ‘80s Murphy was a dangerous, wiry young guy whose big toothy grin barely hid his sometimes-antagonistic demeanor. At a time when racial inequality was still rampant, especially in regards to who we saw in movies and on television, Murphy came across on “SNL” as the embodiment of what undoubtedly some white viewers assumed African-Americans to be: intimidating, smooth-talking punks who were ready to upend the traditional power structure. Murphy’s genius was to both play into that impression but also to subvert it, delivering a funny, smart take on black life in America that melded Bill Cosby’s charm with Richard Pryor’s fearlessness. But beyond all that, he was just a hell of an entertainer — arguably the greatest pure showman of the program’s early years.

The Match Up

Where other “SNL” cast members were simply funny, Murphy was that and much more: a star. You don’t need to look any further than “James Brown’s Celebrity Hot Tub Party” to see him in his element. The sketch’s concept isn’t much, Murphy playing James Brown and milking the singer’s Hardest Working Man In Show Business bluster — complete with call-and-response backing band. But at just over two minutes, “Celebrity Hot Tub Party” is bliss perfected, combining the pleasure of Brown’s ecstatic funk with Murphy’s gleeful impersonation and kinetic charisma. It’s not that the sketch is all that hilarious — it’s just that Murphy absolutely nails the essence of a pop culture icon and then adds his own little indelible twist on top of it. As much as we love Steve Martin’s “King Tut,” we’ve always been surprised that this song parody didn’t take off as well.

But if you want the barbed, satiric Murphy, you should check out “Buckwheat Dead: America Mourns” from early 1983. A few years earlier, Murphy had introduced his spoof of the marble-mouthed “Our Gang” character — “Hi, I’m Buh-weet, remember me?!” — who had grown into an adult that sang contemporary pop hits, mangling them hysterically in the process. But in “America Mourns,” the bit went darker, imagining Ted Koppel (Joe Piscopo) doing a special report on the man who shot the beloved entertainer, a loner named John David Stutts (also played by Murphy). A timely takeoff on the assassination attempts (some successful, some not) of John Lennon, President Reagan and Pope John Paul II, “America Mourns” is an incredibly biting attack on the way the media covers (and capitalizes on) horrible tragedies, turning psychopaths into celebrities and sensationalizing every tawdry element imaginable. (For extra sting, the segment is sponsored by Mutual Life, whose recurring ads keeps reminding us, “Because you could die tomorrow.”) These are laughs that keep getting stuck in your throat — as Stutts, Murphy plays the loopiest version of these lone gunmen, the humor cruelly undercut by the shock that such people actually exist in our world.

And The Winner Is…

These two are so evenly matched it goes into overtime. But, eventually, “Celebrity Hot Tub Party” squeaks out the win in a nail-biter. True, “America Mourns” is the sharper, more ambitious piece, but it’s also got some dull, dated spots. By comparison, Eddie Murphy strutting around and singing like James Brown will simply never get old. You can see “Celebrity Hot Tub Party” as one of the true precursors to Andy Samberg’s musical Digital Shorts, which equally owned the styles/genres they were aping. Too hot in the hot tub — and so much fun that even Murphy has to keep from cracking up a couple different times during the bit.

Did the right sketch win? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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Thank Azaria

Best. Characters. Ever.

Our favorite Hank Azaria characters.

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GIFs via Giphy

Hank Azaria may well be the most prolific voice and character actor of our time. The work he’s done for The Simpsons alone has earned him a permanent place in the pop culture zeitgeist. And now he’s bringing another character to the mainstream: a washed-up sports announcer named Jim Brockmire, in the aptly titled new series Brockmire.

We’re looking forward to it. So much so that we want to look backward, too, with a short-but-sweet retrospective of some of Azaria’s important characters. Shall we begin?

Half The Recurring Simpsons Characters

He’s Comic Book Guy. He’s Chief Wiggum. He’s Apu. He’s Cletus. He’s Snake. He’s Superintendent Chalmers. He’s the Sea Captain. He’s Kurt “Can I Borrow A Feeling” Van Houten. He’s Professor Frink. He’s Carl. And he’s many more. But most importantly he’s Moe Szyslak, the staple character Azaria has voiced since his very first audition for The Simpsons.

Oh, and He’s Frank Grimes

For all the regular Simpsons characters Azaria has played over the years, his most brilliant performance may have been a one-off: Frank Grimes, the scrappy bootstrapper who worked tirelessly all his life for honest, incremental, and easily-undermined success. Azaria’s portrayal of this character was nuanced, emotional, and simply magical.

Patches O’Houlihan

Dodgeball is a “sport of violence, exclusion and degradation.” as Hank Azaria generously points out in his brief but crucial cameo in Dodgeball. That’s sage wisdom. Try applying his “five D’s” to your life on and off the court and enjoy the results.

Harold Zoid

Of Futurama fame. The crazy uncle of Dr. Zoidberg, Harold Zoid was once a lion (or lobster) of the silver screen until Smell-o-vision forced him into retirement.

Agador

The Birdcage was significant for many reasons, and the comic genius of Hank Azaria’s character “Agador” sits somewhere towards the top of that list. If you haven’t seen this movie, shame on you.

Gargamel

Nobody else could make a live-action Gargamel possible.

Ed Cochran

From Ray Donovan. Great character, great last name [editorial note: the author of this article may be bias].

Kahmunra, The Thinker, Abe Lincoln

All in the Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian, a file that let Azaria flex his voice acting and live-action muscles in one fell swoop.

The Blue Raja

Mystery Men has everything, including a fatal case of Smash Mouth. Azaria’s iconic superhero makes the shortlist of redeemable qualities, though.

Dr. Huff

Huff put Azaria in a leading role, and it was good. So good that there is no good gif of it. Internet? More like Inter-not.

Learn more about Hank Azaria’s newest claim to fame right here, and don’t miss the premiere of Brockmire April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Flame Out

Brockmire and Other Public Implosions

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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There’s less than a month until the Brockmire premiere, and to say we’re excited would be an insulting understatement. It’s not just that it stars Hank Azaria, who can do no wrong (and yes, that’s including Mystery Men, which is only cringeworthy because of Smash Mouth). It’s that the whole backstory of the titular character, Jim Brockmire, is the stuff of legends. A one-time iconic sportscaster who won the hearts of fans and players alike, he fell from grace after an unfortunate personal event triggered a seriously public meltdown. See for yourself in the NSFW Funny or Die digital short that spawned the IFC series:

See? NSFW and spectacularly catastrophic in a way that could almost be real. Which got us thinking: What are some real-life sports fails that have nothing to do with botched athletics and everything to do with going tragically off script? The internet is a dark and dirty place, friends, but these three examples are pretty special and mostly safe for work…

Disgruntled Sports Reporter

His co-anchor went offsides and he called it like he saw it.

Jim Rome vs Jim “Not Chris” Everett

You just don’t heckle a professional athlete when you’re within striking distance. Common sense.

Carl Lewis’s National Anthem

He killed it! As in murdered. It’s dead.

To see more moments just like these, we recommend spending a day in your pajamas combing through the muckiness of the internet. But to see something that’s Brockmire-level funny without having to clear your browser history, check out the sneak peeks and extras here.

Don’t miss the premiere of Brockmire April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Mirror, Mirror

Portlandia Season 7 In Hindsight

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available Online and on the IFC App.

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Another season of Portlandia is behind us, and oh what a season it was. We laughed. We cried. And we chuckled uncomfortably while glancing nervously around the room. Like every season before it, the latest Portlandia has held a mirror up to ridiculousness of modern American life, but more than ever that same mirror has reflected our social reality in ways that are at once hysterical and sneakily thought-provoking. Here are just a few of the issues they tackled:

Nationalism

So long, America, Portland is out! And yes, the idea of Portland seceding is still less ludicrous than building a wall.

Men’s Rights

We all saw this coming. Exit gracefully, dudes.

Protests

Whatever you stand for, stand for it together. Or with at least one other person.

Free Love

No matter who we are or how we love, deep down we all have the ability to get stalky.

Social Status

Modern self-esteem basically hinges on likes, so this isn’t really a stretch at all.

These moments are just the tip of the iceberg, and much more can be found in the full seventh season of #Portlandia, available right now #online and on the #IFC app.

via GIPHY

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