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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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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…