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Cult Comic Hero Charlie Murphy Ponders the Absurd at Cobb's

Charlie Murphy returns to the Cobb's stage tonight for two more shows (8 and 10:15 p.m.), and one more on Sunday night at 8.

Charlie Murphy has seen through the looking glass, and he’s still not entirely what side he’s on. The famed comedian was at Cobb’s last night — the second of a four-night stint at the North Beach comedy club — and outlined for a boisterous crowd his take on our surreal popular culture. Reality, turns out, is one hell of a drug. 

Few could have hallucinated the life of Murphy, who has spent his entire professional career in the daunting shadow of his megastar brother Eddie. He’s managed to forge his own singular identity and cult following thanks to a coup of a gig on Chappelle’s Show and various semi-high-profile TV and film roles.

Stand-up seems to come naturally to the Murphy brothers, but each gets laughs their own way. While Eddie sometimes veered off into characters and impressions, Charlie has been mostly himself onstage, a character enough in his own right. His street-cool voice is one of the more recognizable in comedy, and he has the vague aura of a comic rock star. He came out looking like one in the late Friday night set, with an outfit Kanye West could have donned — a cut-off leather vest, bling everywhere, stylish black pants, all very 21 Jump Street revival-ish.

He’s well aware of his own identity and appeal, introducing himself in his signature third person grunt and forecasting, “the Darkness is spreading!” Before he would introduce his thesis for the night, he talked about the hot weather back in NYC, and how it draws him closer to stage front and the audience: “free (booby) show for Charlie!”

Murphy framed the show with an anecdote about how he dropped acid when he was a teenager, and how he read that the drug could henceforth, at any time, trigger hallucinatory flashbacks/flashforwards. Basically, Charlie Murphy isn’t entirely convinced he’s not in a prison cell somewhere playing out another life in his head.

But how else could we explain enigmas such as Charlie Sheen, Lil’ Wayne, Lindsay Lohan, Sarah Palin, Bin Laden, et al? And, more importantly, how do we explain ourselves? We’re a people, Murphy points out, who complain about our rights to privacy, but willingly share every detail about our lives on Facebook.

But kidding aside for a second, Murphy knows all too much about reality. Two years ago, he lost his wife to cancer, and now finds himself the father and mother to four children. And not just little boys. He’s seen all the Barbie movies. Say it with me: Charlie Murphy has seen all the Barbie movies. Perhaps LSD has infiltrated the water supply. 

Murphy wasn’t interested in working the crowd, which is probably for the best given his intimidating persona. This is the guy who karate-kicked Rick James, after all. But the audience was riveted from start to finish because dude knows how to tell a story, Hollywood-related or not.

Opener Freeze Love was equally engaging. The L.A. native/NYC resident killed with his jolly self deprecation, A-type male insights, and confessions and evangelistic cannabis-related diatribes, all delivered with a confident quasi-iambic pentameter cadence. His most salient comment of the night: “There’s no way California should be broke; we got weed! We got the best weed!”

Host Joe Nguyen, a local comic with an understated talent, was also on top of his game. He, along with Love, is of the biracial demographic (find him at vietjew.com, no joke), but hey, ya know what, he’s above it all — he’s American! “I don’t have culture, psshh.”

If you’re keeping track, that was a freakish three thumbs up at Cobb’s last night.