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Eddie Murphy impersonated Bill Cosby in his first stand-up set in 28 years

He chose not to impersonate Cosby during SNL's February anniversary special

Eddie Murphy was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center last night, and he made the reception a night to remember by performing his first bit of stand-up in almost three decades. Murphy's first set since 1987 was only seven minutes in length, but that gave him plenty of time to uncork his famous impression of embattled legend Bill Cosby. Cosby won the same award in 2009; his career has since been derailed by renewed attention on dozens of rape allegations that span decades of his public life.

Murphy's decision to impersonate Cosby last night is notable because he balked at a similar, higher-profile opportunity earlier this year. Murphy was asked to perform his Cosby impression as part of Saturday Night Live's 40th anniversary special back in February; his Cosby would've guested on Celebrity Jeopardy. (Cosby still appeared in the sketch, but he was played by Kenan Thompson.) "There's nothing funny about it," said Murphy to The Washington Post in an interview last week. "If you get up there and you crack jokes about him, you're just hurting people. You're hurting him. You're hurting his accusers. I was like 'Hey, I'm coming back to SNL for the anniversary, I'm not turning my moment on the show into this other thing.'" Murphy ended up giving a short, strange speech later in the show that left many viewers confused.

Murphy thought he could capitalize on Cosby's continued silence

What changed between February and October? According to Arsenio Hall, Murphy thought he could capitalize on Cosby's continued silence. (Murphy tested his Kennedy Center set on Hall and Chris Rock before performing on Sunday night.) "[Eddie] said, 'Because Cosby's gonna get sick of this soon, he's gonna get sick of people hating, and eventually he's gonna have to say something,'" said Hall. His final material built on that idea with references to giving trophies back, the allegations mentioned above, and Hannibal Buress. "You may have heard recently that I allegedly put the pill in the people's stomach," said Murphy's Cosby. "If I ever see or meet this Hannibal Buress in person, I'm going to try and kill this man!"