My family never really went to church, but for as long as I can remember, we’ve been religious about one thing: Saturday Night Live. As soon as we got a VCR, we started taping Saturday Night Live every Saturday night and watching it together as a family Sunday morning.
The first season I remember watching was the year Eddie Murphy joined the cast. There have been far better casts than the Eddie Murphy cast, there have been years where the writing was a lot stronger, but for my money, no one has ever been as good on SNL as Eddie Murphy. He dominated that show. During the opening credits, the audience would clap politely for the other cast members and go wild for Murphy. To this day, when you watch the old episodes, it is impossible to take your eyes off of him. He was the coolest guy I’d ever seen.
I was in sixth grade when Murphy’s concert film Raw came out. I didn’t see it until the following year, when it came out on video. Jeff Rosenberg and I were spending the night at Brian Fairweather’s house, and we managed to convince Brian’s mom to rent it for us. She watched about 15 minutes with us before leaving in disgust. If you have never seen Raw, know this: it is DIRTY. Not the sort of thing you want to watch with your mom when you’re 12. To her credit, she let us finish it. And then we watched it again immediately afterwards. I haven’t seen it since and can’t tell you if it’s actually funny or if it’s 12-year-old boy funny … I know it contains a wealth of homophobic jokes that the adult me would probably find offensive. But at the time, it felt like the pinnacle of human achievement.
Sometime after that, I was at the leather store in the mall with my mom, looking for a new jacket. And there, on the rack, was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen: an Eddie Murphy Raw tour jacket. It had black leather sleeves and a fuzzy torso and splashed across the back, in giant letters, was the word “Raw.” I just knew that if I had that jacket, my popularity would go through the roof. “Wow,” kids would say, “I thought Dinsmore was kinda milquetoast, but he’s got edge! Just look at that boss Raw jacket! He must really love dirty comedy!” In my fantasies, kids used words like “boss” and “milquetoast.” Probably a good sign that I was not destined to be cool.
I begged and begged my mom to get me that jacket and finally, on my birthday, there it was, waiting under the birthday tree. I had never been so excited about a piece of clothing. I just knew this was the one thing that was going to finally get me noticed.
It got me noticed, all right. The first day I wore the Raw jacket, I sauntered onto the schoolbus like a proud peacock, waiting for the kudos to come rolling in. I especially wanted to impress the eighth graders who sat in the back of the bus and made my life a living hell. Once they knew how big a Murphy fan I was, they’d surely invite me to join their cool bus club. “I bet that kid could really make fun of some other kids with us,” they’d say. “No nerd would ever wear a jacket that cool.”
Needless to say, I had severely miscalculated the effect that a jacket with the words “Raw” written in giant lettering across the back would have on my peers. Minutes after sitting down, the catcalls began. “Hey Raw!” they shouted. And “Eat me raw!” I slunk down in my seat, pretending not to hear them. It was no use. They kept it up all the way to school. At the end of the day, their bloodlust still was not satisfied. “Hey everybody, it’s raw!” they shouted, the minute I got on the bus. It was all I could do to keep from leaping out the window.
Have you ever seen that episode of Freaks and Geeks where Sam wears the leisure suit to school? He walks into school with his head held high, thinking he’s on the cutting edge of fashion. Within a few seconds, he realizes that everyone is looking at him, not because they’re impressed, but because he looks like a complete jackass. That is exactly how I suddenly felt in the Raw jacket. Every day, all the way to and from school, it was the same thing. “Hey, it’s raw!” they’d shout, the minute I stepped on the bus. The raw jokes would continue ad nauseum until I got off the bus. Or, “jokes,” I guess, is maybe not the correct word … the banter basically consisted of them coughing into their hands while saying “raw” under their breaths. The minute we got to school, I would bolt into the aisle and shove my way off the bus for fear that they were going to jump me for having the poor sense to wear a jacket with a silly word on the back.
Finally, at the end of the week, I’d had enough. The raw coughs were flying fast and furious as I got up to leave the bus. As soon as the door opened, I turned around and raised a shaking middle finger. “Why don’t you just fuck off?” I shouted, red-faced and teary-eyed. The entire bus exploded with laughter. “Rawwwwww!” the eighth graders shouted, as I fled from the bus and into the safety of my house.
That was the last time I ever wore the Raw jacket. Thankfully, the nickname didn’t stick.