Eddie Murphy made his first onstage joke in 28 years on Sunday evening (October 18th) when he accepted the prestigious Mark Twain Prize for American Humour in Washington D.C. The comedian’s choice of target for his first gag in nearly three decades was another former honouree, Bill Cosby, whose reputation is now in tatters after recent sexual assault allegations.

Eddie MurphyEddie Murphy was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humour on Sunday.

The show was opened by Arsenio Hall, who compared his friend Murphy to the first recipient of the prize, the late, great Richard Pryor. “When it comes to masters of everything who do it all in comedy, only two come to mind," Hall said. "The first recipient, Richard Pryor, and tonight's recipient, Eddie Murphy.”

Also on hand to celebrate Murphy’s career was Tracy Morgan, fresh off his triumphant ‘SNL’ hosting gig, just over a year after being involved in a serious car accident. "When I first came out of my coma, I spoke to Eddie on the phone, and he was the first one to make me laugh, and that's why I love you,” Morgan said.

Collecting the trophy, Murphy joked about how it’s a little misleading to call the honour a ‘prize’, "It's an award, because usually when it's a prize there's money involved." Murphy joked. “To clear up the confusion for future recipients...if you don't want to call it an award, maybe you can call it the Mark Twain Surprise. The 'surprise' is you don't get any money!”

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Murphy then addressed former recipient Bill Cosby, who collected the prize in 2009, saying that you know you’ve messed up “when they want you to give your trophy back.” According to The Washington Post Murphy then launched into an impersonation of Cosby.

“You may have heard recently that I allegedly put the pill in the people’s stomach,” Murphy as Cosby joked. “If I ever see or meet this Hannibal Buress in person I am going to try and kill this man!”

The comedian had been famous for his Cosby impersonation in his 1987 stand-up film Raw, but last month he declined to take part in the 'Saturday Night Live' 40th anniversary special, when they asked him to play the former TV star.

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Speaking about his decision not to impersonate Cosby to the Washington Post last week, Murphy said, “It’s horrible, There’s nothing funny about it. 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,’” the comedian added.

But according to the Post Murphy decided to tell Sunday’s joke after trying it out on friends Arsenio Hall and Chris Rock. Hall told the Post that Murphy said he wanted to tell the gag, “Because Cosby gonna get sick of this soon, he’s gonna get sick of people hating, and eventually he’s gonna have to say something." The full show will be broadcast on PBS, November 23rd.