Eddie Murphy And Larry The Lobster

by Fine Maine Lobster on January 28, 2010

Celebrity Lobsters, Part 4

“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” – Andy Warhol

In 1968, Mr. Warhol might never have envisioned that his now infamous quote would someday be applicable to a lobster.  Indeed, however, even lobsters have come to enjoy their “15 minutes.”  We profiled one recently but, believe it or not (couldn’t resist the pun), there are others.

This week we bring you the lobster that helped revolutionize both the television and the telephone, fusing the two technologies and paving the way for a wide variety of terrible television programming and rip-off telephone services.  You’d think that such an influential lobster might enjoy more than “15 minutes” of fame, rather than becoming a mere footnote to chronicles of advancing technologies, but, alas, this week’s lobster in our ongoing series of Lobsters You May Have Heard of met a short-term fate that precluded his longer-term celebrity.

On April 10, 1982, Eddie Murphy penned and performed a skit on Saturday Night Live that involved a lobster…a lobster that he named “Larry.”  Murphy, in what was perhaps an inadvertently revolutionary sketch, introduced Larry The Lobster to the studio and television audiences and then proceeded to present television viewers with a remarkable pair of options.

The first option presented involved sparing Larry The Lobster from a trip to the boiling pot.  Viewers were told that if they were interested in saving Larry’s life, they should call 1-900-720-1808 to help secure Larry a trip back to the ocean (or at least the New York harbor).  Viewers wishing to see Larry boiled and eaten as Maine lobster dinner, on the following week’s program, were instructed to call 1-900-720-1809.

Murphy presented these options at a time when 900 numbers were but two years old, and before television broadcasters had fully leveraged the profit and marketing potential of large-scale phone-in campaigns.  Murphy’s lobster skit resulted in nearly 500,000 phone calls flooding the AT&T network, a call volume that very nearly overwhelmed AT&T’s ability to process telephone calls (and created at least one new job).

Little did Mr. Murphy realize at the time that he was effectively inventing interactive television.  Never before had the telephone and television been brought together in such a hugely popular manner.  The era of interactive television was truly born that night on SNL.

But whatever became of Larry The Lobster, the lobster over which all of this fuss was created?  Well, the phone-in campaign resulted in a narrow victory for Larry The Lobster, with 239,096 callers voting to drop Larry into the New York Harbor and 227,452 callers voting for Larry to be boiled up and served with drawn butter.

And so it would seem that sympathetic viewers spared the life of Larry.  Ah, but it’s not quite that simple.  In the week between Murphy’s skit and the end of voting, Murphy received all manner of hate mail.  Blaming the authors of the hate mail, Murphy decided to ignore the voters’ mandate and boil Larry The Lobster.  The deciding piece of mail, it seems, proclaimed “I didn’t know you people ate lobster.”  Murphy proceeded to eat Larry on the next week’s show.

Thus the demise of Larry The Lobster spawned a new age of interactive television, where viewers would forevermore be asked to call this number to decide that, or that number to decide this, or some other number to share a recorded opinion or to vote on some triviality or another.  And the trend continues to this day, perhaps culminating in the interactive nature of shows like “American Idol” and “Dancing With The Stars.”

But it all started with one lobster…Larry.  So while Larry The Lobster may have enjoyed only “15 minutes” of fame, his martyrdom ultimately changed television and telephony as we knew it.  Who knew that such an ancient creature could have such a far-reaching influence on technology?

Join us next week as we continue our series of Lobsters You May Have Heard Of.

<< Celebrity Lobsters Part 3 | Part 5 (Coming Soon!)

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