Brooklyn-born, controversy-rich comic Tracy Morgan brings his Excuse My French standup tour to the Neptune Theater Friday, June 14. Before we spoke, his PR agent came on the line:
“Tracy is almost ready, thanks for holding. Can we just not talk about 30 Rock, Alec Baldwin, or Tina Fey? He really does not want to talk about that. He’ll probably say something if you ask. So can we take that off and just focus on the Excuse My French tour?”
Okay. Can I ask him why he said he’d stab his son to death if his son were gay? And can I ask him about his stance on same-sex marriage?
Why? What’s the same-sex marriage question in relation to?
What’s it in relation to? To gay people being able to have equality. And since Tracy was under fire for his remarks before, I thought it would be interesting to hear his thoughts on it. I know he apologized and all, but I still think it would be interesting to hear. And my editor will flog me with a yardstick if I don’t ask.
Actually, let’s not do that. Let’s focus on talking about the tour.
Can I talk about my editor’s yardstick?
Let’s keep it to the tour.
[Tracy comes on, with a deep and gleeful “Hello!”]
How do you put your brain into the flow when you’re doing standup?
There’s things happening every day that influence my show. I mean, I have material that I do, but then again, a lot of it is based on my observations—stuff that I see while walking through the airport, or going to a Subway sandwich shop. I keep my antennae up. I like my audience to identify every night with me.
Thinking of some of the pure standup artists, who are some of your favorites?
My father. My father was very funny. I don’t get inspired just by people who do what I do. To me, there’s no inspiration in show business, inspiring things come from the everyday Joe—the funny mechanic, the funny fire-person, the funny ambulance driver. Real people inspire me, man.
As far as standups, the standups that inspire me are no longer here. And they kept it real. They weren’t just funny, they made sense—they were making a point. George Carlin didn’t go up there just to be funny—he was beyond that. The great artist doesn’t keep adding clay; they strip away until they get to the bare essentials. Some people come to my shows, and they’re lookin’ for Tracy Jordan [the character he plays on 30 Rock], but if you want to see Tracy Jordan, you can tune in to NBC on Thursdays and see him all night. Onstage, I’m doing me. If you think Tracy Jordan’s interesting, wait ’til you get a load of me.
What angers you?
The same thing that frustrates you frustrates me, but I just have a sense of humor about it. I got Verizon! I’m pissed off about that today. What about that! They lookin’ at our stuff! You know what’s on my record?
Stuff about Tina Fey? No, what’s on your record?
You think Tiger Woods had problems? You don’t wanna read about the stuff me and my girlfriends used to talk about.
Let’s talk about your imitation of Oprah Winfrey. What runs through the mind of Tracy Morgan as he puts himself in the mind of Oprah Winfrey?
That wasn’t my real talent. All those impressions and that on SNL wasn’t the real genius of Tracy Morgan. I’m more about creating characters. Astronaut Jones, Brian Fellows—I created those. Those are from inside of me. I went to high school with a guy named Brian Fellows—I was inspired just by that name.
What was your favorite SNL character to play?
The closest one to me is Woodrow, the guy from the sewer. That was tragedy. He came from the sewer, and we laughed at him. That’s sad. That was a happy face/sad face. It was genius.
Who was your favorite SNL guest host?
I thought all of them were spectacular to work with. You gotta understand, that was my first big show. I was excited. I didn’t really sit around thinking, “Who’s my favorite guest host?” I didn’t think like that, I was THERE!
But of all those people, there had to have been someone that made more of an impression on you.
My very first show on SNL was hosted by Tom Hanks. I’m comin’ out of the ghetto, and now I’m there with Tom Hanks. Imagine that. Imagine that! I was scared to death.
You were selling crack, doing comedy on the street—what was your very first break? Where did someone see you and say, “This guy’s gonna be huge?”
My very first break was in 1969 at 10:30 in the morning, when my mother’s water broke, and that’s when the shit started. Excuse my French. That’s when it all started.
If I had known we were going to be talking about your mother’s water breaking, I would have prepared totally differently. Let’s fast-forward. What does the current, out-of-the-womb Tracy Morgan talk about in his standup routine now?
I talk about Michael Douglas now. He said he got throat cancer from having oral sex with women! That’s strange. Then he recanted on it. You don’t think that’s strange?
Does Michael Douglas know you’re talking about him in your show?
I don’t know, and I don’t care. That’s not a question you would ask Richard Pryor.
No, I’d ask Richard Pryor that question.
You think he’d care? No, I’m gonna say what I say. I don’t care about none of that. I’m doing standup, man. I’m doing it in the spirit of Lucille Ball, and Richard Pryor, and George Carlin. I’m not a mean-spirited person—I’m just talking about what’s going on in front of me.
When you’re up there, deep into a show, and you’re in a mental flow, is it like a trance? When my editor flogs me across the ass, I go into a trance.
When people are laughing at one joke, I’m 10 jokes down. Sometimes, I don’t even see the people there. Comedians think at the speed of light—that’s why we’re able to do two hours. Let me tell you something about comedy: Humor is the highest form of intelligence. Ask a woman what it is that she loves about a man. She’ll say, “His sense of humor.” The guy that’s funny gets all the girls. Somebody’s flogging you?