If he wasn’t already a bona fide star upon leaving Saturday Night Live, Tracy Morgan certainly was when he returned to the 30 Rock fold in the sitcom that loosely fictionalized him and the makings of TV sketch comedy.
With an emphasis on loosely.
As Morgan prepares to unveil his fourth stand-up special, Bona Fide, this Easter Sunday on Comedy Central, he has hit all of the major media outlets in his hometown of New York City. An interview in The New York Times Magazine. A lengthy sit-down on SiriusXM satellite radio with Howard Stern. And obviously, a one-on-one conversation at 92Y during Passover. With Hannibal Buress.
There was more than a little synergy to the pairing of Buress with Morgan Wednesday night (photographed above by Joyce Culver). As Buress noted, he first met Morgan by opening for him at The Vic Theatre in Chicago in 2008 — and Buress has a bit about that, complete with impersonation of Morgan, in his own new stand-up special, “Live From Chicago,” that debuted last month. In the bit, Hannibal tries to translate Morgan’s advice on how much time to do at the top of the show. In real-life 2014, Morgan updated his advice: “I just say do it ’til you’re satisfied.”
Morgan said “Bona Fide” is more personal to him, because of the subject matter. And also the timing, fresh off of his Emmy-nominated turn on 30 Rock. “Now I get to hear my voice again,” he said. “I want to hear my own story before TMZ tells it!!”
Because somewhere along the way, audiences presumed that Tina Fey and her writing staff had created Tracy Jordan as more than just an alter ego for Morgan. As Morgan told Stern this week:
Anyhow. The Tracy Morgan who ran afoul of the law in the past decade wasn’t even him, nor was he Tracy Jordan. “When I got into trouble, that wasn’t me. That was Chico Devine,” Morgan told Buress.
Morgan remains equal parts ridiculous and sincere in conversation with Buress or anyone else in a public forum.
The backlash to one of shows in 2011, from a single fan’s Facebook page, remains fresh in everyone’s mind, particularly Morgan’s. “Social media ain’t nothing but standing in the corner,” Morgan said. Meanwhile, he’s doing what great comedians and comic actors have done before him. “That’s what Archie Bunker did. That’s what George Jefferson did. They talked about our ills…You already killed rock ‘n’ roll. Now you want to kill our sense of humor?!”
Morgan is looking for the KO himself when he’s onstage. “I don’t want to tickle anybody,” he told Buress. “I want to go for the gut! That’s what Richard (Pryor) did to me. That’s what Eddie (Murphy) did to me! That’s what I want to do.” Morgan also cited George Carlin, Jackie Gleason, Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball as various inspirations for his language, his facial expressions and his stage presence.
Like a boxer, he has to keep moving, too. Or perhaps like any athlete. “If you’re just standing there, after a while the audience loses focus and then it’s wop wop wop wop. If you’re moving, then it’s like watching tennis,” Morgan said.
He said young stand-up comedians often must rely on their imaginations for material. Over time, he said, your life experience and age allow you to use your observations for premises and punchlines.
Morgan’s just so happen to be a bit more colorful. As he cracked: “I’m an artist. I paint with detail! If I’m talking about buttholes, I’m talking about the creases inside the butthole!”
If you’re hoping for details about Morgan’s newly announced FX series, tough luck. “It’s still in the stages of I don’t know what the fuck it is,” Morgan told Buress.
In “Bona Fide,” Morgan cuts Paula Deen some slack for her racist language, but lays into some of his own extended family members for their behavior. Here’s a clip with bonus animation in which Morgan speaks of his grandmother acting out during Thanksgiving, and visits with his uncles.
In a recurring premise set-up, Morgan lets us know “it’s getting dark out there” in America. Not so dark that he cannot get down and dirty with his fiancee. But he knows to apologize afterward. As he told the “Bona Fide” audience at BAM in Brooklyn, “I’m from the hood. So if I’ve been a little promiscuous tonight, forgive me ya’ll.”
But don’t expect a full apology. He says what he means to say.
As Morgan reiterated to the 92Y audience on Wednesday: “If you don’t like comedy, make it a Blockbuster night.”
Buy Tracy Morgan’s uncensored, extended edition of “Bona Fide” in audio or video formats.