Tracy Morgan took a break from a phone interview last week to apologize to his fiancée for, well, being Tracy Morgan.
“I get on her nerves,” he said in that booming voice that’s most likely the result of swallowing a megaphone during childhood. “I’m complicated.”
That’s an understatement.
The 44-year-old comic generated some of the biggest laughs in “Saturday Night Live” history, yet during eight seasons he never created a landmark character, not even one popular enough to justify an unbearable movie. He’s been nominated for an Emmy, but his most memorable moment during the awards ceremony was pretending to pass out on stage last year, a practical joke that triggered 25,000 tweets. On talk shows, he can be engaging one minute, disconnected the next, as if he’s distracted by an invisible Tinkerbell.
Now there’s a 50-city tour with a heavy emphasis on mid-size cities and the Midwest, including stops in Burnsville, Rochester, Des Moines and Bismarck, N.D., a strange strategy for someone who honed his craft doing sketch comedy in Harlem and specializing in hard-core material about being black in America.
“I think it’s cool,” he said. “Stand-up allows me to touch other markets that I’ve never touched before and people who have never seen my act. ‘30 Rock’ was me talking nonsense all the time, but stand-up is Tracy Morgan, not Tracy Jordan.”
Morgan is referring to his character on the NBC series that wrapped up six weeks ago after seven seasons and 14 Emmy wins, including two for outstanding comedy. A hyper, dumbed-down version of the actor, the other Tracy was instrumental in the show’s attempts to tackle issues of race, something that most network producers consider as dangerous as giving Lindsay Lohan her own show.
But the bold efforts by creator Tina Fey paid off, most notably in two iconic scenes. The first happened in Season 2, when TV executive Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) “treats” Jordan by impersonating his family members in such a way that it suggests his study of African-American history was limited to repeats of “Good Times.” The other occurred in last year’s live episode, pairing Morgan with guest star Jon Hamm, who went into blackface for a sketch that evoked the very worst of “Amos ’n’ Andy.”
“Television needs to get back to that,” Morgan said, referencing such fearless ’70s sitcoms as “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons.” “PC is killing comedy.”
The censors who triple-checked “30 Rock” scripts won’t be anywhere in sight when Morgan hits the road with an act that could very well average 9.2 profanities a minute. During past appearances, he’s alienated some audience members who felt he went overboard with material that could be perceived as offensive to gays and the mentally challenged.
“It’s hard to say what’s going to come out of his mouth,” said Lindsay Gjerde, marketing and sales manager for the Burnsville Performing Arts Center. “The tour is called ‘Excuse My French,’ so we hope that’ll indicate to people that this is a guy who likes to push the lines.”
Morgan said he’s not worried about how his act will go over in, say, Bismarck, which, according to the 2010 census, has a 0.7 percent black population.
“People are ready to know the truth about me and maybe they can relate,” he said. “That’s really more important to me than being funny. I want an identification that sticks with you and makes you want to see me again in person. I mean, I could ask you a question about the Mona Lisa and you could give me all the answers by pressing a computer key, but it’s not like seeing it and touching it and breathing the air in Italy.”
Due to a hectic road schedule (“If it ain’t rough, then it can’t be right. If it’s not black, it’s got to be white”) Morgan won’t have to make a personal visit to the Louvre anytime soon — or do much of anything else.
“I’d love to executive-produce some TV. I’d love to do Broadway or anything God allows me to do, but I can’t see that right now,” he said. “One thing at a time. In the past, I’ve tried to do a million things at once, and it didn’t work. Hollywood ain’t going nowhere. TV is not going anywhere. I’ve got six cars, but I can only drive one at a time.”
One project Morgan will take time off for: the birth of his fourth child. His fiancée, Meghan Wollover, is expecting in June.
“I want to spend more time with this one,” said Morgan, who has three adult children with his first wife. “I’m now in a position where I can have more time. That’s special for me.”