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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tracy Morgan

Is it the dreaded hockey playoffs that killed Tracy Morgan show at the Orpheum this coming Saturday? Or was it that he over-saturated the market? Probably a bit of both. Throw in the fact that Vancouver is a notoriously last-minute town and it spelled doom for the promoters, methinks.

The press release announcing the cancellation of his upcoming show cited "unforeseen circumstances and scheduling conflicts" but what are they going to say? Nobody wanted to see him again so soon after playing the River Rock and before that Yuk Yuk's? Maybe the hockey playoffs played a small role but I was at the Vogue Theatre to see Tommy Tiernan on Sunday night when the Canucks were playing and the place was packed.

I got the chance to interview Morgan a week or so ago for a story that was to run in the Georgia Straight tomorrow ahead of his scheduled appearance. But not now. I'm a little surprised that in all the years I've been doing this, this is the first time it's happened. Curious as to what you would have read? Well, I've got it for you here. I'm sure the editors would have fine-tuned it to perfection but here's the raw copy:

by Guy MacPherson

If there’s one thing Tracy Morgan wants you to know, it’s that he’s not Tracy Jordan, his fictional batshit crazy alter-ego on NBC’s 30 Rock. To wit: Jordan doesn’t swear and… well, that’s about it as far as I can tell.

In an intense 15-minute phone interview with the Straight from his home in New Jersey, the 42-year-old comedian was variously unhinged, opinionated, hilarious, introspective, and even briefly sane. Is it a case of art imitating life or vice versa? Who knows? Who cares? When it comes to Morgan/Jordan, you just sit back and enjoy the ride.

While Morgan, the comedic actor, has made it big on the back of pre-censored network television, Morgan, the standup comic, is anything but ideally packaged family entertainment. His live shows aim low with endless dick and pussy jokes. And he relishes it.

“I don’t care. Be offended! I love it!,” he yells. “I want you to be offended. Maybe you’ll change things. If people don’t get offended, you probably ain’t funny. I’m always confrontational. You don’t like it, leave, man, but don’t judge me. You ain’t walked a mile in my shoes. You don’t know where I’m from. I came out there to make you laugh. I left my family and my home to make you laugh. The least you could do is have a sense of humour. Don’t take it so serious. But we got assholes out there that think that they coming to see Tracy Jordan. You don’t know the difference between stand-up and TV? You don’t know the difference and you a grown-ass person? People actually think that Tina Fey’s gonna be there!”

She won’t be. The two, amazingly enough, don’t hang out in real life, it turns out. It’s Morgan alone on stage, predictable in his unpredictability.

In a 2008 New York Times profile, Morgan was painted as a jester with no off-switch. It’s easy to reach that conclusion based on his work and appearances on talk shows, but the funnyman denies it. Vehemently.

“I ain’t on all the time. I’m on when I wanna be on,” he says petulantly. “This is my life. Don’t nobody control me. Don’t nobody tell me when to be funny or not. Nobody! My father died when I was 19 years old. So I’m funny when I wanna be funny. The New York Times don’t hang out with me every day all day.”

Vancouver comic Sam Easton recalls opening for him at Yuk Yuk’s a few years ago. “He didn’t have a lot of written jokes or material or polished stuff but he was funny,” he told me on last week’s episode of What’s So Funny? on co-op radio. “I remember we had a 2-show night. His first show was an hour-twenty-five and the second show was 25 minutes. So you just never know.”

Indeed, Morgan says he never feels compelled, professionally or otherwise, to be funny.

“I don’t have to be nuthin’. If I don’t wanna go on stage, I don’t. I cancel,” he says before backtracking slightly. “But I don’t do that because I don’t feel the need to. I’m funny. I love what I do. I told you, nobody controls this here. Nobody evah. Not [30 Rock costar] Alec [Baldwin], not Tina, not [Saturday Night Live producer] Lorne [Michaels], nobody! Nobody stood over me in 1968 when I came outta my mother’s vagina and said, ‘You shall be funny! You shall do comedy!’ This was all my idea, man. This was all my idea. All of it!”

Got it. Duly noted. So is this all an act, a put-on for the press? Who knows? Even a fellow comic like Easton doesn’t know.

“Oh, he’s nuts. He’s crazy and hilarious,” he says. “Some of the things, you don’t know if he’s doing it just for show or if that’s really how he feels. I couldn’t tell. I was hosting for him so he was treating me with respect but not other people. You don’t know if he’s doing it for just hijinx and for laughs or he’s actually doing it because that’s how he treats people. He always kept you off-balance.”

Morgan’s devilish sense of humour and questioning of authority got him in trouble at school, he says, but he was always a bit of a star growing up in Brooklyn, even before he started standup or got on TV.

“Other kids loved me,” he says. “I was the funny dude in the neighbourhood so they protect that. We didn’t have no money, we was too poor to go to Radio City [Music Hall] to see Richard [Pryor] so they had me. So they protected that. The funny dude always gets protected as long as he’s got a good spirit. My father taught me that early in life because he was a comedian: ‘Always tell jokes with a good spirit. That way, when you do make fun of somebody, they can laugh and you can laugh.’”

That advice has served him well over the years and kept him from being smacked upside the head. And family is obviously important to him. It’s when talking about his late father or his three grown sons that Morgan’s sensitive side shines through. He says, softly, the hardest thing he ever did was bury his dad, that his boys are “beautiful” (“Me and my ex-wife raised them right”), that five months after his kidney transplant his health is fine (“I’m doing great; I’m in high spirits, as you can tell”) and that he’s five years clean and sober after struggling with alcohol addiction.

When his publicist interrupts the conversation to let us know the time is up, we get a hint that maybe the bravado is a bit of an act afterall: “Guy, you gotta admit, this is a very passionate, interesting interview. And you need more! Like, ‘Tracy is an interesting dude, man! He’s got a point of view and everything!’ Why you think my lady love me?”

Maybe because his lady is like the rest of North America and loves a good whackjob with a heart of gold, apparently.

Our chat really was nuts. I'll post the full transcription sometime soon.

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