Actor and comedian Tracy Morgan has been called many things since he burst onto the comedy scene: outrageous, unpredictable, brilliant.
Tracy first wowed audiences when he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1996. He made a name for himself with impressions of Star Jones and Maya Angelou, and these days he's earning Emmy nods for his portrayal of Tracy Jordan, the pampered, impulsive star of a late-night sketch comedy show on NBC's 30 Rock.
Though his crazy reputation precedes him, Tracy says that's only his on-camera persona. "I don't run down the street in my underwear in real life, you know," he says. "I'm pretty subdued. Off-camera, I'm just regular. Where I come from, that was normal—taking your shirt off at parties. Like at Studio 54, people did it all the time. That was partying. But I don't do that just totally in public."
On a regular day at home, Tracy says he sits back and relaxes like any other guy. "I'm just normal, watching ESPN. Not doing nothing crazy," he says. "My humor is based on reality, so I'm in the moment and I'm just keeping my mind open so I don't miss anything. I'm still observing everything, but I'm normal. I'm not being funny. At home with my kids, there's no pressure to be funny. I'm Dad."
Even with all the attention and accolades he receives, Tracy says he doesn't put pressure on himself to be anything other than himself. "When I go to work, I go to work. But when I'm home, I don't feel the pressure to be funny all the time. I don't have to be," he says. "I'm like Marvin Gaye. I'm funny when I feel like it."
When Tracy was first introduced to the world, he said he did feel some pressure to perform for a white audience. "I came from a world of black," he says. "I never did comedy in front of white people, and I would get discouraged, because it's really hard at Saturday Night Live. And then one night, it was about 4 in the morning, Lorne Michaels called me and I guess he saw me frustrated and he said: 'Tracy, you're not here because you're black. You're here because you're funny.' And my fangs came down and I began to feed. ... I didn't have the burden of having the black community on my [shoulders], because sometimes that can just weigh you down. It was just about being funny and free and not worrying and exposing your flaws. Because the writers come from a different world, and sometimes you have to be patient because they don't know your voice."
Tracy says his biggest influences in comedy have been Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence. "I remember before I started going comedy, I went to Def Jam. A friend of mine worked for Russell Simmons, so he took me to Def Jam the first season Martin hosted, and I was watching and I said: 'This guy is where I'm from. He's speaking my language; he's talking about things. I could do that,'" he says. "Four months later, I was on Def Jam doing comedy with him."
Tracy says he realized he was funny at an early age. "My older brother has cerebral palsy. ... So when the kids sometimes could be mean in the schoolyard, I couldn't go get my big brother. So I had to learn how to make the bullies laugh," he says. "I knew I was funny when the bullies were on my side and they protected me."
Using comedy to connect with people has always been one of Tracy's strong suits, and he says one of the reasons working with Tina Fey on both SNL and 30 Rock has been so successful is that she understands his humor. "She's my friend. I love her," he says. "She understood that I knew who I was. Where everybody else [said]: 'Oh, he don't know. His whole career is chance.' And she understood that I was making choices. I was making choices on TV. And she not only would write things, she would just encourage me."
In one of his ongoing bits, Tracy loves to joke about his relationship with Oprah. He told David Letterman that she was his Valentine and claims he ran into Stedman at an airport and got in a fight over her. "This goes back to high school, you know, when me and you was messing around," he jokes. "You always running up on me, trying to approach me. You know, this is my woman. [Stedman] know it."
Tracy says his self-proclaimed irresistible charisma is a blessing and a curse. "Charm, man, charm. I've got that charm, you know? And your teeth is pretty and stuff, all you have to do is smile," he says. "I'm the black Svengali."
The perfect woman, Tracy says, is an independent woman. "I like a strong woman, but she's got to be weak enough to need me. I need to be there. I need to be like, she needs to be with me and I need to be with her. It's unity—united we stand, divided we fall. We've got to be tighter than pantyhose two sizes too small," he says. "It would help that she had her own talk show."
When it comes to monogamy, Tracy's says he's working on it. "I try to be," he says. "I'm a man. I've learned to just glance. ... Women are God's greatest creation. Men may be first, but women is his greatest. There would be planet of the apes without you all."
Tracy's wooed women with plenty of romantic gestures, he says. He's bought one woman a puppy, or sent 50 dozen roses, but the most romantic thing he's done? "I painted her toenails," he says. "Just me and her and her toenails. She had fingernail polish all over her feet, but I tried."
One of the funniest things about Tracy is his honesty, a lesson he says he learned from his dad. "My father was a righteous man. I loved him. He never lied to me about nothing. All his drug addictions, the reason why him and my mom broke up," Tracy says. "My father was a very funny man on the level of Richard Pryor. And where I come from, your sense of humor is the knife in which you cut through the wilderness of despair. ... Richard Pryor was honest with us, and I learned that was the best policy. So I'd tell my story and have nothing to hide. I'm me. This is me."
In 2006, Tracy was arrested for drunk driving and says he had to wear a monitor bracelet. "That was my rock bottom," he says. "Some people never hit rock bottom. Death is rock bottom for a lot of people because of their addiction and sickness, and for me that was rock bottom because there was a time where professionally things were happening—I'm making a movie with Ice Cube, I'm doing this and I'm doing that and then I'm home one day and I've got this thing on my ankle and my oldest son is looking at me and he [said]: 'What are you doing? What if I started drinking and driving, would that be cool?' And that was the last time. That was it."
Tracy says he's been sober now for three years. "It's not even like I try. I don't even think about it," he says. "If I go to a club or to a restaurant, I don't focus on what I don't want. I don't go into a restaurant: 'Oh, I hope I don't drink. I hope I don't get drunk.' No, I'll go: 'I want seltzer water. This is what I want now.' I focus on what I want rather than what I don't want."
Every father has a dream for his sons, and Tracy says his dream is simple. "I would just want them to have happiness, joy and good health in their life. And to just be respected and respectful," he says.
Tracy says he's extremely close with his kids. "I'm a great dad. I think I'm number one. That's what they tell me."
Tracy's latest film, Death at a Funeral, co-stars comedians Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence and is about a dark family secret that comes out at the funeral for the family's patriarch. "It's surreal for me. I mean Martin and Chris Rock are my heroes. They're two of my heroes in comedy, and to be able to work with those guys? It was a dream. I did a movie with those guys!" he says. "And I made Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence laugh on the set."
Tracy says his next goal is to work with Will Smith and Eddie Murphy. Or, as he calls them, "William Smith and Ed Murph."