Up Close with Tracy Morgan
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."
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 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."
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."
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."
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 says his next goal is to work with Will Smith and Eddie Murphy. Or, as he calls them, "William Smith and Ed Murph."