For Tracy Morgan, ‘Saturday Night Live’ Is Old Hat

Detroit Free Press via FS View
Florida State University

Tracy Morgan is in a record warehouse in Los Angeles, explaining in a loud and playful voice what he's buying.

"Old school hip-hop," he says by cell phone. "I don't mess with the new school stuff. I'm old school."

The former Saturday Night Live star has a reputation for being, to drop one of his favorite words, hilarious. This is a guy who's famous for playing Astronaut Jones, a lusty space explorer, and Brian Fellow, a TV animal-show host who's as loopy as he is uninformed.

But the 37-year-old comedian takes his work and his family very seriously.

Consider this: He's been married for two decades to the same woman. He describes his relationship with God as the center of his universe. He advises his three sons to focus on education, not romance, for now.

And he's passionate about the subtleties of stand-up comedy. There's an art to it, he believes, just as there is to sex.

Hey, he said he's old school, not old fogey.

"I guess the women that do porno understand the art. … They let their inhibitions go," Morgan riffs. "And I'm like that onstage. I'm like a good porn star. I'm uninhibited."

Morgan, who was born in the Bronx, spent seven seasons on SNL before leaving to do the 2003-04 NBC sitcom, The Tracy Morgan Show. Although he played a character who, like himself, was funny and a father, the show didn't capture the weird inventiveness he gave to his SNL characters.

For his stand-up act, Morgan draws material from his personal experiences. He doesn't re-create his SNL characters onstage, and he tells fans not to expect the sort of things they've seen him do on the show.

"Most of the time, when I get into my stand-up, they forget all about the stuff I've done on TV because it's much more interesting, what I'm talking about. You never saw Eddie Murphy do Gumby in Raw… You never saw Eddie Murphy do Buckwheat and Nutty Professor. I have range. I have other parts of my life that I talk about."

Morgan has several projects on the horizon, including the movie Little Man by Keenen Ivory Wayans.

Unlike some SNL veterans who leave and harbor old resentments, he talks about his days at the NBC late-night show with a fondness that runs deep. He spent his early years as a cast member learning the ropes and getting laughs where he could. His strategy was to approach the job "like a great running back" and wait for his opening.

"When it was time for me to step up after Will Ferrell left, I stepped up," he recalled. "I was patient, though. A lot of people, they leave and they bad-talk Saturday Night Live because they think as soon as they get there, they're supposed to just be stars. But that's not how Hollywood works."

To flesh out his characters, he created back stories for them and crafted small details to bring them to life.

The back story on Brian Fellow, the effeminate, oblivious host of Brian Fellow's Safari Planet, was that he was raised by a family of women. A small detail? The lip gloss he wore.

The character's trademark line, "I'm Brian Fellow!," was inspired by another SNL alumnus. "I got that from Chevy Chase," Morgan explained. "I'm Chevy Chase and you're not- that's how he would come and talk. That's how America gets attached to the character."

The back story on Morgan is that hes been able to blend a stable family life with a show-business career, which isnt always easy. He says a lot of the credit goes to his wife, whos so consistent with the kids and shes consistent with me.

And how are the kids, Tracy?

Theyre doing good, he braged, shifting into stand-up mode. I have three boys, and theyre all virgins, thank God. Theyve still got their focus.

Yeah, cause I know I was doing good up until the third grade, till I first got some. … You women, whoa, you all know what you do to us.