Comedian Tracy Morgan Talks beats, rhymes and some of The best times of his life. Just don’t get him twisted.
Tracy Morgan is too legit to quit. Tracy Morgan is the shiznit. Tracy Morgan works real hard. Tracy Morgan has come real far…from the housing projects he came up in, up in the Bronx, New York. Legend has it that my man used to sell hot dogs at Yankee Stadium. Pay homage, hipsters and backpackers: money grip came up in the birthplace of hip hop at a time when crack was strong, but raps, parties and the fast life was even stronger. Some call the mid-to late 1980s the golden era of hip hop. I think anyone who contests this fact should get punched in the grill, then chest cavity.
Tracy is great because hip hop is great, and Tracy embodies one of the most important principles of the culture: originality. Sure, everybody’s got influences (interestingly enough, foul-mouthed fallen ’80s funny- man Andrew “Dice” Clay is one of Mr. Morgan’s influences) but Tracy’s talent is something hard to define or confine because it’s purely ‘o nat- ural. Face it: if duke was mopping up kangaroo sperm he’d be funny. It’s a gift. Something he was born with. It’s unfair. You can’t discred- it the man’s craft, though, and the man’s come a long way, baby paw, from starting humbly in the clubs, to “Def Comedy Jam” then on down the road to “Saturday Night Live,” where he made his biggest ripple as wacked-out nature boy Brian Fellow.
Mr. Morgan’s got a new DVD/CD jammie coming out, but he didn’t want to go into specifics because he said he didn’t want to jinx it. But look out for it everywhere soon. He’s got a new sitcom, too, but he didn’t want to get into maybe jinxing that, either. Still, sit back and soak up the real talk that oozes from this classic New Yorker’s lips. And pass that Moët (unless you’re an intern). Tracy Morgan is soooo Mass Appeal. Watch.
So you’re from the Bronx right?
Yeah man…heavy, heavy.
So talk to me about the ’80s, coming up in the BX. Hip hop, crack…
I thank God that I am who I am, and I was born when I was born ’cuz I almost missed real hip hop, ya know? I got to experience real hip hop, when it was fun, when it was in the clubs, when it was in the streets. I’m from Highbridge projects, right up the block from Yankee Stadium. Every summer when the Yankees would play, the stadium would light up the whole Bronx, ya know? I was there when [Boogie Down Productions’ DJ] Scott La Rock got killed, man. I grew up with KRS-ONE, Joey Crack [aka Fat Joe] and all of them, so I lived real hip hop.
Were you rapping back then?
Were you rapping back then?
I never rapped but I know everybody. Ya know Greg Nice? [from Nice & Smooth]. He was my friend. We use to do flips on the pissy mattresses and all that. We go back like spinal cords in car seats.
You ever go with him to Canal Street to cop jewelry?
Nah, I ain’t go with him, I use to go by myself. Everybody went to Canal… I got a sheep skin from there.
Did anyone ever try to come up off your jewels back in the days?
Yeah…but I wasn’t having it. I never got stuck, but know a few cats that got stuck for their jubangs, ya know? But I was one of one of the lucky ones.
Give me some more Bronx flavor, son. Talk about park jams or what you remember about hip hop back then.
Hip hop was brand new back then. Everybody was pop locking and break- ing. That is when British Walkers was out and cats was wearing the Cazeles. That’s all cats wanted for Christmas: you got a pair of British Walkers and some turn tables and a mixer and you’re good!
I can see why you and Ghostface get along cuz you guys have a similar sort of…
Oh you spoke to Ghost about me?! What he said?!
Come on man, he has nothing but love for you!
That’s my dude. We some real hip hop. That is why I respect and love Ghost, because Ghost stuck to the culture of it. I love him because he’s thorough and his form is still pure and he didn’t let corporate America get to him. And I like that and I love that and I can appreciate that.
Well, I can tell coming up you were like that funny dude, that street snapper from around the way.
Yeah. Absolutely. ’Cuz if you don’t laugh you are going to cry.
Of course we know that kids have emcee battles, but did you ever have head to head snapping battles back in the days?
Well I never emcee’d; my brother was an emcee. My brother is into the music side of it, but my dad was a musician and he did comedy in Viet-Nam. My brother took to the music aspect and I took to the stand up comedy aspect, but it’s all in the same vein, it’s all in the same groove.
So your dad served in Vietnam?
He actually fought…probably caught bodies and all of that from the helicopter. When he came home, and we watched “Saturday Night Live,” he laughed to forget all about that. And then I happened to get on that show, so it was a great thing, ya know?
So between your pops’ comedy skills and the realities of the BX, your funny started to come together.
My oldest brother was born with cerebral palsy, so my sense of humor was a defense mechanism when the kids in the park wanted to jump me. I would make them laugh to get out of it. As I got older it became art. I didn’t have to use it as a defense mechanism; I don’t have to hide behind my sense of humor. I can be me, I’m comfortable with me now. The comedy part of it is a business now.
But they wanted to jump because of what? They were making fun of your brother?
’Cuz kids can be mean! It wasn’t just me. Come on. You know, you was a kid, you know what happens in the playground. I never took it personal. I ain’t going on “Jenny Jones” or “Ricki Lake” or nothing like that, and because my brother had cerebral palsy I couldn’t go get my big brother, so I had to find a way to get out of that.
Talk about first getting down with “Saturday Night Live.” Was it a rough transition?
Yeah it was an adjustment, because it was a culture shock for me. I’m coming from “Def [Comedy] Jam” and [“SNL”] wasn’t black and all of the sudden I’m on the whitest show on TV! But Lorne Michaels and Tina Fey and them—they helped me with my adjustments. And that wasn’t a bad thing because I don’t come from their world and they don’t come from mine, so…it was just an adjustment—as far as what makes black people laugh and what makes white people laugh. And then going to the next level—which is universal—and transcending color and all that stuff.
Well, speaking of transcending, your man Brian Fellow made everybody laugh.
Absolutely, people in America love him.
So how much of you is in Brian Fellow?
None of me! I’m not gay or nothing like that.
It’s got nothing to do with being gay, I figured he was based on an animal loving dude who chills at the Bronx Zoo.
But his attitude…
I just thought he was a buck wild dude who loved animals.
I think Brian Fellow was gay—although he never said it. Brian Fellow is gay, we got the character from a friend of my wife’s—a gay guy who lived in her neighborhood named Fella. He was just an enthusiastic young man with an abounding love for all of God’s creatures…[Singing] “Brian Fellow’s Safari Planet!” “Brain Fellow’s…SAFARI PLANET!”
So where is Brian Fellow now?
[Laughing] Brian Fellow is sleeping man…
I wonder if he is down with the dude who had the tiger in the projects. You heard about that right?
Oh no he ain’t down with that dude. That dude was crazy, Brian Fellow loves animals but he ain’t living with no animals in no projects!
Talk about modeling, you did a little modeling with the hair cut charts.
I did that one time, many years ago for a friend of mine that lives up in the Bronx…Wow, you really from New York like that!?
Yo, son, that was on the cover of our magazine, you never saw that?
Nah, you talking about the one with…I had the afro with the curls in it?
The little tight like Don Cornelius afro.
Yeah, tight shape up and all of that! My man Curtis did that for me up in Kid Capri’s barber shop. That photo got around, I got a lot of calls from that little photo, man. People know me from that barbershop poster. That was some of the biggest pub of my career. I’m glad we’re doing this interview, big daddy!
I’m feelin’ good. I just came out of [dental] surgery, know what I’m saying? I just did Madison Square Garden on Saturday night—sold it out, rocked it. When I do comedy I throw down!
Speaking of throwing down, I heard you were wilding out that night! I heard that you were trying to smoke some trees and the Madison Square Garden people were trying to shut you down.
Who said that?
I heard that backstage some security guy was trying to tell you not to light the trees or something like that.
I don’t smoke weed…where did you hear that from?
This kid who is an intern who works at Madison Square Garden…
No. Nobody in my click smokes weed. We had Möet but that was about it.
You know how the streets talk…
People are just…when it comes to comedy and stand up, I guess I’m on the radar now. No matter what I do, people are going to add shit to it. I don’t even fucking smoke weed! I’m 37 years old. I’m with my wife right now. [To his wife] He’s saying that somebody told him that I was trying to smoke weed backstage and they was telling me not to. I’m like why are people coming at me like that?
He said that you said something like, “If I was a white rock star you wouldn’t bother me with this bullshit!”
People hanging on to every fucking word I fucking say. Jesus Christ, I just got to pray now.
Pray for what? Things are going good.
Yeah, but I don’t want nobody saying bullshit like that about me. I never… nobody wanted to smoke some weed.
Well if it is not true, it is not true. What does it matter?
Yeah, man but it hurts. I got a wife and three boys. I got grandmothers. I got cousins. If it was true I wouldn’t give a fuck. It’s probably true: if I was a white rock star, he probably wouldn’t have said shit to me.
Do you feel that sometimes? That you’re treated differently because you’re black?
Sure. Sometimes you can be treated differently in America. Yes. I’m not biting my fucking tongue on that. I’m 37 years old, I’m gonna keep it very fucking real. I’m not racist. I don’t subscribe to none of that and I don’t teach my kids that but it’s here and it exists.
So tell me about the Madison Square Garden show over all. I heard it was ama…
[Interrupting] You actually think that a fucking intern is going to be able to stop me? When I just sold out the Garden? You really think that? MOTHERFUCKING intern! I should have told your ass to sit in the fucking corner! Why would I want to smoke? It’s a comedy concert.
I heard the show was amazing! You tore it down!
Come on, they didn’t want me to come off [stage] man! I had the whole Madison Square singing “Is This The End?” by New Edition. I tore it down, son. It feels great because I was home! When you’re in an arena like that you have to make a statement. You from New York dun, you know what it is: New York fans don’t play! Whenever I’m home I gotta bring it and that is all I was doing; I was having a great time backstage and on stage. So I don’t care what nobody says: that is one of the highlights of my life and my career. I felt like Jay-Z in Fade to Black. Me and Jay-Z and Biggie from the same block, we all went to school together. I’m originally from Brooklyn—right across the street from Marcy projects. I moved up to the Bronx in the seventh grade when I ran away from home, I wanted to live with my father.
That’s ill, running away in the seventh grade.
[Changing the subject] Yo, tell your man don’t run his mouth about me no more unless it’s correct!
Who, the intern?
Yeah, tell him don’t be talking about me no more, man!