View Comments
Rock star playing for laughs
Rock star playing for laughs

On Tina Fey's acclaimed NBC comedy series 30 Rock, comedian Tracy Morgan plays Tracy Jordan, the lovable but crazy, unpredictable and sometimes petulant star hired by Alec Baldwin's TV executive Jack Donaghy to boost ratings of TGS, the show within a show produced by Fey's character Liz Lemon.

Jordan has burly minders Grizz and Dotcom to look after his every whim, has a limited train of thought and is often at war with his egotistical and equally deluded co-star Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski).

Watching clips of Morgan's appearances on talk shows such as Ellen and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon there are flashes of the rambunctious Jordan at play but it is a far more subdued Morgan you will see when viewing his stand-up comedy routines.

"Tracy Morgan doesn't exist in Tracy Jordan," he told Time magazine in 2009. "Tracy Jordan exists in Tracy Morgan. Everything they write about my character is ripped right out of the headlines."

Given some of the more controversial elements of Morgan's life have made it into 30 Rock - such as his homophobic rant in 2011 and subsequent apology - do fans sometimes find it hard to separate Morgan from his character?

"That's their problem, I deal with reality, Tracy Morgan is me," says Morgan down the phone from New York ahead of an Australian tour which includes a show at the Regal Theatre.

"Tracy Jordan is a character that someone wrote on a show. You know, when I'm on stage I'm a bit more subdued than that."

30 Rock comes to an end in the US on January 31 after seven seasons of Morgan being allowed to "fly over the cuckoo's nest" by Fey, his former Saturday Night Live co-star.

"I was able to exercise my alter-ego on TV without hurting myself in reality, so I enjoyed doing that crazy character . . . just spewing out nonsense every week," he says of his Emmy-nominated role.

Morgan got his break in television starring as Hustle Man in Martin Lawrence's TV series Martin in the early 1990s and was a cast member of Saturday Night Live from 1996 to 2003 alongside the likes of Jimmy Fallon, Will Ferrell and Amy Koehler.

Jackie Gleeson was one of the main reasons Morgan got into comedy and he cites his other influences as Lawrence, Jerry Lewis, Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy.

Throughout his TV career, Morgan has remained devoted to his stand-up comedy roots, hitting the road most weekends, and is looking forward to his first Australian tour in April.

"Yeah, I am going to the beach the first day I get there, I love sharks," enthuses Morgan, who was last year anointed by Rolling Stone as one of the 25 funniest people on Twitter.

"I have seven sharks. I intend to go sightseeing while I'm in Australia because I want to see some great whites."

Although Tracy Jordan is fond of strippers, much of Morgan's work in 30 Rock is relatively family-friendly. That's not the case with his stand-up material, which tends towards the raunchy and explicit.

"I don't think it is raunchy, people have to have a title for it," he reasons.

"I talk about sex; that's the most natural thing on the planet. I don't know why people get creeped out about it; I just talk about it in detail.

"Everyone that I have known has always talked about sex.

"I think sex is funny. I think we as human beings, we take it too serious. If you think about it, that's how we all got here."

Sex aside, Morgan doesn't like to think too much about the material he'll talk about on stage in Australia.

"I'm there, I keep my eyes open, my ears open, I am a little bit more spontaneous. I like to get there and feel the vibe, know the people. I don't want to do any research, I'd rather just get there and what I see is what I see," he says.

In his 2009 autobiography I am the New Black, Morgan described being funny as his "bulletproof vest" - a way to escape the bullies and the hardships of growing up in the housing projects.

"My life growing up was a twisted Bronx version of The Color Purple," he wrote.

"We were torn apart by drugs and AIDS. I lost a lot of role models to that terrible twosome: dirty needles and a disease society didn't understand."

When did Morgan realise he was funny?

"Growing up, all kids have it rough sometime when you are trying to find your way and make your way through life as a youngster," he says. "You have people that sometimes intimidate you and antagonise you, and I guess I was funny.

"My dad was funny. My dad was a very funny man in our neighbourhood and I always wanted to be like him. It didn't matter when did I figure out I was funny; I knew I was funny because my dad was a hilarious man and I wanted to be like my dad."

Morgan's older brother had cerebral palsy and his father, a Vietnam veteran, lost his life to AIDS resulting from his addiction to heroin. Was it hard to watch his father struggle?

"It wasn't just hard watching my dad struggle, it was hard watching my people struggle," he reflects. "I grew up in a very poor neighbourhood, a very rough neighbourhood, you know. Luckily I came out of there, I rose to the occasion."

So what makes Tracy Morgan laugh?

"Reality makes me laugh, when I see real stuff," he says. "I guess I make me laugh; I don't know man, I have never sat down and thought of that question.

"I have a pretty warped sense of humour. I don't want to get raunchy on the phone with you but the things that make me laugh are raunchy."