Comedy has made Tracy Morgan rich and famous beyond his wildest dreams. But he sounded deadly serious for almost all of a recent interview to promote his performance Thursday night at Humphreys Concerts by the Bay.
Then again, considering the horrific, near-fatal highway accident Morgan suffered in 2014, it shouldn’t be surprising that he has a more sober view of life.
“When I was in the hospital, in a coma for eight days, humor did not help me,” said the New York native, who suffered a traumatic brain injury, broke every bone in his face, cracked his ribs and shattered his left femur.
“Humans helped me,” he stressed. “My wife was there every day.”
Once Morgan had regained consciousness, his doctors didn’t know if he’d be able to talk or walk again. Resuming his comedy career was the last thing on his mind.
“When I look at priorities, comedy is way down there,” he said, speaking by phone from Manhattan.
“My health, my family, all that comes before comedy. Comedy is a concept, but my family is real. I love comedy, but I know where to put it in my life. It doesn’t come before my relation with God and my family, and I’m going to keep it that way. Anybody that puts it the other way around is a fool.”
During the course of a wide-ranging interview, Morgan sometimes referred to himself in the third person as he discussed his life, his comedy idols, his love of music and more. Here are excerpts from our conversation with the solo star and former cast member of the TV shows “Saturday Night Live,” “30 Rock” and “Martin.”
Q: After your recovery, did you re-evaluate everything and step back to soak in all the little things?
A: I’m a forward-thinking man, like I’ve always been. I’m doing same thing before I was in a coma — good work, good love and helping folks. That’s the way my dad was, and the way I am. I don’t feel confused about anything. I feel like Tracy was doing good things before the accident, so there was no need for me to change direction. People do good things — and bad things — because they want to, they (expletive) want to. Especially with dope; you know better, you know right from wrong.
Q: What did you take for granted before that now means the most to you?
A: My family and my health. And I pay more attention to my relationship with God. He’s got a way of showing you. We make plans, and He laughs. He’s got a good sense of humor, too.
Q: Is your accident a good source of comedy material for you?
A: Yeah, it has to be, just like any tragedy in my life. I turn it funny. If you don’t laugh about it, you’re gonna cry about it. And I’m done crying. I’m a grown man. Everyone can identify with that. It’s inspirational — you take the bad and turn it good.
Q: You are signed to play Redd Foxx in Lee Daniels’ upcoming Richard Pryor biopic. Who would you rather play: Redd, Richard or Rudy Ray Moore?
A: Ah, man, those guys are icons! I would never pick like that. I’ve been chosen to play Redd and I hope I have the strength to do him justice. If I had my dream movie role, it would be to play (jazz pioneer) Louis Armstrong, and I would name it ‘Pops.’ He was the Michael Jackson of his generation — he pleased white people and black people. Check that out!
Q: Are you a fan of a particular period or band of Armstrong’s, his Hot Five or Hot Seven groups, or his big band?
A: Nah, I love his whole career. He’s like (Jimi) Hendrix — Hendrix had many bands, but they were all great.
Q: Are you a jazz fan?
A: I’m a music fan. My father was a musician, so I have had music in my whole life. I just love real music.
Q: Did you ever consider going into music before you got into comedy?
A: No, I’m very successful at what I do. But I wanted to be like my day. I played trombone from 6th to 8th grade, then I found a different calling. I felt a strong force in comedy that kept calling me. My dad was very funny. My dad was Richard Pryor-funny. Everybody in the neighborhood looked forward to my dad coming around.
Q: What kind of music do you listen to now?
A: Old-school R&B.
Q: Like who?
A: Mario, D’Angelo, The Commodores, The Whispers, stuff like that. And Donna Summer and the Doobie Brothers. Feel-good music; I’m into anything.
Q: Do you listen to music before you go on stage?
A: Absolutely. I listen to feel-good music before I go on stage — the Doobie Brothers.
Q: What do you listen to by the Doobie Brothers? “Jesus is Just Alright With Me?” “Listen to the Music?’ “What a Fool Believes?”
A: Yeah, “What a Fool Believes.”
Q: Trevor Noah recently told me he first realized he was funny when he was in first or second grade, when he told a joke about one of his school administrators in South Africa applying corporal punishment to a student. When did you first realize you were funny?
A: I remember telling my first joke at 4 or 5, and I remember everybody laughing. But I really honed in on it in high school. I realized if I was funny I could get the girls. I laughed them right down to their panties.
Q: Have you learned more from your successes or your failures?
A: I’ve learned equally from both, because you learn form success as well as failure. If you’re open-minded, you have to learn, and I love learning. Knowledge is the key to the universe, especially knowledge of yourself. I’ve learned who I am as a person when I’m successful, and when I’m not. But a lot of people don’t learn from their successes. They don’t.
Q: If you were invited back to co-host “Saturday Night Live” next month, who would you want to play?
A: Kanye and Kim.
Q: Both of them?
A: l’ll play Kanye and we’ll get somebody funny to play Kim.
Q: Have you watched any of the presidential debates?
A: No, I’m not into politics. I don’t waste my time.
Q: Do you include any political commentary in your comedy act?
A: I don’t. I don’t believe in politics or “poli-tricks.’ I love everybody, not politics. God is my president. I put my faith in God, not in man.
Q: Is there a comedian you look up to, not to imitate, but in terms of wanting to emulate their quality of work and career longevity?
A: Oh, man. I think that would be Redd Foxx. Redd had been doing it since vaudeville.
Q: Who was the first comedian you saw perform live when you were young?
A: Martin Lawrence inspired me to get on stage. I went to see him do Def Jam. Four months later, I was on Def Jam.
Q: The best answer I ever got to this last question was from Miles Davis. When all is said and done, how would you like to be remembered?
A: There lies one funny motherf—–. That’s what will be on my tombstone. That’s already on my tombstone!
Q: Do you want to know what Miles said?
A: What did Miles say?
Q: “For not being white.”
A: For not being white? That is funny!
When: 7:30 Thursday, Oct. 20
Where: Humphreys Concerts by the Bay, 2241 Shelter Island Drive, Shelter Island
Tickets: $65 (for mature audiences only)
Phone: (800) 745-3000