Alec Baldwin got the Golden Globe, and Tina Fey gets most of the credit, but former SNL cast member Tracy Morgan consistently gets the biggest laughs on NBC's 30 Rock. And it's largely due to his perpetually dumbfounded look and the way he talks: No one else could deliver a line like "I got a character named Biscuit" to a room full of sketch writers with such believability.
Of course, when it comes to playing an outlandish comedian named Tracy who stars in a sketch-comedy show, Morgan has had a lot of practice. He was a cast member on Saturday Night Live for seven seasons before leaving to star in his own short-lived family sitcom on NBC, The Tracy Morgan Show. As for the outlandish part, anyone who has seen Morgan's stand-up act, or the widely circulated clip of a shirtless Morgan on a morning show in Texas yelling, "Somebody gonna get pregnant!" can testify that he easily fits the description. The A.V. Club recently spoke to Morgan about playing guys named "Tracy," the distinction between real crazy and TV crazy, Jimmy Fallon, and being in the gossip pages.
The A.V. Club: You were in Page Six the other day. Did you know that?
Tracy Morgan: No, I didn't. I'm not even in New York.
AVC: It was because you said it was annoying when Jimmy Fallon would crack up during sketches.
TM: Yes, I remember what I said in the interview. It wasn't meant to be malicious or anything, just an observation. It was annoying to everybody, I guess. I just said it. I don't know if he knew he was doing it. I don't have anything against Jimmy Fallon. I love Jimmy Fallon. He's my dude.
AVC: And there were other people who would crack up in sketches, too, sometimes, right?
TM: Yeah, but not all the time. I wasn't saying that it was premeditated, but he did it. I just thought it took the attention off the sketch, you know? I'm not afraid to say what happened.
AVC: Do you think it's weird for something like that to end up in Page Six?
TM: It's just people with malice. It's malicious. You know, that's just the culture we've created. That was this guy trying to create friction between me and Jimmy Fallon. That's why I don't give too many interviews—because people got evilness in their heart. A lot of these guys doing these interviews, they've just got malice, you know, they want to create something. It wasn't even a story, but they put it in the magazine anyway. It went from the magazine to Page Six.
AVC: You've reached a level of fame where that kind of stuff can happen.
TM: Sure, absolutely. People are paying attention. They don't ever have anything good to write about me. Always want to write everything I say and do is evil, so I just stay off the radar now. I just want to be known for my work. I didn't mean to hurt Jimmy Fallon.
AVC: Why do you think people are quick to do that with you—to portray you in a crazy way?
TM: I guess some of the characters that I've played and portrayed over the years. But you've got people out there that aren't doing the research, and they read off the Internet, and they believe it. It's just shallow. Nobody wants to know who you are. I mean, it's a culture that we created, I guess. I'm not going to single myself out and say that they're just talking about me. I'm not the poster boy for any of this crap. You know, people are just looking for a story.
AVC: And you make an interesting story?
TM: Yeah, I guess I'm entertaining, I guess I'm interesting. I guess the things that I say sell papers. I guess they sell magazines. I don't know.
AVC: What do you think of this whole celebrity tabloid gossip culture?
TM: I think it's crap. You know, I'm not a part of that crap. I just want to be funny, I just want to do comedy. I don't really have an opinion. Opinions are like buttholes—everybody's got one, and they all stink. Everybody's got an opinion now. You know, if I was a plumber, nobody would care. I guess that's the price of fame. That's what comes with it. I'm not focused on the outrageousness. I'm just focused on being funny, and raising my kids. I don't even read the newspaper, I don't read that crap.
AVC: Tina Fey once said that the biggest distinction between you and the character you play on 30 Rock, Tracy Jordan, is that the character you play is mentally ill, and you aren't.
TM: No, I'm not. It's a character that I play. It gets scary when you're dealing with people who don't know how to separate fact from fiction. You know, people watch TV, and that's television, not real. It's scary.
AVC: So you're not actually crazy, that's what you're saying.
TM: Come on, you know that. I've got a wife and kids. I've got a life.
AVC: You've played at least two characters named Tracy. Do you think that's why people have a problem telling the difference?
TM: It could be. It doesn't bother me, that's my name. People have been calling me Tracy my whole life. That's my name.
AVC: Did you have a hand in shaping your 30 Rock character?
TM: Well yeah, I created the character. Just basically me playing me onscreen. But the role, that was created by Tina Fey and the writers. I just put the crazy type of energy to the character. And with that chemistry, it worked. Or rather, I should say it's working. I love playing that character.
TM: I get to fly over the cuckoo's nest every day. How cool is that? I get to act crazy. So I don't have to do it in real life.
AVC: But you do act crazy sometimes. You do it for appearances. On morning shows.
TM: In a good way. It's all in good fun.
AVC: Is there a lot of improvisation on 30 Rock?
TM: Not really. We stick to the script, basically. The writing is great, and when you have great writing like that, you don't need to do improv. But if there is room in the script for improv, then we do it. The writers are open-minded. But we have a team of great writers, you know? It's some funny stuff they're writing out there. We're doing fine over there at 30 Rock. It feels good to be a part of an award-winning show, you know. It feels great.
I just want to clear the air with the Jimmy Fallon thing once again. I didn't mean to hurt him, or draw attention to him or myself in any negative way. And I just want to clear that up, because the show just won an award, and I'm not trying to draw attention to myself in any negative way.[pagebreak]
AVC: Did you have a good time working on Saturday Night Live?
TM: I had a great time working on Saturday Night Live. It was one of the important times in my life. SNL was very important to me. Of course I had a good time. I wouldn't have been there if I wasn't having a good time. I had a great time every day of my life there.
AVC: Really? Every day?
TM: Yeah, it was hard work. I mean, the schedule was grueling, but we had a good time. So Saturday night was all fun. Shits and giggles.
AVC: Do you watch the show now?
TM: Most of the time, I'm at work. I'm on the stage when it comes on. I do stand-up when I'm not working. I'm on the road, so I don't get to see it much. But I still support it, and I love Saturday Night Live.
AVC: Would you ever want to host it in the future?
TM: Absolutely. Who wouldn't? That's a dream come true, you know? That's one of my goals, is to host it. I think people would want to see Tracy Morgan host Saturday Night Live.
AVC: How does it compare to doing 30 Rock?
TM: Oh, it doesn't compare. It's two different vehicles. First of all, Saturday Night Live is shot later at night, and 30 Rock is in the morning. You know, it's prime time. So it doesn't compare, it's two different things. Saturday Night Live is live television. Nothing can compare to that.
AVC: Did you feel like you were underutilized on SNL?
TM: No, absolutely. No, no way. I was used the amount I thought I was supposed to be used. I had total fun. I had enough to bite and chew on. I loved the people that I worked with. I have nothing negative to say about Saturday Night Live. It was very important in my life. I was used the way I was supposed to be used. And I wasn't there because I was black, I was there because I was funny.
AVC: How did you come up with Brian Fellows?
TM: It was a friend that went to school with my wife. And she told me about him one day, and I just started doing him around the office, and some of the writers picked up on it, and he occurred. People love Brian Fellows.
AVC: You had a show on NBC, The Tracy Morgan Show. What's the difference between working on that show and on 30 Rock?
TM: Well, two different characters, you know. On The Tracy Morgan Show, he was a family man. I wanted to show that other side of me. They were used to me in my outrageous characters, and I wanted to show something different. And on 30 Rock, it's showing more of the entertainer side of me and the business side of me. So that's the difference.
AVC: Why do you think The Tracy Morgan Show didn't work?
TM: I just don't think they were ready for me. I don't think they were ready to see Brian Fellows with a family. I was coming off of Saturday Night Live, and people were used to seeing me doing crazy outrageous characters, and they weren't ready to see me doing that subtleness, that family-man thing.
AVC: Which would you rather be doing?
TM: I love all of it. I don't mind doing the family thing. I just think it was too soon for me to come from Saturday Night Live to prime time. Maybe. You know, we didn't give people enough time to make the adjustment.
AVC: Is it true that the character of Tracy Jordan was in part also based on Martin Lawrence?
TM: No, no, it has nothing to do with Martin Lawrence. Don't believe what you read on the Internet. No, that character was based on other people. Not just a black comedian or a black entertainer. It's just a fun character, that's all. I'm not making fun of Martin Lawrence. Martin Lawrence is one of my comedic heroes, and he's a genius.
AVC: Martin Lawrence was sort of your mentor, wasn't he?
TM: Yes. I love Martin Lawrence. Martin Lawrence is one of my favorite comedians ever. I met Martin Lawrence during Def Jam back in '92, '93. And we've been friends ever since.
AVC: You still perform stand-up quite a bit
TM: Absolutely, every chance that I get. But it's hard to do when you're doing television and stuff.
AVC: Why do you enjoy it?
TM: I get to do me. It's personable. I get to show my side of my life, what I go through in my life. It's not anybody else's words. It's my words. I love stand-up. Stand-up is the foundation to my career. It's what I started out doing.
AVC: What would you like to do that you haven't done?
TM: Produce my own movie. Direct my own movie.
AVC: About what?
TM: I don't know. The idea would come to me. It's something I know I'd love to do, but I don't know.
AVC: It would be a comedy, though, right?
TM: Yeah, absolutely. That's what I do. I don't do drama. I'm a comedian.