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August 28, 2015

Tracy Morgan: The TV Squad Interview

by Joel Keller, posted Oct 26th 2009 11:00AM
Tracy Morgan: I Am The New BlackAs my Thursday afternoon time slot to interview Tracy Morgan came closer, I knew I was in for an interesting twenty minutes. As most people have seen and heard over the years, interviewing Tracy is an amusement park ride that even Busch Gardens couldn't conceive. He's blunt. His emotions rise and fall quicker than a roller coaster. And you never know what he's going to say.

When I got to talk to him, he had been interviewing all day in support of his surprisingly emotional and inspirational memoir I Am The New Black, and he was tired. But there was a lot of stuff I wanted to ask him about, only some of which involved his well-publicized smackdowns of SNL co-stars Cheri Oteri and Chris Kattan. There was also his criticism of David Israel and Jim O'Doherty, the creators of The Tracy Morgan Show, and just the general details about his rough upbringing in the Bronx and Brooklyn in the '70s and '80s. Tracy didn't disappoint.

So, buckle up folks, and get ready for a fun ride. Audio and a transcript is after the jump.

Audio of the interview (17:09)

Hey Tracy, how you doing today?
How you doin' my man?

Not too bad. Hey, I just read your book. Really enjoyed it.
Thank you.

What I was surprised about was that it was a pretty serious book. It was very inspirational, it gave a lot of good advice...why do you think you were at a good time in your life to do a memoir? Why now?
I'm mature enough. And why not? The further you go, what, I'm gonna wait til I'm 80? Naw, I'm tellin' my story now. I was just moved. I was moved to tell my story. You know? People write books all the time. So it was no special reason why I wrote the book, no, was no profound reason why I wrote the book. I had an opportunity to write a book, so I wrote it.

So it's not because you're in a good spot in your life or you've...?
No, I'm in a good spot in my life because I'm in a good spot in my life. But the book, when I wrote the book, you know, that was the time to write the book.

What do you think the most difficult part about getting this out?
Talking about my father's death.

Yeah, you talk a lot about it in different parts of the book. What was the difficult part about it?
Him dyin'. Watchin' it. I know I talk about it in different parts of the book, but anytime you talk about your father's death, no matter what part of the book it's in, it's gonna be difficult. That's your dad.

Was it just because he died when you were young, or what he died of...?
(emotionally) It was just because he was dead. Just because he's dead. You never get over that stuff, man, it's my father. You never get over it. It's difficult to talk about it now.

You were funny in the book through the whole thing, but instead of trying to be funny, you wanted to kind of help people out and give them some advice.

No, dude, I'm human, and I know where I come from. People know me from human. People know me from funny. They know my humorous side. I also have a real life. I live the real life.

You know, I wasn't born Brian Fellow. I wasn't. I lived life before that. I had hardships before that. You know, the book is just about me getting from under my circumstances, coming from under my circumstances, gettin' on top of my situation. That happens every day where I come from. What you see in that book is a everyday occurrence, is the norm. Where I come from. Things are well in my adult life. A lot of that sadness was my childhood. My childhood wasn't a happy ending. My father died. My mother was a divorced mom, come on, my brother was crippled. So my childhood, I mean, I had fun times, but it wasn't a happy ending. Anytime your parent dies, it's not a happy ending.

Now, as an adult, things are better. Things are well. I've gone through my trials and tribulations, and sure, it's gotten bumpy and all that, but I'm here. OK? When I was my son's age, my father was my age. When I go through his book, my father was my age, and he's dead.

Is that something you think about a lot? Do you feel like you're living on borrowed time now because of that?
I'm quite sure, where I come from, you know, it's normal for a... lifespan is very short. So for me to still be here, able to write my book, and my son, you know, to see me and everything, the anxiety's pretty much gone.

You talk about the breakup of your marriage, you talk about your new girlfriend. Was there anybody that you mentioned in there that you were afraid was not going to receive that very well?
(in a higher pitched, raspy voice) Ah, I'm quite sure... whatever I say to people, you can't please all the people all the time. As long as the truth is coming from my heart. Me and my wife, we gettin' a divorce. Me and my girlfriend, yeah, we... matter of fact, we not even together anymore. That was at the time.

Yeah, yeah, man. People think, you know, I don't... it don't stop rainin' when I walk out the house. (voice gets higher pitched) I'm just like you! I go through my trials and tribulations too. You think I'm supposed to be all hunky dory, and naw, I still remember the people that did bad things to me. I still remember that! I didn't forget that! Know what I mean? Yeah, me and my wife are gettin' a divorce!

(voice drops back down a notch) Listen, when I'm on stage doing comedy, I tell people that I know, don't sit in the front row, because I might say something that might offend you, and I don't care. I'm not compromising for nobody.

And you were very complimentary of your ex-wife as well.
(voice rises a bit again) Yeah, that's still my friend.

Did any who read the book come back to you and say anything?
No. My book just came out. My book just came out two days ago.

I know, but I'm sure somebody you know probably read it by now?
Yeah, nobody's called me. Nobody's called me.

In the whole section about Saturday Night Live, you have two sentences, one saying "Where's Cheri Oteri? and "Where's Chris Kattan?" Where you upset that that was the bit, out of the whole thing about SNL, that came out in the press and people were asking you about it?
No. Absolutely not. No.

Not at all?
Nope. I know how people are. We fixate on controversy and all that. But if you ask me who I got along with at SNL, I'ma tell you. It's a shame. I don't hate them, they don't hate me. But we never hung out, we weren't close. We wasn't cool. There were people there at Saturday Night Live that was family to me. And then there, there wasn't.

Every job that you work at there's gonna be differences. There's gonna be employees that don't like other employees. It's gonna be that. But being that this is show business, and then being that this is Saturday Night Live, people want to know the dirt. We've always fixated on Saturday Night Live that way. I went behind the facade. It's a shame. I'm sad. Because I made myself so likable to them. And it's a shame that we were there seven years and we never got closer.

So in other words, you're sad that you didn't get close to those two?
I haven't seen them or spoken to them in ten years.

Ever since they left the show?
Yeah. I've never seen them or spoke to them. Well, when we were on the show, they never said, 'Tracy, how's the wife, how's the family, how's the kids?' It was all about them and their careers. So I took it as that. Well, I'm supposed to sugarcoat that?

I don't want nobody in the media blaming their careers on me. (a little more heatedly) I don't want nobody blaming their careers on me. Obviously they must have pissed somebody off!

Why do you think they pissed somebody off, because of where their careers are now?
(kinda shrieky) For messin' around, I guess! 99% of this show business crap is about the right person liking you... enough to help you out! If you're a A-hole, then nobody wants to be wit you. (calmer) I try to be cool to everybody. I try to be cool wit everybody, man, I'm cool wit everybody. I'm Chuck Chillout.

But you didn't pull any punches, though, when you talked about how your sitcom was developed and treated. Were you afraid at all that that was going to have some ramifications?

No, dude, I'm not scared of nobody, man. If your name ain't 50 Cent, if ain't down with the Wu Tang Clan, I don't care. You ain't no threat to me. Whatchu gonna do, come beat me up? It happened. It is what it is. And that's what went down.

Even though you know it's a small business, and you may work with these people again for all you know...?
(slightly agitated) Well, I may not work with them. Maybe they might work with me. Maybe I might not want to work with them!

That's actually not a bad attitude to have.
(high pitched voice) Maybe that! Maybe I become a beef. You gotta stop thinkin' in terms of fear!

Is that how you manage your career at this point?

Yeah. Because can't no man close a door that God can't open. As long as I'm chillin' and bein' true to myself, man, people will see that. OK? Me makin' it ain't got nothin' to do with chance.

Do you think people have a little bit of a misconception about you?
Sure. They don't know me. If I didn't write this book, nobody would know nothing about me. People didn't even know I have diabetes. I'm just, I'm a very public person and I let people into a little bit of my world. This book is just the tip of the iceberg, dude. I'm a 40 year old black man! You honestly think 200 pages is enough pages for me to tell my story? You don't know the half, brotha!

Maybe in another 10 years, you write the other half?

I'm not writin' another book. I'm not writin' another book because I've seen people can't handle it. I feel just like Jack Nicholson. You can't handle the truth! Most people want to be lied to! They want it sugarcoated!

I just told... I didn't tell... I didn't say nothin' in there about nobody else. I just wrote this book and said what happened to me. This book ain't about no Cheri Oteri. This book ain't about Chris Kattan. This book ain't about those EP's at that TV show. That was not the purpose of me writin' my book. That's 198 pages. Do you see what I went through? Do you honestly think I care about show business like that? I lost my father! My brother lost his legs!

What do you hope someone will get out of the book?
I hope they get inspiration. I hope somebody that where I come from read my book. And say I could do it too.

Do you think it's something that could inspire people that didn't grow up in the same circumstances you did?
Sure. Cuz you never know what is goin' on behind closed doors. There could be some kid in the suburbs. There could be some kid in some rich neighborhood that might pick this book up. Father and mother got all kinda money in the world but he done lost hope. And he'll be the new black.

This book is just my cocoon, man. This is just what I went through. Now I see myself as a beautiful black butterfly. I can't stop how anybody else see me. They ain't got nothin' to do with me. How I see the world, how the world see me, and how I see myself... which one you think is more important to me? It's how I see myself.

Let me ask you a question. Do you think if Cheri Oteri, Chris Kattan, and those EP's that was on my show wrote a book, do you think they would even mention me? Ask yourself that. Do you think they would even mention me?

They might mention you a little bit.
No they wouldn't. No they wouldn't. Because you didn't know them. I did.

What leads you to believe that they wouldn't mention you?
(somewhat belligerently) They wouldn't mention me because they barely said hi to me!

So you just don't think that they would acknowledge your presence at all?
No! Absolutely not. Absolutely not. Absolutely not. Come on man, let's keep it real. Absolutely not, dude. For a long time, I was voted 'most unlikely,' OK? Where I come from, most people look at you and say, 'You ain't gonna amount to nothin''. There you go. And in America, a lot of black people are invisible. A lot of minorities are invisible. A lot of poor people, I shouldn't even say black people... let's say poor people... are just invisible. And they never get to write a book. And they never get to voice their opinions. And they never get to say anything. They don't have a voice. So this book is like a voice for people... poor people, no matter what color you are.

Even though you worked with them for a few years, you don't think they even barely acknowledged your presence?
No waaay. No waaay. There's some people that's always gonna see people like me at the bottom of the totem pole. That's all in the imagination.

Listen, dude, listen to where I'm at, listen to what I'm tellin' you. All of that, all of them question you were about to ask me, all of that's an illusion. Because you on the phone talkin' to me about my book. You ain't on the phone with them, talkin' to them about their book. So I don't care how people see me, or what people think.

Even though Tina Fey took a lot of what went on with you over the last few years and used it for Tracy Jordan, you and Tracy Jordan are two different people. In the book you seem to be a little annoyed when people lump the two of you together.

No I don't. No, I don't know who told you that, but you're hearin' from the horse's mouth: I love Tracy Jordan. He's a fun guy. And a lot of... some of the characteristics of Tracy Jordan... he's a comedian, he's loved, he's lovable, he has a lot of... he's a lot of that. But as far as the antics, a lot of that was ripped out of the headlines. OK?

And a lot of it was what happened with you, right?
Some of it, yeah. But you know, the thing about Tina Fey, what I appreciate about her, she wouldn't put it right out there, dude. She would let the wound heal first. She would let me laugh about it first, and then it was OK to, let's do it.

You said in the book that you're the type of person who, because you're a comedian it's already assumed by the people that know you, that you're going to make fun of (the events) yourself, so they can write that kind of part for you.

Right. It was just like 9/11 when I was on Saturday Night Live. When 9/11 happened, we were supposed to go up maybe two weeks later. And I was wondering, how are we gonna do this after what just happened? How are we gonna do this after what just happened? And Tina Fey and Lorne Michaels showed me that method. They brought Giuliani on with some of the firefighters and policemen that were down at Ground Zero. They said, let Giuliani tell America let's start laughing again. And I thought that was awesome.

So Giuliani was kind of like the inspiration to kind of get you guys a little bit started there?
Yeah. America, not us. America. America... nothin' is gonna keep us down. If you don't laugh, you gonna cry. I'd rather laugh about my ankle bracelet than cry about it. My book is not a cry for help. My book is just my story. I'm doin' well as an adult. I'm doin' very well.

How are you doing health-wise, how's the diabetes? Is that under control?
I work out 4 or 5 times a week, I eat right, I just had a salad, and I'm chillin'. You know. Chillin'. I'm not in a state of crisis, I just have diabetes. I inherited it.

Alright Tracy, well I appreciate it. Good luck the rest of the way.
Stay true, my man. Later.

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good interview. he reminds me of mike tyson at the start. the only feedback would be that it seemed to get too dragged into his chris and cheri comments. also - not sure i'd agree with "about his rough upbringing in the Bronx and Brooklyn in the '70s and '80s" - didn't really read or hear much on this topic. those are two very different places and very different time frames.

October 26 2009 at 3:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Good interview. You hit him pretty hard regarding Kattan and Otteri (and I'm a little intrigued by your ongoing commentary regarding his voice changes which seemed a bit unnecessary). At the same time, you brought up the exact same issues that out TVSquaders typed up, so kudos on moxie and representing your 'constituents' -

October 26 2009 at 1:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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