By Michael Lello
Above photo by Jason Riedmiller, below photo by Clay Patrick McBride
Comedy lovers know him as Tracy Jordan, the bizarre, entourage-keeping actor on “30 Rock’s” fictional “Tracy Jordan Show,” and the equally out-there “Saturday Night Live” characters Brian Fellow, the animal-show host that knows nothing about animals, and the swingin’ space explorer Astronaut Jones.
But there’s another character Morgan will be playing when he performs a standup show Saturday, Feb. 1 at Mount Airy Casino — himself. Following the seven-year run of “Thirty Rock,” Morgan is returning to live comedy stages, and his set is drawn from his own life and observations. In advance of that show, we recently got on the phone with Morgan to discuss his standup approach, how he developed his beloved characters, why Seattle Seahawk Richard Sherman’s recent televised outburst is much ado about nothing and got the lowdown (sort of) on “Death Pact,” an upcoming FX comedy series in which he will star as a “formerly lazy, pot-dealing assistant high school coach, who returns to his hometown as a decorated war hero.”
H81R: Why are you returning to standup? With all the traveling, wouldn’t it be easier to just focus on TV and movies?
TM: It’s live entertainment. The edginess, all of that. Ya know what I mean? I love standup. It’s the whole foundation of my career. There’s nothing like standup. It’s live, it’s personable. I love all the genres of comedy, but there’s nothing like standup. There’s nothing like standup.
H81R: Do you work any of the characters from your sketch-comedy career into your standup sets, or do you keep those two things separate?
TM: I keep it separate. My standup is based on my reality.
H81R: And speaking of your sketch characters, how did you, for example, come up with your Astronaut Jones character on “SNL”?
TM: Me and a fellow writer at “SNL” collaborated on it. I came up with the concept, and we moved forward on it together in collaboration.
H81R: If you had the opportunity to travel to space, would you?
TM: Absolutely. Anyone would. I don’t know what we would find out there, but of course if I had to chance to go to space, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.
H81R: Brian Fellow is another one of your big characters. How did you come up with that? Are you interested in animals?
TM: You can get influenced by anything. I don’t remember what inspired me to write it or come up with the concept, but I did. And I’m glad I did. I’m just paying attention in life, and there’s comedy in everything.
H81R: I read an interview with you recently in which you said people are too sensitive and too easily offended these days. What do you think about, for example, the “Duck Dynasty” controversy?
TM: I don’t have an opinion about that because I don’t even watch that show. So I don’t even know what you’re talking about. I don’t even know about that. I don’t even watch the show, I’ve never watched the show. Now National Geographic, if you ask me about my opinion on something on there, but I don’t really have an opinion on any of that stuff.
H81R: What shows do you like on National Geographic?
TM: I like National Geographic, period. It’s always educational, it’s always interesting to me. That’s the way I’ve always been, my 45 years on the planet. I’ve never watched “Duck Dynasty.”
H81R: You’re a big sports fan, right?
H81R: So have you followed this Richard Sherman situation?
TM: He’s a football player! He’s on the field, so what. He just won a championship. He’s going to the Super Bowl, you’re competitive. People are just making something out of nothin’. People are making something out of nothin’. People need to get lives, man. Like there’s a story. So what? They’re competitive, they’re football players. Who’s not going to get amped up? He just played two hours worth of football to get to the Super Bowl, I would pretty amped up too! Against the best quarterback in the league? Holdin’ Michael Crabtree? C’mon.
Listen. You know what makes it nonsense, and it’s just giving people something to say: They was talkin’ trash through the whole game, and nobody said nothin’. They were talkin’ trash through the whole game. They’re only feeling sympathy for Michael Crabtree because he lost. I wonder if they would do the same thing to Crabtree if (the 49ers) won. If he would’ve caught that ball. They need to worry about what happened in Benghazi. I’m hearing more about this football thing than what I’m hearing about what happened in Benghazi.
H81R: You’ll be part of the Celebrity Beach Bowl on Saturday as part of Super Bowl weekend. Do you enjoy events like that?
TM: It’s going to be fun, we’re going to have a great time out there. I’m coaching, and I look forward to getting there. Ladies running around with bikinis on, and all that kind of stuff. We’re going to have tons of fun.
H81R: Are you going to the Super Bowl itself?
TM: Yeah, I have two tickets, and I’m going to go with my son, and we’re going to have a good time. This is our third Super Bowl in four years, and I’m looking forward to it. Giants Stadium is going to separate the boys from the men.
H81R: Do you have a prediction on the outcome?
TM: No. No way. My opinion is out of it.
H81R: As a New Yorker, what do you think of the Giants and Jets right now?
TM: They’re getting it together. They’ll piece it back together. It’s all part of the game. They’ll piece it back together, everybody’s going to be fine. You can’t make it to the Super Bowl every year.
H81R: When is “Death Pact” going to start airing?
TM: “Death Pact”? We’re filming now. Fortunately, it’s gonna be awesome. They’re writing scripts now. I really don’t have an answer to when it’s going to air. I believe that’s a question for the brass at FX. But I’m definitely looking forward to being back on the air.
H81R: What can you tell us about that show, and specifically your character?
TM: Oh man, I’m superstitious about that stuff. I can’t call it because I might spoil it. I just want everyone to have a pleasant surprise. I don’t wanna jinx it.
H81R: Do you have any other projects that will be coming out soon?
TM: I have my standup special airing April 19 at 12 o’clock on Comedy Central. It’s called “Bona Fide.” You should check it out, it’s gonna be funny.
H81R: Where did you film it?
TM: We filmed that at Brooklyn at BAM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
H81R: Anything else you wanted to mention?
TM: Hey listen, when I’m coming up there to do standup, I just want everyone to put their phones way, the video recorders away, and let’s just enjoy the show.
Tracy Morgan will perform at Mount Airy Casino on Saturday, Feb. 1 at Mount Airy Casino (312 Woodland Road, Mount Pocono, Pa.). Doors 7 p.m., show 8 p.m. Tickets: $65, $40. Info: 1-877-MTAIRY-1 (1-877-682-4791), mountairycasino.com