Actor/comedian Tracy Morgan has reached the heights of television stardom differently than most character actors. That is, he’s been able to be himself. Kind of.
His 30 Rock character is vaguely similar to his own persona and even his own name — Tracy Jordan, a cartoon-voiced, overly manicured, narcissistic yet also sensitive TV talent. Critics generally say it’s a fantastically meta sendup of the Hollywood ego, but Morgan doesn’t really buy the similarities.
“It’s a fictional character, not me,” he says bluntly.
So who is Tracy Morgan? For one, he’s not all slapstick and gags. He’s a family man, a street philosopher, an artist. And yes, there’s still some street in the Brooklyn native.
“You can’t pinpoint me. I’m an artist,” he says, again. “Growing up on the streets, you gotta be ready for anything, but I was always an entertainer. One day I’ll say something, the next day I’ll say something completely different.”
Whatever he said onstage — “if I could remember I’d be a jerk,” he says — worked, and fast. He got his start at the Apollo Theatre where he did standup for just four months before he got noticed by the men with the checkbooks. “That’s just how it always works in my life,” he explains. He got a bit part on “Martin,” which led to other small roles in TV and film, and eventually Saturday Night Live, where he found a platform for a variety of characters and ideas, including his iconic Brian Fellows hack zoologist and a recurring spot-on rendition of Mike Tyson.
The TV/occasional movie star has been coming to San Francisco for six years since he moved out to LA to create more of the funny on a screen near you. He now sees himself as very much a part of the Hollywood scene, which apparently means Charlie Sheen weighs heavily on his mind. Unprovoked, he offers this: “I’m very grounded. I’m a family man. I don’t live like Charlie Sheen, with porn stars in my house. Not all of Hollywood is like that. Most of it isn’t.” (He also offers that news loudly.)
Perhaps Morgan is tiring of the comparisons to his television alter-ego Tracy Jordan. His publicist asks that reporters stay away from questions about anything other than his standup. Of course, it must be addressed, and he gets defensive.
“Tracy Morgan deals in reality. I ain’t no image. That’s just an image of me. Not who I am. I’m a diamond with all sorts of sides,” he insists.
His irritable dismissal of the question is at first off-putting, but we’d be more worried if he didn’t want to distance himself from a character that often seems entirely devoid of any type of self-awareness and mindfulness of others. Jordan is all id, with minimal conscious. But for Morgan, it all boils down to maintaining a healthy kind of ego, one that enables him to create and perform. “I don’t really care how people see me.… The only thing that matters to me is how I see myself.”
Tracy Morgan will tear it up at Cobb's during a four-night standup stint from Thurs. 5/26 - Sun. 5/29