By Rita Charleston
For the Times
Growing up in the rough neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, and enduring a tough childhood wouldn’t lead many men to comedy. But in the case of Tracy Morgan, it did.
“I was always a funny kid,” said Morgan, 43, who is set to take the stage at the Keswick Theatre on Saturday. “I think comedy was always in me, so I don’t think I picked it. I think it picked me.”
Really, said one of the stars of NBC’s Emmy- and Golden Globe Award-winning 30 Rock, “I couldn’t see myself doing anything else in life. Sure, everybody has a rough beginning, and I did too. I’m not Paris Hilton and I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. But I’m all right. I’m far away from those early days. I’m a grown man now. You live and you learn. Life is complicated, but we try.”
And Morgan certainly did try. Spurred on by a good friend to try comedy, Morgan began doing stand-up, building his act on the difficult situations he’d dealt with in his life. It was during one of those stand-up performances that Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels saw Morgan and decided to audition him for the popular TV show.
Morgan’s humor landed him a spot on the show and he stayed for seven years before moving on to other things. In 2003, Morgan left SNL to headline his own show on NBC, a sitcom called The Tracy Morgan Show. Although the show didn’t last long, Morgan was able to turn his talents to other pursuits, landing significant roles in a handful of feature films.
And in 2006, Morgan found his niche on 30 Rock, the sitcom created by fellow SNL alumna Tina Fey. A longtime friend and admirer of Morgan’s, Fey wrote the character of Tracy Jordan specifically for Morgan.
“Tina came to SNL three years after me and we always had a good time working together,” Morgan said. “We are professionals and we work well together. There’s a chemistry there that’s always been there.”
In 2009, Morgan received his first Emmy nomination for his role in 30 Rock in the Supporting Actor category. He’s also been nominated for a Supporting Actor NAACP Image Award, and has won the Screen Actors Guild Award for “Outstanding Performance in an Ensemble in a Comedy Series.”
Among the other heights he reached in 2009 was the release of his book, I Am The New Black, a compilation of anecdotes and some of the more serious moments that shaped him and his career.
“I wanted to tell my own story rather than have someone else tell it,” Morgan explained. “I’ve never been the kind of person who asks ‘why?’ but rather, ‘why not?’ I’m somebody who came from the ghetto and learned how to make it. Somebody had to, so why not me?”
Morgan has also been heard lending his voice to the animated film RIO, tackled a role in the drama The Son Of No One, and rounded out his list of great comedic achievements with his first HBO special, Black & Blue.
And when he takes the stage at the Keswick, he said he hopes his audience will realize that his stand-up is unlike what they see him do on television.
“When I get on stage,” Morgan said, “I just want to spread my love and do it live. What I do on TV is for TV. But this will be live entertainment. It’s straight up, with no chaser. Sometimes, when people come to comedy shows they come expecting to see what they see on TV. But this is live. This is life. This is the real stand-up. This is the real me.”
For show times and ticket information, call 215-572-7650.