When Tracy Morgan hosted Saturday Night Live in October 2015, the former cast member slowly walked onstage with a straight face and started talking with a lisp. It was a jarring sight—this was one of Morgan's first performances since he'd been hospitalized in critical condition after a six-car crash in June 2014. But with a charming smile he relaxed and eased back into his familiar persona with a lighthearted, "Nah, I'm just playing. I'm back!"
And now he's really back into the swing of things: the comedian has a new TV show in the works, is starring in the upcoming film The Clapper, and is back on the road doing stand-up on his Picking Up the Pieces tour, which stops in Chicago on June 1 as part of the Onion and the A.V. Club's Third Annual 26th Annual Comedy Festival. We chatted with Morgan about getting back on the road, telling his story, and making family his number one priority.
How does it feel to be on tour again?
It's wonderful. After what me and family have just been through, it's really great—I missed it. It really lets me know how special it is to do comedy.
Is there a difference now in how you approach your set?
No, funny is funny is funny. The material is life. God didn't give me the gift of material—the gift was the funny and the funny is still intact and is still there. You don't not become funny no more.
Have you noticed on this tour a different generation of fans coming out to your shows?
I never stop to notice things like that. To me that's crazy; fans is fans. I just do my thing onstage. This is not a generational thing. That's the problem with show business today: I don't have to change because the generation changed. I'm a part of a lost generation. In the 80s crack and AIDS wiped my whole generation out. I'm not peeping to see who's young and who's old—I just do my thing, my experience. I wasn't thinking like that when Frank Sinatra was out, I loved him. Hopefully I can say I've inspired generations to come with my humor. To make people laugh is temporary, it's transferable. But to make people care is permanent. I'm just praying for the strength to be brave enough to tell my story.
What was it like going back to Saturday Night Live this past year?
It was like going back home to daddy's house. Nothing like your mom's home cooking, and that's what it was. I saw the young cast, they gave it all for me, and I wanted to give it all for them, because they really inspired me. I didn't do that by myself. I had a cast of young people, and Lorne Michaels, and people I came up with at Saturday Night Live there to support me, and my family was there to support me. That feeling of being back there was awesome.
When you're on the road does your family come with?
Yeah, of course. They've always come with me. I take my family everywhere I go. That night [of the accident] my daughter was teething, so they decided to stay home, her and my wife, and look what happened. I thank God that I decided not to take them on the road that night. But, of course, I like to keep them with me because they're my support and my star players and my world. I like for them to see what I see.
Is there anything in particular you have planned for your family time during your Chicago stop?
I want to go to the Field Museum and take my daughter. I want to take my daughter to see the Tsavo lions from The Ghost and the Darkness.
What other projects do you have coming up outside of your tour?
My daughter is turning three on July 2, so that takes priority over everything—throwing her a nice birthday party. Then I have my TV show on FX with Jordan Peele, and I have some movies I'm about to shoot with Dito [Montiel] and Ed Helms starting in June, then just looking forward. You've got to understand, I don't take life for granted. I don't look too far ahead. I enjoy my life now. I enjoy each day to the fullest.
Three must be a really fun age for your daughter.
Absolutely. They don't stay babies for long. She's being guided along nicely, and I'm very proud of her.
Does she know that dad's funny?
I make her laugh all the time, and she makes me laugh. She just did a recital last weekend, her first recital, and I just cried the whole recital. I was so proud of her, she worked so hard all year long.
When this is all over do you have any plans for turning this tour into an album or a special?
Right now I'm just taking it day by day, but we're talking about a special. People want to hear this story, and they want my humor injected into it. Imagine that. v