Tracy Morgan on Joking About Accident, "Authentic" Intro for Stand-Up Special

Tracy Morgan's Netflix special - Publicity - H 2017
Cara Howe/Netflix

Tracy Morgan's Netflix special Staying Alive, now streaming, is just the latest step in the comedian's high-profile return to the spotlight after his near fatal car accident in 2014.

The accident, in which a Walmart truck slammed into the back of a limo-van carrying Morgan and two others, features prominently in the hourlong program. Morgan kicks off his set with multiple jokes about surviving the crash that left him seriously injured, his recovery and his lucrative settlement.

Later, he pays tribute to his friend, comedian James "Jimmy Mack" McNair, who died in the accident.

Staying Alive is not only a reference to Morgan's survival, but that title also allows him to do a Saturday Night Fever-inspired opening soundtracked by the Bee Gees song of the same name.

Morgan is the latest high-profile comic to do a special for Netflix, joining Amy Schumer, Dave Chappelle, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock and Louis C.K. in partnering with the streaming service.

Morgan spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about joining Netflix's roster of comedic talent, joking about his accident and making the special's opening "authentic."

Why did you want to do a special for Netflix as opposed to another channel or platform?

Netflix was on its way to becoming the juggernaut that it is. If you see the stable of people [who are doing specials for Netflix], I just thought that I would be in good company. Dave Chappelle, [Amy] Schumer, [Chris] Rock, Louis C.K. All of these people. And they're all great stand-ups and I wanted to be a part of that. When I was clear enough to do a special, Netflix was my first choice. I wanted to tell my story on Netflix.

There's a fair amount of material about your accident and the settlement. What made you feel comfortable enough to joke about that?

Because I forgave myself and I allowed myself to go there. I forgave the driver, and I was able to move forward. So it wasn't painful, it was funny. It turned into funny. Everything painful in my life that ever happened to me, all of the mistakes I made, I forgave myself. So I'm able to do that. Once you forgive yourself you're able to laugh it off. Once you forgive yourself! Because we're only human.

Are there any parts of the crash that you wouldn't want to joke about because they're too painful?

Jimmy Mack's death. It wasn't anything that happened to me. All of those other folks in there, I didn't think that anything that happened to them was funny. I just joked about me.

There is a reference to Jimmy Mack toward the end of the special.

In heaven.

Yes. Why did you want to pay tribute to him that way?

Because I know that's where he's at, and I will see him again and when I see him again he's going to be laughing. He'll go, "Tracy, that was some funny shit that you said!" Because I know Jimmy Mack!

Talk to me about filming the Saturday Night Fever-inspired opening sequence.

People love that song. People love that movie. It was a hit! I thought it was an appropriate thing to say, "staying alive," because that's what I'm doing, through my special, through my work. Me and you here doing the interview. That's staying alive. You know how many stand-ups would have just folded? You know how many people would have just folded like a cheap suit? Now I'm staying alive in the game, doing stand-up. Staying alive, baby.

You really went for it in terms of re-creating the opening. Was that fun?

That was great. I just thought it was great. All of the people involved, everyone that had a hand in it, I'd like to thank them. I just thought it was an appropriate thing to do. We went back to the same street, and it was the same pizza shop. Authenticity means a lot to me, and I wanted to make it authentic. It just sparked nostalgia. You remember where you were in life. You remember your age, all of that, when that movie came out. I hope a bunch of people pull out some cocaine, start sniffing. (Laughs.) Because that was it. That was the disco era.

Why did you film the special at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, N.J.?

We had a number of theaters that I was shown. Red Bank is local. I live in Jersey, and I just loved the way the theater looked. And I remember a long time ago Chris Rock telling me, when a theater's beautiful, you're going to perform that way. I just thought that was a beautiful place to perform, so I put it down there.