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Between his tearful return to the public eye during the 2015 Emmys and the current comedy tour of 30-plus cities, Tracy Morgan came back to familiar turf to reconnect with his mojo. An Oct. 17 hosting gig on Saturday Night Live, his first TV performance since the devastating 2014 car wreck that nearly took his life, offered audiences the warm reassurance that the comedian is as funny and unpredictable as ever.
Morgan, 47, still gets choked up when talking about his Studio 8H homecoming — but there were no tears on camera. The critically lauded episode saw him reprise famous characters (Brian Fellow! Astronaut Jones!) from his eight-season run as a regular player, reunite with the cast of beloved NBC sitcom 30 Rock and navigate a scene with one very inexperienced camel on live TV. In a scattered conversation (naturally) with THR, Morgan talked about his love of SNL maestro Lorne Michaels, offered an update on the FX comedy pilot he’s crafting with Jordan Peele and broke into song while discussing the origins of his sexually aggressive space explorer.
How’s the tour?
The crowds are groovy. I love a groovy crowd that gets it. Do you know what a groovy crowd is like?
Not from your perspective, no.
A groovy crowd is what it was like that night at Saturday Night Live. They’re open-minded and they appreciate their comedy. That’s what it’s about to me.
Could you tell it was a groovy crowd from the stage?
The crying was over. It was time for the funny. Seeing those faces, you’re just glad to be alive. It was really special for me to be back home. I really thank Lorne Michaels for that.
Morgan hosting ‘Saturday Night Live.’
What was that first conversation like with Lorne?
It was one thing at a time. My health was first, so I couldn’t be concerned with show business. When I felt really good, I was talking to Lorne on the phone one day and just asked him to come home. Without hesitation, he said, “The door’s open.” A couple of days later I got the call that I was going to host. When I went into the pitch meeting in Lorne’s office, it was so inspiring to see all of those young, new writers and cast. It inspired me to touch the mic again that night. It was my first time in a comedy club since the accident.
Were you nervous about doing live TV again?
During the dress show, we have a dresser that takes you from set to set and helps you change. I started getting in my own head. I thought the audience was feeling sorry for me. Lorne said they didn’t really need it to be funny, they were just glad to see me alive. I thank God, Lorne, NBC and that camel. He did exactly what he was supposed to do.
You brought back a lot of old characters. Can you discuss the origins of Astronaut Jones?
Andrew Steele and I wrote that. He was my dark horse. I had just seen some old Rat Pack movie, and I was telling Steele that I would love to go back into those times — singing songs with a Courvoisier, a cigarette and Lady Luck. He found the song and we just came up with Astronaut Jones. I wanted to do that all of the time. “Get out of that tight space suit and show me that tight green ass.” [Singing.] Rocket, I’m taking a rocket. I’m packing my suitcase, and look out moon!
Thank you for that.
Tracy Morgan sang “Astronaut Jones” to you on the phone. They don’t even do that in prison.
It’s all downhill from here, for me.
It’s not many times you feel like a virgin again. That’s how I felt. It was like the first night all over again, because I was nervous to death. I’m James Brown. I’ve got the cape. I’ve got to keep the beat.
Where are you with the FX pilot?
We’re getting there. We have an outline, and we may start filming in the fall. We’re just trying to come up with great ideas.
We’re all looking forward to it.
You always have to look forward. Never look up. Look up if you want to see the beauty of the sky, but be a forward-thinking man. When I came out of the coma, I just wanted to hug my wife, my daughter, my son … now I got to hug my audience on live TV.
This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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