A year and a half removed from the car crash that nearly killed him, the celebrated comedian is ready to get back on the road
Author Joe Keohane Illustration Joel Kimmel
On October 17 of last year, Tracy Morgan took the stage at Saturday Night Live to host the show that had launched him to stardom. A genuinely unique voice—by turns brash, bawdy, unhinged, coy, sweet, brilliantly weird, and prone to taking off his shirt at inopportune times—Morgan had cultivated a vast and devoted fan base. On June 7, 2014, those fans reeled when news broke that he had been in a horrific collision with a tractor trailer in New Jersey. The accident left Morgan in a coma, and his friend James “Jimmy Mack” McNair dead.
In the year and a half that has passed since, Morgan has made his way down the grueling road to recovery from significant brain injuries. He did an emotional interview on Today. He started tweeting again: “I am honored to be getting a Walk of Fame star. I hope they put me next to my biological father Charlton Heston from Planet of the Apes!” He did a set at the Comedy Cellar in New York. He appeared at the Emmys. He came home to SNL. And now he’s taking his act back on the road. This month, in Hammond, Indiana, Morgan kicks off his “Picking Up the Pieces Tour,” which will run for dozens of dates, through late May.
We spoke to Morgan in November, when he was in the midst of doing warmup gigs, finding his voice and his timing, with the help of family and friends. “A lot of people are pitching in,” he said. “A lot of people want to see me come out of this tragic, horrific thing and be funny again.”
Hemispheres: I’m sure you hear this 20 times a day, but how are you feeling?
Tracy Morgan: I’m cool, man. I’m here. I’m alive. I’m doing good. I have my family around me. I’m about to do what I’m about to do.
H: You’ve said how critical your family was to your recovery. But I was curious—were you aware of the outpouring of support by your fans?
TM: I wasn’t thinking of the fans at first, because that was a life or death situation. When you’re in a life or death situation, you’re not thinking about your career. You’re thinking about your life. You’re thinking about your family. My daughter, my sons, my wife. I wanted to get back to doing what I do, because I miss my fans so much. But first I had to save my life. Because if I don’t have a life, then I can’t be doing what I do for the fans.
H: You said in another interview that you see life differently now. How has it changed?
TM: It’s bigger than me. I know for sure. I know that there are things I can never take for granted again—the simple things. When you go into a coma, you come out of it, believe me, and you start wondering, what’s your purpose? I think about that regularly. I haven’t quite figured out what it is, but I know it’s about being human and taking care of one another and loving one another.
H: So tell me about the tour. What can people expect?
TM: The same thing, like before. Me being me. The honesty. All of them things. Ain’t nothing changed. I’m just gonna get back on my feet and get back on stage.
H: Are you doing all new material?
TM: We’re not concerned about the new material. We’re gonna focus on the funny. When you’re funny, it don’t matter what you say, because God ain’t giving you material. He’s giving you funny. That’s the gift.
H: But you are doing new material.
TM: New material is being developed every day I live. Every day! But when I get up on stage it’s not about material. It’s about finding funny. And whatever I find funny, is funny.
H: Walk me through how you prepare for a tour like this.
TM: I go to my family, my friends, the man at the gas station, the barber- shop, making people laugh. That’s how I did it before. That’s how I’m gonna do it again.
H: Have people—the guy at the gas station, the crowd at the barbershop—been responding? You’re getting laughs?
TM: Oh man, I’m funny every day all day. You know why I’m funny every day all day?
TM: Do you?
H: No, why?
TM: Because the devil don’t take no time off.
H: You’re funny to keep the devil at bay?
TM: That’s my way. That’s my shield. That’s my gift.
H: You always talk about comedy as if it’s a sacred thing. Is that more true for you now than it was before?
TM: Absolutely, man. I’m here for a reason. I’m still making people laugh. I’m still doing my part to make this world a better place.
H: So let me ask you this: When you go back out on tour, people are going to be thinking about the crash. Are you going to address it at all?
TM: I don’t want to relive that. What’s funny about that? I ain’t gonna talk about the crash. I might talk about what happened around me—my therapy and all that. But would you want to relive that crash?
H: Of course not, but—
TM: People don’t want to hear about how my friend died and how I was in a coma. It’s not funny. I don’t want to relive it. It was a horrible crash, and somebody died. There’s nothing funny about that.
H: Fair enough. Was there a moment during your recovery when you knew you could get back out on the road?
TM: I had lost my memory. I couldn’t remember who I was. And it started to come back to me when I came home— when I started watching YouTube and watching the old me and the David Lettermans and all that. I’m still trying to find it. And now I have to get back on stage and find it. Those are two totally different things: Finding it in your living room sitting on the couch and then finding it on stage in front of 800 people. Getting laughs from my family is one thing, but now I gotta actually get up there and get laughs. It’s the new me now. I have to get laughs from the new me.
H: When you started watching old clips, was it like looking at a stranger? Did you recognize you?
TM: I recognized me, but it was a feeling of, How do I get back there?
H: Now you’re heading back out on the road.
TM: Now we gotta take the funny bus out for a run. We going to pick the funny kids up, the cool kids, on the funny bus. You on the funny bus. You have to see the magic. It will either be a train wreck or a miracle! People started crying and all of that when I came out on that stage on Saturday Night Live, man. I know I did too. They said, OK, the funny is still there. Now let’s enjoy it.
H: Speaking of the magic: A few years back, you were describing your stuff, and you said, “I cut the monster. I don’t go too deep because I know we need the monster. But I cut the monster.” I was wondering, what’s the monster?
TM: Oh yeah, I cut the monster, but I don’t go too deep because I know if I go too deep I’ll kill the monster. And I know we need the monster.
H: Yeah, but what’s the monster?
TM: Sense of humor! Some people hate to laugh. Some people hate to have a sense of humor. They take everything so serious. They want to kill the dragon. But we need the dragon ’cause we make him talk like he’s magical.
H: It’s good to have you back, Tracy.
TM: Thank you.
H: Anything else you want to add?
TM: Nah, just tell the cool kids to buckle up because we’re coming their way.
H: Can the cool kids expect your shirt to stay on this time around?
TM: I can’t tell you. You gotta wait and see.
Joe Keohane, a New York City-based writer and editor, urges readers not to kill the dragon