Before any questions are asked, Tracy Morgan is already off and running.
“We love Miami, me and my wife. My wife wants to go to Versace and eat dinner one night. I want you to print that. My wife, Megan Morgan, wants to eat at Versace.”
The standup comic, best known for his stints on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, is shouting out Gianni’s, an Italian restaurant located in what was once Gianni Versace's mansion on Ocean Drive.
"Shouting" is the operative word, because Morgan hardly speaks below a certain decibel. He talks on the phone ahead of his return to South Florida Saturday, November 4, for a show at Hard Rock Live in Hollywood.
In his gruff Brooklyn accent, Morgan responds to parts of questions, the words or phrases that interest him, and then he rants and riffs, with pauses long enough to trick the average schmuck into thinking he’s done. But Tracy Morgan is never done.
For proof, look no further than his horrific, life-threatening car accident in June 2014. On the New Jersey Turnpike, a Walmart truck driver who had been awake for 28 hours plowed into the back of Morgan’s limo van. The crash killed his good friend Jimmy Mack and sent Morgan into a coma for eight days. His diagnosis included a traumatic brain injury, a shattered femur, cracked ribs, and broken bones in his face.
Throughout subsequent interviews and in his latest standup special, Staying Alive, Morgan repeatedly finds humor in the tragedy, at one point joking he’d rather go into a coma than deal with certain life problems.
But for now, he’s simply excited to be back onstage and coming to Florida.
“I’m good,” he says. “You got the sun; you got the shine. It’s all good. I’m so looking forward to it, man, you don’t even know. I’m bringing truckloads of funny to your town."
"Truckloads!” he adds, hopefully without a trace of irony.
Morgan credits his natural comedic abilities and love for the stage for lifting him out of the projects and dead-end jobs. It was his “funny” that once again not only elevated him above a major turning point in his life but also helped bring him back to life.
“Standup is tough for you; it’s not tough for me. It’s my God-given talent. It’s tough for you because you're looking at it, but I’m doing it. I’m it. I’m it! It ain’t tough if you love doing it. It’s just like eating food, a plate of lasagna. You put a plate of lasagna in front of you — do you go, 'That’s so tough to eat'? No, it ain’t! Not if you love lasagna!”
Asked about the Walmart settlement, Morgan pounces, his mind already primed to comment on what's clearly been stewing in his mind lately.
“No one knows how much Walmart money I made. Damon Wayans said on the Breakfast Club that I received $90 million. I don’t even know Damon Wayans, so how you know what’s in my pocket? Saying I received $90 million. He's way off.
“My reward is not any amount of money is this world. My reward is when God welcomes me back into his kingdom to see my grandfather, my grandmother, my friend who died in the crash, and my dad. When I make you laugh, I’m in service to you. That’s my way into Heaven — give to others. And that’s what’s up. Money comes and goes. But what’s important is you! And me! And life! And love! And laughter! That’s what’s important. That’s what I dig on.”
At this point, Morgan is yelling into the phone, but because it’s him, it comes off as hilarious and passionate, nothing less.
On this day, he is most vocal about one subject in particular. He says the hardest part of his recovery was forgiving the driver. But from his response, this is clearly a mixed bag of emotions.
“I wouldn’t be able to make people laugh, I wouldn’t be able to make you laugh, if I didn’t forgive him. I’d be stuck in the accident.”
Asked if he forgave the driver face-to-face, well, he didn’t.
“Nah, I don’t know him! I didn’t talk to him! Never seen him before, never seen him after. I don’t want to talk to him. My job was to do the forgiving and that’s it. That was in my heart. I don’t owe him shit. He took my friend’s life. Fuck him! I forgave him. I move forward. And the process of doing that was praying to God to give me the strength to deal with it.
“Now I’m coming to Miami and I’m gonna make the folks laugh. And that’s what’s up. The only way to do that is to tell the truth.”
Interviewing Tracy Morgan is like trying to do math homework while a machine gun is consistently fired next to your ear. It’s like trying to feed ducks bread, but instead they kick your ass, take your car keys, drive themselves to your house, and eat all of your food.
But it's also a relief. It means that none of his energy and exuberance have diminished in the years since the accident.
For the most part, Morgan insists he remains unchanged. For example, his love of marine life is still ever-present. He owns an octopus and even likes sharks.
“I went great white shark diving last winter in South Africa. I saw four great whites in a cage underwater. I’m the same old me, man. I’m always gonna go great white shark diving. There were sharks before the accident. Same old me.”
Grumbling like an old man on his lawn, he also avoids the 24-hour news cycle.
“That shit doesn’t stress me out. I’ve never been the type to deal with that. I’m 48 years old. I’m not even from that generation, shit. I don’t even know how to use technology. I don’t even know how to turn the computer off. If it starts to make noise, I just pull the plug out the wall.”
But though he screams and swears, there’s also a softer side. Over and over again he circles back to all the good he has left to do on Earth, how his time isn’t up yet because there’s plenty left to do. Asked to provide a parting thought for the interview, he keeps it short, simple, and sweet: “I got love. Nobody asks me that. I got love.”