January 25, 2013
Guests: Tina Fey â Alec Baldwin â Tracy Morgan
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross. The sitcom "30 Rock," which has been on NBC for seven years now, presents its final episode next Thursday. As a salute, today we revisit interviews with three members of the "30 Rock" family. We'll talk with supporting player Tracy Morgan, co-star Alec Baldwin, and start off with Tina Fey, the creator and star of the series.
Here's a scene from last night's show, in which Alec Baldwin as network executive Jack Donaghy gives his over-eager employee Kenneth his old job back as a network page. That's because Donaghy wants to use Kenneth in his scheme for selecting the next head of the NBC network. Kenneth is played by Jack McBrayer.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "30 ROCK")
ALEC BALDWIN: (as Jack Donaghy) Kenneth, you'll be showing around the five final candidates for my old job at NBC. Now, they think this is just a formality before the final interview, but the tour is the final interview. It's an old GE trick. You can only truly judge a man who doesn't know he's being judged.
JACK MCBRAYER: (as Kenneth Parcell) It's like NBC's TV version of "Willy Wonka" starring Bob Euchre.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) I do admire Wonka. He's a true capitalist. His factory has zero government regulations, slave labor and an indoor boat. Wonderful.
(as Jack) During the tour, the candidates will drop their guard and show their true selves without even knowing it.
MCBRAYER: (as Kenneth) And then you choose the one who's purest of heart.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) What? No, Kenneth, this is broadcast television. It's a nasty, ruthless business.
MCBRAYER: (as Kenneth) No, sir, it's a magical, ruth-filled business.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) It's dying, and its leader needs to be a grave robber who will strip every last bauble off the corpse.
MCBRAYER: (as Kenneth) I'm getting concerned about who we're going to pick here.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) There is no we, Kenneth. You're giving a tour; I'm picking the next president of NBC. Understood?
MCBRAYER: (as Kenneth) Yes, sir, of course.
BIANCULLI: That's Jack McBrayer and Alec Baldwin in last night's episode of NBC's "30 Rock." Tina Fey, who created "30 Rock," came to NBC's primetime lineup after being a cast member and head writer on "Saturday Night Live." Terry Gross spoke with Tina Fey in 2008, just as Tina was getting all that attention for her imitation of Sarah Palin. It was two years after "30 Rock" had premiered.
TERRY GROSS, HOST: How did you come up with the idea for "30 Rock?"
TINA FEY: I had pitched a series to NBC that was set at a cable news station that had basically the Liz Lemon/Jack Donaghy dynamic in it. It was sort of a cable news producer and a conservative pundit who are often at odds. And NBC passed on the pitch, and I was on a development deal, so I was obligated to regroup and pitch again.
And then I knew that I wanted to this Liz/Jack sort of dynamic, and then I somehow thought that Tracy Morgan would be a nice addition and make into a little sort of triangle. And I was encouraged at the time to make it closer to my experience, to - I was encouraged by the network to try to write a show about comedy writers.
And I was reluctant at first because I felt like writing about writing is always kind of deadly, and I also felt that "The Larry Sanders Show," which was so excellent, had really claimed that territory permanently. But when I realized I could maybe do a thing with Tracy and hopefully Alec and make this little triangle, and then the stories could come out of this sort of triangle of race, gender, and class, then it started to become interesting to me again.
GROSS: When you won the Emmys, one of the things you said in your acceptance speech was that you wanted to thank your parents. You said: I want to thank my parents for somehow raising me to have confidence that is disproportionate with my looks and abilities. Well done. That is what all parents should do.
And there's a scene from "30 Rock" that that is reminiscent of, when your character, Liz Lemon's parents visit the set, and they're being like so nice, and Alec Baldwin's character of Jack like just thinks there might be something wrong with them.
FEY: It's so foreign to him.
GROSS: It's so foreign to him because his parents are nothing like that. So let me just play the scene.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "30 ROCK")
BALDWIN: (as Jack Donaghy) Is everything OK?
FEY: (as Liz Lemon) Yeah, why?
BALDWIN: (as Jack Donaghy) Your family is strange.
FEY: Ms. FEY: (as Liz Lemon) Oh, Mitch. No. He was in a skiing accident, and he thinks it's 1985.
BALDWIN: (as Jack Donaghy) Oh no, not him. I'm talking about your parents. What did your mother mean when she said that you were a beautiful genius? Was she taunting you?
FEY: (as Liz Lemon) No, they were just super supportive. They've always been like that, even when I sued the Lower White Haven School District to let girls play football.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTBALL GAME)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as character) Yeah, feminism.
FEY: (as Liz Lemon) We didn't make the playoffs that year, but I think we led the league in bravery.
BALDWIN: (as Jack Donaghy) My God. I've never seen such relentless blind encouragement. No wonder you are a sexually frightened know-it-all.
GROSS: That's a scene from "30 Rock" with my guest, Tina Fey, and Alec Baldwin. So, since you described your own parents as raising you with so much confidence disproportionate to your looks and abilities, tell us a little bit about your parents and what you think they did right in raising you.
FEY: I think they somehow - they did a really good job because I really was always raised to believe like, yeah, you can do whatever you want, and there was a lot of praise, but there was also a lot of boundaries. And my brother and I, neither of us ever really got into trouble.
And when we were trying to figure out what the characters of Liz Lemon's parents should be like, there was an initial pitch in the room of like, oh, maybe they're really disapproving, or they make her feel whatever. And I said, you know, honestly, guys, that's so foreign to my experience.
But also, it felt - well, it's a little bit familiar as a sitcom thing, of like the parents come and make the single girl feel bad about herself, you know. I said, you know, let's sort of - in this case, let's maybe work backwards from my experiences, which is just - I had had an experience where my parents came to visit me at "SNL" when I was a new writer there.
And they met another friend of mine who was a writer, who, like Jack Donaghy, had grown up in kind of a tough family. And my parents came in the room, and my mom ran over and hugged me and kissed me on the face and grabbed my face and said, that's my baby.
And my friend was like I don't even know how to process this. I don't even like - she was like - the story kind of came from that - that she was like I don't know what this is. I don't know parents like this. I don't understand this. And so that difference between Jack's life and Liz's life is what we sort of use as a jumping off point. What I should clarify is that my brother is nothing like Andy Richter's character.
GROSS: My guest is Tina Fey. We're talking about her NBC sitcom "30 Rock." Here's another scene from "30 Rock" that will give you a sense of how they sometimes make product placements a part of the joke. Here's Alec Baldwin as Jack.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "30 ROCK")
BALDWIN: (as Jack) Well, last night I had - never mind. These Verizon wireless phones are just so popular, I accidentally grabbed on belonging to an acquaintance.
FEY: (as Liz) Well sure because that Verizon wireless service is just unbeatable. I mean, if I saw a phone like that on TV, I would be like where is my nearest retailer so I can get one. Can we have our money now?
GROSS: So did you actually get money for Verizon from doing this product placement that is also a joke about product placement?
FEY: Yes. That is some real product placement because "30 Rock" is an expensive program and not a hit, so we do whatever we can to be - you know, to offset that. And we've done product placements three times, I think, and for me, just always the only boundary I have was I wanted the audience - I wanted it to be overt enough that the audience would know that it was product placement so that it wasn't sneaky. Unless we suddenly become a giant hit, those are the things that we kind of have to try to offset those costs.
GROSS: Was it hard to convince Alec Baldwin to do a regular part in a TV series?
FEY: You know, he was - he did the pilot, and I sort of foolishly didn't realize that he had only agreed to do the pilot. I had a lot of blithe ignorance at the time. I was like, it's going to work out fine. And I think, you know, he took it in steps of signing on for a little bit as we went, which I don't blame him for because you'll never know what a series is going to be, even just the day to day of, do I like these people, do I want to come to this studio every day, possibly for years?
But he has enjoyed his time, which is good because I don't think we have a show without him.
BIANCULLI: Tina Fey, speaking to Terry Gross in 2008. We'll hear from her again later in the show. Coming up, the man without whom Tina Fey says "30 Rock" would not exist, Alec Baldwin. This is FRESH AIR.
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. On "30 Rock," Alec Baldwin plays a ruthless, conservative, manipulative and endlessly ambitious NBC network executive named Jack Donaghy. As "30 Rock" approaches its final episode next week, Jack has gotten the promotion of his dreams and now runs the entire corporation for the parent company.
Baldwin won Emmy Awards in 2008 and 2009 for his role on "30 Rock," and he's one of the all-time best guest hosts on "Saturday Night Live." In addition to that and other TV work, Alec Baldwin also has a lengthy resume in films. FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies interviewed Alec Baldwin in 2012.
DAVE DAVIES, HOST: In the '80s and '90s, you did so many dramatic roles that got a lot of attention, you know, "Working Girl," "Glengarry Glen Ross," "Hunt for Red October." And I know that you started in TV, you know, you did a daytime soap and then "Knots Landing." Did you ever imagine that you'd be working in a TV sitcom?
ALEC BALDWIN: I didn't really think about it. I had put my toe in the water to do a television show, and most of it had to do with lifestyle. I was divorced and my daughter lived in Los Angeles, and I needed to have a regular schedule. And in the film business very often you have no idea where you're going to be six months from now, you know, you wake up one day and someone says we're going to go to Australia.
And there may be a creative opportunity there or even a commercial opportunity there, but I grew very weary of that, and television to me was - although it wasn't necessarily as creatively diverse as filmmaking can be, it was the lifestyle choice that I needed to make.
And then Lorne Michaels, who's been a friend of mine for years, came to me and said do you want to do this show. And I thought, well, it shoots in New York, Tina's the writer, and Tina's obviously an incredibly talented woman. And...
DAVIES: Tina Fey, yeah.
BALDWIN: Tina Fey. And the schedule was such where it really was easy for me to have time off to go see my daughter, who lives in Los Angeles. So I was commuting there a lot. I would go there every other weekend when she was much younger. And I did that show, and then the miracle was that it was creatively as successful as it was.
I mean, the ratings for "30 Rock" have never been big, but creatively it was a big, big bonanza. You know, there was a - like, after the second year, that second, third and fourth year, we won all these prizes again and again and again. And everybody was very gratified by that. And plus, there was the thing where we were up against Sorkin's show.
Sorkin wrote "Studio 60," and we thought, you know, they're going to win and we're going to lose, they're going to get rid of one of us. And we thought it was definitely going to be us because of Sorkin and Matthew Perry and Brad Whitford, and there was all these people who had these legacy relationships with NBC.
But we survived, and we were kind of blown away by that. So we did the show, and now this coming fall we have 13 episodes in a shortened seventh season, and then we're done, we're off the air, the show is over.
DAVIES: Let's listen to a clip. Your scene is Jack Donaghy, he's a, you know, a TV executive, and of course Tina Fey plays Liz Lemon, who I guess is the head writer of a show, kind of like herself. And the relationship between the two is fascinating. This is a scene from season six, where Jack Donaghy has seen Tina Fey kissing a man on the street and tries to find out who she's seeing.
And usually she confides a lot of her life to him. She suspects he won't approve of this new guy. Anyway, let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "30 ROCK")
BALDWIN: (as Jack Donaghy) Lemon.
TINA FEY: (as Liz Lemon) I'm on top of the Tracy thing. I just spoke to him.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) Actually, I want to talk to you about something else. Because of my unfortunate situation with Avery, I'm alone. And I know of course that you're not seeing anyone. Therefore, I've decided that you and I should become friends with benefits.
FEY: (as Liz) No, thank you, please.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) A-ha, the only reason you would reject that offer is if you had a secret boyfriend.
FEY: (as Liz) Right, that's the only reason.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) I saw you, Lemon, at the movies last night with your mouth on a man. Why would you keep this from me after all of our time together? This is hurtful, Elizabeth. What's his name?
FEY: (as Liz) I don't want to tell you.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) Why? Is it a stupid name like Dakota or Barack?
FEY: (as Liz) His name is Criss, and I'm sorry, but for my own reasons...
BALDWIN: (as Jack) And Criss is spelled?
FEY: (as Liz) No H and two S's. That - right there, that's why I didn't want to tell you, because I knew you wouldn't approve of him.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) Why? What does he do for a living?
FEY: (as Liz) Criss is trying to...
BALDWIN: (as Jack) You can stop right there.
FEY: (as Liz) He's an entrepreneur. He is currently meeting with investors in the hopes of starting an organic gourmet hotdog truck.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) Lemon, I have said good God to you before, but I don't think I've ever meant it until now. Good God! Where does this person live?
FEY: (as Liz) Don't worry about it.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) How bad can it be, Jersey City? His parents' apartment? It's not a walkup, is it?
DAVIES: And that's our guest, Alec Baldwin, and Tina Fey on "30 Rock." You've known a lot of entertainment executives in your days. Did you draw on any of them in creating Jack Donaghy?
BALDWIN: When the show first started, GE owned NBC, or they had the controlling interest in NBC. And so we spent many years sending up the GE culture, but I mean in a very funny way, and the GE people would laugh. Jeff Immelt would come to the set like once or twice a year and say, you know, you guys are funny.
And the character was kind of a prototype of a GE executive, and in his personal life, in his personal ethic, he's Lorne Michaels. He's going to live a certain lifestyle in terms of comfort and creature comforts. And as I always say, Lorne is someone who has a tuxedo in the glove compartment of his car.
You know, he goes to events, and he's very much in the - he's very much a pillar of the social network and the power structure of New York media and so forth. And so - and Lorne is a friend, and I adore Lorne. But we do stick it to Lorne a lot.
And I just think of it as a guy who's in a hurry, and he has no apologies. You know, he's someone who - I mean there's a lot of people today who you go into rooms with people, and you're trying to convince people to do what you want them to do, you're trying to get permission from them to do what you want to do, and this guy is much more of a, you know, from the Patton school. You know, you don't ask, you tell.
You don't wait to see how people feel about it. You know, we don't sit down and hold hands in some human resources meeting to make sure everybody's OK with the orders I'm giving. This guy is very old-school in that you just tell people what to do and you're just much more direct.
And I never think of it, never do I think oh, how can I make this guy more arrogant, bombastic. I think to myself, there's something he wants, there's something he wants to get done and there's a way that he does it.
DAVIES: For him, life is simply more efficient if everyone recognizes that the way he sees things is the way they are.
BALDWIN: If everyone would just do what I tell them to do, when I tell them to do it, the way I tell them to do it, everything would be fine.
BALDWIN: And you would benefit, too. All of you would benefit from it, too, if you would just listen to me, everything would be great. That's kind of - he's from that school.
DAVIES: I want to play one more clip. This is a clip from the third season of "30 Rock," in which Liz Lemon, Tina Fey's character, has been dating a guy, Drew, who's played by Jon Hamm, who is very handsome. And she has come back from lunch with a doggie bag from this very exclusive restaurant called "Plunder," and she's just amazed at the way life is when you're with someone who is this attractive.
And your character, Jack Donaghy, explains about the bubble. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "30 ROCK")
BALDWIN: (as Jack) You went to Plunder for lunch? How did you get a table?
FEY: (as Liz) I don't know. It was packed, but they just gave Drew a table. It is ridiculous how people treat him. The chef sent over food. Ladies sent drinks. Mayor Bloomberg asked him to dance.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) Well, beautiful people are treated differently from moderately pleasant-looking people.
FEY: (as Liz) It's true.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) They live in a bubble - a bubble of free drinks, kindness and outdoor sex.
FEY: (as Liz) How did Drew turn out as well as he did going through life like that?
BALDWIN: (as Jack) The bubble isn't always a bad thing. Look at me. I turned out OK, didn't I?
FEY: (as Liz) Jack, I want you to pay close attention to the following over-the-top eye roll: Oh, brother.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) Lemon, I don't share this often but this is a photo of me when I was 25 years old.
FEY: (as Liz) What the what? You have a Superman chest.
BALDWIN: (as Jack) I know.
FEY: (as Liz) Oh my God. The lady will have two tickets to the gun show. And your eyes were so much bluer. What happened to your eyes?
BALDWIN: (as Jack) My point is, Lemon, the bubble doesn't last forever, so get in there with Drew and enjoy those perks while you can.
FEY: (as Liz) Can I keep that?
BALDWIN: (as Jack) No. It's my only copy.
DAVIES: Our guest Alec Baldwin with Tina Fey in a season three scene from "30 Rock." When you got that script, did you think about your days, I don't know, in a different kind of bubble when you (unintelligible) in your 20s and a hunk of Hollywood?
BALDWIN: When I made films, I really didn't kind of understand what I had gotten myself into. You know, and that's another thing I love about Tom, we did "Rock of Ages," was Tom was someone who - he had a better understanding of what he had gotten himself into, you know, like and how to ride that wave, and because moviemaking is a very unique thing, and making movies on that level is a very unique thing.
And I did that for a few years, and I realized that you really do need to make it the most important thing in your life, which I guess I wasn't willing to do. You know, starring for films for studios in, those kind of big-ticket films, you get a period of time, especially when you're younger, and when that doesn't work out, your career evolves into something else. You go do independent films, and there's less money at stake, and it's more - I think it's less risky, the investment for people, obviously.
And then you turn around, and you're 40, and then you turn around, and you're 50. I think the thing to try to do along the way is just to try to learn more about acting and how to do it better, you know, whatever that means, to economize and to commit and to be more honest and to try to vary it and not duplicate what you've done before.
That's the one thing about the TV show that is tough is that you do play in the same key all the time. And even though the writing itself is clever, when the show ends - I guess it is ending at a good time because I do find myself very, very ready to stop playing in that key because it has been seven years.
BIANCULLI: Alec Baldwin, speaking to FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies last year. "30 Rock" concludes its seven-year run on NBC next week. We'll continue our salute to "30 Rock" in the second half of the show. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross back with more of our salute to NBC's "30 Rock," which concludes its seven-year run next week.
Next, we'd like to visit with Tracy Morgan, one of the cast members of "30 Rock" - and like Tina Fey, a former regular on "Saturday Night Live." "30 Rock" is a sitcom about the making of a TV variety show. Morgan plays Tracy Jordan, the star of that show within a show. In this classic clip from "30 Rock," Tracy Jordan's erratic behavior leads to him being sent to NBC therapist accompanied by his boss network executive Jack Donaghy played by Alec Baldwin.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "30 ROCK")
ALEC BALDWIN: (as Jack Donaghy) Hey, Tracy, this is Suzanne Hocker, the NBC therapist.
TRACY MORGAN: (as Tracy Jordan) Who's crazier? Me or Ann Curry?
JEAN VILLEPIQUE: (as Suzanne Hocker) Hello, Tracy. Jack informed me the talk you had earlier. And if you don't mind I'd like to hop right in and start with some role play.
MORGAN: (as Tracy Jordan) Like my wife and I do? Cool. You be the maid, I want you to scream. Donaghy, you play the matador.
VILLEPIQUE: (as Suzanne Hocker) Uh, no, Tracy. What I want you to do is talk to that empty chair as if your father were sitting there, OK?
MORGAN: (as Tracy Jordan) Man, this is stupid.
BALDWIN: (as Jack Donaghy) Come on, Tracy. We're here to help you.
VILLEPIQUE: (as Suzanne Hocker) Tracy, maybe it will help if Jack sits in the chair and pretends to be your father.
BALDWIN: (as Jack Donaghy) I want to talk to you, son.
MORGAN: (as Tracy Jordan) You sound nothing like my dad.
BALDWIN: (as Jack Donaghy) Well, where is he from?
MORGAN: (as Tracy Jordan) All I know is he's from funky North Philly. He worked in a Campbell's Soup factory. And he had a droopy lip due to an unattended root canal.
BALDWIN: (as Jack Donaghy) I think I can do this. OK, go.
MORGAN: (as Tracy Jordan) I 'm mad at you, dad.
BALDWIN: (as Jack Donaghy) Hey, dummy. I'm mad at you too. Why are you got to act out that way?
VILLEPIQUE: (as Suzanne Hocker) That's not exactly what I had in...
MORGAN: (as Tracy Jordan) 'Cause you left me, dad.
BALDWIN: (as Jack Donaghy) I was young and confused and your moms didn't want me around no more. Now, pass me them damn collard greens.
MORGAN: (as Tracy Jordan) Is this true, mom?
BALDWIN: (as Jack Donaghy) He gambled away my welfare check. Woman, I got a mind to smack you upside the head.
VILLEPIQUE: (as Suzanne Hocker) This is not helpful.
MORGAN: (as Tracy Jordan) Be me now.
BALDWIN: (as Jack Donaghy) I only act out because I want your love. Dyn-o-mite.
VILLEPIQUE: (as Suzanne Hocker) I think we're just doing "Good Times" now.
BIANCULLI: Tracy Morgan recently identified that as his favorite scene from "30 Rock." In 2009, Morgan wrote an autobiography called "I Am the New Black," which recounts his actual childhood memories growing up in a tough family situation. Terry Gross spoke with him when the book was first published.
TERRY GROSS, HOST: Tracy Morgan, welcome to FRESH AIR. You've worked closely with Tina Fey on "Saturday Night Live" and on "30 Rock." How did you start working together as - did you work together as a collaborative team on "Saturday Night Live" before "30 Rock"?
MORGAN: No, on "Saturday Night Live," I never really wrote. You know, I would just - I would let the writers cast me into the show. So my strength -and I put all my energies into performance. I just couldn't deal with the rejection, you know, getting your sketches cut, and it was hard for me. So I said you know what? I'm going to focus all my energies on performance. I'll let them cast me in stuff, and when they cast me in stuff, I'll be the funniest thing in it.
GROSS: So I want to quote something from the book. You say, I'm real life ghetto and that's probably why they brought me into "Saturday Night Live." But "Saturday Night Live" wasn't ready for that, not at first. I had my finger on the pulse urban comedy. But when I brought my act to "Saturday Night Live," they just felt bad for me.
I want to play an excerpt of a sketch from "Saturday Night Live" that kind of satirized the differences between you and other members of the staff. So this is a sketch with Rachel Dratch and before - you're co-hosting a talk show and she describes it as a show inspired by actual conversations and interactions between Rachel Dratch and Tracy Morgan. So here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
RACHEL DRATCH: Hello and welcome to the show. I'm Rachel.
MORGAN: I'm Tracy.
DRATCH: And today we'll be talking to a funny man and talk show host in own right, Jon Stewart. But first, a segment called "Catching Up" where Tracy and I catch up with what's going on in each other's lives. So Tracy, what'd you do last night?
MORGAN: Yeah, I just chilled out with the homeboys, you know what I'm saying? Busting out a couple bottles of Cristal at the club, drove around my baby blue Jaguar. Typical bad boy stuff.
DRATCH: Cool. Cool.
MORGAN: What about you, Dratch? What you did last night?
DRATCH: I went to this Brazilian restaurant on the Upper West Side with a couple Dartmouth friends. You should go. They have really good flan.
MORGAN: Yeah. I don't know what that is.
GROSS: So that's Rachel Dratch and my guest Tracy Morgan on "Saturday Night Live." So does that - was there like a culture gap similar to the one that we just heard in that sketch between you and Rachel Dratch or you and other members of the show?
MORGAN: Absolutely. We celebrated the differences and the places that we came from. "Saturday Night Live" was like a university for funny. And at that point, I realized that in order for me to do it, I had to put my guards down and let the writers see my flaws - to make fun of them. And I learned how to do it, and I - that was my process. That became my process. OK, what I'm doing, it may be too urban for this mainstream audience so I let the young guys - the mainstream writers - do it. But I'll give them the stuff.
GROSS: What do you me
MORGAN: If I didn't give you - if I didn't give "30 Rock" writers stuff to write about, I mean what - I'm a 40-year-old black man from the ghetto, you know what I mean? What does a young writer know, a white writer know about that?
GROSS: So what did you give them, to help?
MORGAN: So it's all collaboration. I just started to collaborate and I realized the gift of collaboration is more than the gift of competition.
GROSS: How did you start collaborating with Tina Fey on "Saturday Night Live?"
MORGAN: Just being funny. Just being funny around her and she'll - Tina Fey was basically the first one to go wait a minute, this dude is funny but you got to let him be him. You can't be afraid. Yeah, he's edgy. He's from the ghetto. But let's let him be him. And it worked.
GROSS: So what did she write for you that you thought really worked?
MORGAN: She wrote me in "The View."
GROSS: Oh. Oh.
MORGAN: She wrote me in "Judge Judy."
GROSS: As Star Jones?
MORGAN: All of these things.
MORGAN: Yes. Star Jones, she wrote all of that stuff.
GROSS: One of the characters you did on "Saturday Night Live" was Maya Angelou, the poet and memoirist, and so I just want to play an excerpt of that sketch. It's on "Weekend Update" with Tina Fey at the desk and you're wearing this like, you know, graying wig with like large red glasses, and lipstick, and gold earrings, and a...
GROSS: ...a kind of almost tie-dye orange-red top.
MORGAN: Yeah. I remember.
GROSS: OK. So here you as Maya Angelou introducing your Hallmark cards.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
TINA FEY: This month Hallmark Cards will release a series of greeting cards written by poet Maya Angelou. Here now with a preview of her work is Maya Angelou.
MORGAN: (as Maya Angelou) Thanks, Tina. As always, you effervesce the sweet aroma of woman in full bloom.
FEY: Thank you. That's good, right?
MORGAN: (as Maya Angelou) Oh yes.
(as Maya Angelou) And now, I shall read some of my Hallmark cards. I will begin with this one here.
(as Maya Angelou) It's my favorite.
(as Maya Angelou) I lay down in my grave and watch my children grow. Proud blooms above the weeds of death, I lay down in my grave, my grave, to die.
(as Maya Angelou) Happy 5th Birthday, Grandson.
FEY: Wow. That was moving, a very moving sentiment.
MORGAN: (as Maya Angelou) It made my grandson cry for days.
(as Maya Angelou) And look, there's a little slot to put money in.
FEY: Oh, so that's perfect. Yeah.
MORGAN: (as Maya Angelou) This next one is my favorite.
(as Maya Angelou) I see you brown skin, neat afro, full lips, a little goatee.
(as Maya Angelou) A Malcolm, a Martin, Du Bois. Sunday service becomes sweeter when you're black - black like the night. Happy bar mitzvah to you, little bubelah.
BIANCULLI: Tracy Morgan in a "Saturday Night Live" skit written by Tina Fey. We'll hear more of his interview with Terry Gross after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's conversation with Tracy Morgan, recorded in 2009. Morgan is one of the stars of the NBC sitcom "30 Rock," which presents its final episode next week.
GROSS: Some of the stories in "30 Rock" do connect to your life.
GROSS: Most famously, the ankle bracelet that you had to wear after getting arrested for driving under the influence and it's a bracelet that basically sends an alarm to like some kind of headquarters. If you drink, it can sense the fumes. So it's to prevent you from drinking for the...
MORGAN: Yeah. But it was hard for me, Terry. People always want to look into things, you know what I mean? They want to read into things more than what it is. So, you know, the thing I liked about Tina was that she didn't just, I had an ankle bracelet, let's make fun of it. No. The ankle bracelet had been off for like a year. It had been off already.
GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
MORGAN: So she waited until the scars healed to make fun of it. She didn't do it while I was still hurting because she knew and she was sensitive to know that that bracelet was hurting me and my family, my kids didn't - it was painful for me wearing that thing, you know? So she didn't just make fun of it right there. She would wait until the scar healed.
GROSS: You describe in your book that you kind of turned your demons into a persona that you named. You called him or it Chico Divine?
MORGAN: Chico Divine. Yeah.
GROSS: Yeah. So who is Chico Divine?
MORGAN: Chico Divine is Tracy Jordan. Now I don't do it real life. Now I do it on TV. I exorcise my demons.
GROSS: So, but you're obviously like really comfortable with putting your kind of wild side and what you consider to be your demons out there on television.
MORGAN: Baby, I was in the papers every week.
MORGAN: I was in the papers every week.
GROSS: Yeah. Yeah.
MORGAN: I was taking my shirt off in clubs. I was dancing with the devil, mama.
MORGAN: Holler at me.
GROSS: Mm-hmm. Do you feel like you got him out of your system?
MORGAN: Other than that - huh?
GROSS: You got him out of your system?
MORGAN: I love Chico. I had some of the good - best times of my life with Chico, but he don't run things no more. He don't. Tracy Morgan is here and he only comes out when I let him - that's on TV.
MORGAN: He's knows - it's like Jack Nicholson. You know, I love "30 Rock" because Tina Fey allows me to fly over the cuckoo nest once a week.
GROSS: So does she talk with you before? Like the bracelet scene. Actually, let me just play a real short excerpt of the bracelet episode. And in this part of the episode - it's the Christmas episode so like the staff of the show is going to the Christmas party, which they call the Ludachristmas party, and as they're on the way to the party, they see you in the hallway. And, of course, you're wearing your ankle bracelet which prevents you from drinking. So this scene starts with one of the writers talking to you.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "30 ROCK")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) Hey dude, I thought you left.
MORGAN: (as Tracy Jordan) Yeah. I mean what are you guys doing? Going to Ludachristmas?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as character) Yup. We heard you can't drink. You still coming?
MORGAN: (as Tracy Jordan) No. No. I can't go because of the ankle bracelet. Or maybe I could go and just not drink? Hey, maybe I'll compromise: I'll go to the party, cut off my foot and drink all I want.
I love that scene. The thing is, what Tina does is she'll take some of the things that I've mentioned and gone through and ripped stuff out of the headlines and put a twist, just a comedic twist on it. And she's a part of the healing process to me. I love T because she's a part of the healing process. You know it was like...
GROSS: Now will she say to you, are you okay with this?
GROSS: Will she write it and then take it to you?
MORGAN: No. No.
GROSS: It's just in the script.
MORGAN: She doesn't leave the funny on the table. No. She'll wait to see, maybe hear me talk about it, then it's good. That's me and her signal.
GROSS: You describe when you got your first check from "Saturday Night Live," you know, you said you were still living in the ghetto and...
GROSS: ...after you got the check you had enough money to move the family...
GROSS: ...and you moved in the middle of the night.
MORGAN: I felt like Noah. I felt like Noah who had built his ark and the first thing I wanted to do was get my family to higher grounds because I knew the floods was going to come.
GROSS: What were the floods?
MORGAN: More gunfire. More violence. And I'm on TV now too. Where I come from, people see you on TV, they think you stashed a million dollars in your house. And you don't want anybody knowing when you're leaving. You don't want nobody looking at your stuff as you put it into the truck. You don't want anyone following you to your new pad where you rest your head. And that was it. I just wanted a fresh start with my family and I wanted to leave my past in my past, so we quietly moved. We quietly moved up to Riverdale.
And that was an adjustment then. That was an adjustment because I wanted to - I had where I came from and where I was at, I could compare it. Like, why is there garbage on the streets where I come from? This is the, I am the new black. Why is there garbage on the streets where I come from and where I'm living now, there's no garbage? So that means we have to keep our own clean. We can't blame nobody. We can't use nobody as a crutch. We have to take care of your own. Period.
GROSS: Now the title of your new book is "I Am the New Black" and that is an allusion in part to a sketch that you did on "Weekend Update" in 2007 during the presidential campaign.
GROSS: And I want to play that. This was in response - Geraldine Ferraro during that campaign had said about Obama, if he was a white man or a woman he wouldn't be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is, implying that he was like really lucky to be black because it's making him more popular.
MORGAN: You know that reminds me of what Lorne Michaels said to me when I first got to "Saturday Night Live" and I thought people was like - I thought people was like isolating me and all of that stuff. And Lorne Michaels called me in the room and he simply said to me, Tracy - and this is coming from Lorne and this is why I love that man like he's my father. He said Tracy, you're not here because you're black. You're here because you're funny. And that's all he had to say to me. My fangs came down and I begin to feed.
GROSS: So, how did that change you at "Saturday Night Live" when Lorne Michaels said to you, you're not here because you're black, you're here because you're funny?
MORGAN: They let me know that I was there not because I was black and let me know I'm here with Will Ferrell because I'm just as funny as him.
GROSS: So did that...
MORGAN: Now, go to work. I don't want hear no excuses. I was looking for an excuse and Lorne said, no...
GROSS: An excuse for what?
MORGAN: ...I'm not giving you that.
GROSS: An excuse for what?
MORGAN: To fail, to bail out, to run. Again, like I did when I was a young kid with my mother, to run, and I got to stop running. I'd stop running away and I dealt with it.
GROSS: Were you considering leaving the show? Did you feel like you were failing?
MORGAN: Yeah. Yeah, there were times that you weren't in, yeah.
GROSS: Oh, like...
MORGAN: But I thought it was because I was black they wasn't putting me in the sketches. No, because I wasn't being funny. But I was making my adjustments. I was coming from a different world. I was coming from a world of black people and knowing how to make them laugh. And a lot of black entertainers, sometimes they search for the perfect audience.
They stay in their comfort zone. And I was out of my comfort zone. And he said, make yourself comfortable. You're going to be here for a while, my man. You're very talented. And I believed him. Lorne Michaels is my Cus D'Amato like Cus was with Mike Tyson.
Cus D'Amato would come in Mike Tyson's room every night and tell him, and Mike knew - he was like what is this guy talking about? But Cus was building his confidence up and his confidence up. And that's what Lorne used to always do to me. He wouldn't talk to me but sometime he would give me a wink.
GROSS: He wouldn't talk to you?
MORGAN: And it would build my confidence up. And I'd do - yeah, I would go out there and I'll do anything to make Lorne Michaels laugh. And it was a confidence builder for me and I love Lorne for that.
GROSS: You just said that he wouldn't talk to you, is that because he's not a talkative guy?
MORGAN: No, he was like - he was like Vince Lombardi but he'd give you a wink. He'd give you a wink. Pat you on the butt, yeah, good job, good - funny sketch. Give you a wink. He won't come over to you if he don't know you, if you're a new cast member, go: You were great, you were great.
Because it might go to your head. But if he'd give you a wink, then you know you did your thing. But you still got Monday, brother, and you got to come even harder now.
GROSS: OK. So we have to hear that sketch that I was talking about before, the black is the new president. So here's my guest Tracy Morgan at the Weekend Update desk.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
MORGAN: Why is it that every time a black man in this country gets too good at something, there's always someone to come around and remind us that he's black. First Tiger, then Donovan McNabb, then me. Now Barack. I got a theory about that. It's a little complicated but basically it goes like this: We are a racist country. The end.
Maybe not the people in this room, but if we're not a racist country how did Hillary convince everybody in Texas and Ohio that Barack didn't know how to answer the phone at three in the morning? Let me tell you something, Barack knows how to answer that phone. He's not going to answer it like, hello, I'm scared. What's going on? He's going to answer like I would get a phone call at three in the morning, yeah, who is this? This better be good. I'll come down there and put somebody in the wheelchair. Some things just never change, Seth.
SETH MEYERS: OK.
MORGAN: People are saying he's not a fighter. Let me tell you something. He's a gangster. He's from Chicago. Barack is not just winning because he's a black man. If that was the case, I would be winning and I'm way blacker than him. I used to smoke Newports and drink Old English. I grew up on government cheese. I prefer it.
BIANCULLI: Tracy Morgan, one of the stars of NBC's "30 Rock" in another clip from "Saturday Night Live." He spoke to Terry Gross in 2009. And to conclude our salute to "30 Rock," we'll return with another Terry Gross interview with Tina Fey, this one from 2011. Back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: In 2011, while still starring on and co-writing NBC's "30 Rock," Tina Fey hit the New York Times bestseller list by releasing a comic memoir titled "Bossypants." Terry Gross spoke with Tina Fey when that book was released and took the opportunity to ask some additional questions about her TV work.
TERRY GROSS, HOST: Let me play a clip from "30 Rock," and this is from an episode called "Sexy Baby," and this is like, a new writer on the show.
TINA FEY: Oh yeah, the episode, the actual title of the episode is "TGS Hates Women."
GROSS: Oh right, yeah, yeah. Because this writer is hired to kind of change things around because the show's being accused of being misogynistic. So this new writer's hired, but she's a real sexy baby type. And you're trying to tell her to, like act - like knock it off.
GROSS: You don't have to put on that act when you're not acting. You know, just, like, knock it off and be yourself. And so here's that scene.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "30 ROCK")
FEY: (As Liz) Abby, thanks for meeting me here. This place is very special to me.
CRISTIN MILIOTI: (As Abby Flynn): Is this where you got your V-card punched?
FEY: (As Liz) What? No. Does this look like the makeup room of a clown academy? No. This is a statue - and I know you know this - of Eleanor Roosevelt: first lady to the world, champion of the rights of women, and the lid on my high school lunchbox.
Look, I know it can be hard. Society puts a lot of pressure on us to act a certain way. But TGS is a safe place, so you can drop the sexy baby act - and lose the pigtails.
MILIOTI: (As Abby) I like my pigtails. My uncle says they're sexy.
FEY: (As Liz) Enough with the gross jokes and that voice. I want you to talk in your real voice.
MILIOTI: (As Abby) This is my real voice. And the little sexy baby thing isn't an act. I'm a very sexy baby. I can't help it if men are attracted to me - like that homeless guy. He likes what he sees.
FEY: (As Liz) OK, that could be for me.
HANNIBAL BURESS: (As Homeless Guy) It's not. It's for her.
FEY: (As Liz) Abby, I'm trying to help you.
MILIOTI: (As Abby) Really? By judging me on my appearance and the way I talk? And what's the difference between me using my sexuality, and you using those glasses to look smart?
FEY: (As Liz) I am smart. I placed out of freshman German.
MILIOTI: (As Abby) Or Lutz, using that sexy English accent to get me in the sack.
FEY: (As Liz) No, you didn't. What? Is that even possible? I mean, I was there when he Belvedered. God, Abby, you can't be that desperate for male attention.
MILIOTI: (As Abby) You know what, Liz? I don't have to explain myself to you. My life is none of your business.
FEY: (As Liz) Except it is because you represent my show, and you represent my gender in this business, and you embarrass me.
BURESS: (As Homeless Guy) Kiss!
MILIOTI: (As Abby) Dude, I am sorry, but this is who I am. Deal with it.
GROSS: That's my guest, Tina Fey, with Cristin Milioti. Am I saying her name right?
FEY: I think so, yeah.
GROSS: In a scene from "30 Rock." Do you know actresses like that, or writers like that, who have that kind of like, sexy baby persona?
FEY: Mm-hmm. It's funny because as we were listening to that, I was thinking: Yeah, it's just your typical sitcom, two-minute-long discussion about gender. I'm like no wonder no one wants to watch this program.
FEY: Yeah, actually, I was remembering, as we were listening to it, that the thing about the moment - and this script was written by Ron Weiner - but I remember one of the things that - we talked about this story a lot in the room - the moment where I say to her: Talk in your real voice.
It's actually a thing that I remembered from a college acting class where there was a girl - this beautiful, really beautiful, voluptuous, little, tiny actress - who had one of these tiny voices. And I had one of my acting teachers - I remember she was doing a monologue in class, and he very gently said to her - he was like OK, I want you to do the monologue again, and I would like you to use your adult-woman voice.
And she did, and all the other women in the class looked - I remember looking at each other like, I knew it! I knew that voice wasn't real. And that moment was kind of inspired by that because sometimes those voices are real; sometimes, they are a habit that's just kind of worn in.
But this episode was - that story is so kind of loaded and complex that I was really glad that we did it. And I think it confused and sort of delighted the Internet in a way because it sort of opens up more questions than answers.
I mean, for me it was about Liz - Liz is in the wrong to try - she thinks she's doing the right thing by trying to correct this woman, by trying to say like, you don't have to be this way. And at the same time, this girl has every right to be whoever she wants.
And so that, to me, was what the story was about, that it's just such a tangled-up issue, the way women present themselves. Whether or not they choose to, you know, as I say, put their thumbs in their panties on the cover of Maxim. And the way women judge each other back and forth for it.
It's a complicated issue, and we didn't go much further, saying anything about it other than to say: Yeah, it's a complicated issue, and we're all kind of figuring it out as we go. And in the episode, we have a fake website that we're referring to, a feminist website called Joanofsnark.com - that the women at Jezebel.com immediately recognized that it was their website, basically.
And it was kind of a - it was. It was, you know, a reaction to the way I saw Olivia Munn, who is a correspondent...
GROSS: On "The Daily Show."
FEY: ...treated on that "Daily Show," which was, you know, I don't have the answer. But I find it interesting - is all I can say - is I find it interesting that Olivia gets - people go after her, sometimes, on these sites because she's beautiful, I think is part of it.
You know, I think she was posing - I think if she were kind of an aggressive, kind of heavier girl with a, you know, Le Tigre mustache, posing in her underpants, people would be like: That's amazing, good for you. But because she is very beautiful, people are like: That's - you're using that. It's just a mess. We can't figure it out.
BIANCULLI: Tina Fey speaking to Terry Gross in 2011. NBC's "30 Rock" which premiered in 2006, presents its final episode next Thursday. You can download podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org and follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair and on Tumblr at nprfreshair.tumblr.com.
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