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Tracy Morgan On Being 'The New Black'

Tracy Morgan, a Saturday Night Live alumnus and one of the stars of NBC's 30 Rock, has a new memoir — I Am the New Black — about growing up in what he calls "Ghetto, USA."


Other segments from the episode on October 22, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 22, 2009: Interview with Tracy Morgan; Review of Jane Gardam's new book "The man in the wooden hat."


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Tracy Morgan On Being ‘The New Black’


This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of television program)

Mr. TRACY MORGAN (Actor): Tina Fey and I had an agreement that if Barack Obama
won, I would speak for the show from now on.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. MORGAN: Welcome to post-racial America. I’m the face of post-racial
America. Deal with it, Cate Blanchett.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: My guest, Tracy Morgan, accepted the Golden Globe on behalf of “30 Rock”
this year in a typically unpredictable way. He’s earned his reputation as a
wildcard, and so has the character he plays on “30 Rock,” Tracy Jordan. The
character was created for Morgan by Tina Fey, the creator and star of “30
Rock.” She worked with Morgan on “Saturday Night Live,” where he spent seven
years. On “30 Rock,” Morgan plays the star of an NBC sketch comedy series who’s
always getting into trouble, saying and doing the wrong thing, clueless about
why it’s wrong. Tina Fey plays the head writer.

Part of what has given Tracy Morgan his reputation as a wildcard is his
behavior in interviews. On a couple of local morning TV shows, he took off his
shirt to show off his rounded belly. He exposes his belly on the cover of his
new memoir, too. Between the covers, Morgan exposes himself in a new way,
telling a story of growing up in what he describes as Ghetto, USA. The book is
called “I Am the New Black.”

Let’s start with a clip from this season’s opener of “30 Rock.” The head of the
network, played by Alec Baldwin, has made it clear that in this economic hard
time, the show has to reconnect with the real America, and he’s told Tracy that
he’s lost touch with his roots and need to reconnect with the common man. Back
in the dressing room, Tracy talks about this with the two members of his
entourage, Dot Com and Grizz.

(Soundbite of television program, “30 Rock”)

Mr. MORGAN: (As Tracy Jordan) I blame you and Dot Com. You two have built a
protective shell around me like a hermit crab or mermaid booby, and now I’ve
lost touch with the common man.

(Soundbite of door opening)

Mr. MORGAN: Who’s that?

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As Raleigh(ph)) This is Raleigh, the custodian.
You said you wanted an ordinary person to reconnect with.

Mr. MORGAN: (As Jordan) Oh hey, guy, come on in. So Raleigh, where you from?

Unidentified Man #1: (As Raleigh) Brooklyn.

Mr. MORGAN: (As Jordan) Right on, my brother. My dear friend Moby opened up a
tea house in Park Slope. Does he know you? Hey Raleigh, you ever lose your
remote control?

Unidentified Man #1: (As Raleigh) Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: (As Jordan) And do you wife start getting all made because the roof
won’t close, and the bed that’s in the shape of your face is getting rained on?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: (As Jordan) I like you, Raleigh. Can I feel the rough skin on your

GROSS: That’s Tracy Morgan in a scene from the season premiere of “30 Rock.”
Tracy Morgan, welcome to FRESH AIR. Does that scene connect with anything from
your life, that sense of having lost touch with your roots?

Mr. MORGAN: Absolutely not.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: Absolutely not. It still rains on me when – Tracy Jordan and Tracy
Morgan are two different entities, okay? Tracy Morgan is not a part of Tracy
Jordan’s life. Tracy Jordan is a part of Tracy Morgan’s life. But that’s
television, and that’s a figment of someone’s imagination. You know, life
smacks Tracy Morgan in the face, and I don’t mean to talk in third party, but
no, it doesn’t stop raining when I come outside, no, absolutely not. I’m very
in touch.

GROSS: 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”?

Mr. 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: Why did you decide to do that, to focus just on performance. Were you…?

Mr. MORGAN: Because it was a performance-driven show at the time. You had, me,
Will Ferrell, Chris Kattan, those were performance – it was a performance-
driven cast. The writing was great, but it was really performance driven.

GROSS: It sounds from your memoir that it was a really frustrating time for you
when you were on “Saturday Night Live”.

Mr. MORGAN: At times, but that’s for anybody. You know, being that I said it,
it just – everybody’s has – it’s really been blown out of proportion at that.

You know, there’s ups and downs of any job. If you worked at the post office,
there’s ups and downs. You have your good days, and you have your bad days. If
you’re a housewife, you have your good days, and you have your bad days. I
wasn’t miserable then. “Saturday Night Live” was the joy of my life. I didn’t
get along with everybody there, but who does? There’s sibling rivalries in all
of that, but people take things and blow them out of proportion.

I wrote this book, and there’s 198 pages, and then certain media want to take
the things that are said about certain cast members and turn it into “The Jerry
Springer Show.”

GROSS: Okay, let’s talk about growing up.

Mr. MORGAN: Right.

GROSS: So you grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, in Brooklyn. Describe the

Mr. MORGAN: Well, it was rough. It was Bed-Stuy, do or die. You know, it was
rough. It was deprivation, it was poverty, it was Ghetto, USA. It was what it
was, but there was love. There was a lot of love, you know, but then crack came
along, and guns came along, and you know, it became an epidemic in America.

GROSS: Your father fought in Vietnam, and you say he fought for, like, four or
five tours, and he came home addicted to heroin, and that kind of split up the
family because your mother didn’t want you around him when he was using.

Mr. MORGAN: Of course not.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. MORGAN: Of course not. My mother gave – my mother loved my father. My
mother tried to help my father, but when you’re addicted to heroin, that’s a
very powerful addiction, and most people never survive it. And like many other
young men that went over and served in Vietnam, a lot of them came back

GROSS: I know, but…

Mr. MORGAN: That’s how heroin and all of these things took place in the ‘70s.
It was a big boom on that. It was young kids over there just trying to get
through the night.

GROSS: When you were six or seven, and you know, your father was freshly home,
and you were trying to get to know him…

Mr. MORGAN: Right.

GROSS: …did you understand what it meant to have a habit? And here’s what I’m
even thinking, you know, like…

Mr. MORGAN: I was six years old.

GROSS: I know, and kids are so afraid of needles, you know, of getting, like…

Mr. MORGAN: I was six years old.

GROSS: …vaccinations and shots, and here your father is…

Mr. MORGAN: I knew my daddy was sleepy all the time. That’s all I knew.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. MORGAN: But he was my daddy.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. MORGAN: Kids don’t see fault like. Kids’ minds ain’t even that developed.

GROSS: Yeah, I’m also wondering, like, you write about how your father would
have night terrors from post-traumatic stress.

Mr. MORGAN: Yeah, and that would make me cry because my daddy was scared, and I
knew that, and I was a baby, but I seen it.

GROSS: Yeah, but I figure that must have been really scary to see your father
scared like that.

Mr. MORGAN: Oh, you don’t know the half. This book is just the half. People are
really shocked about some of the things and revelations that are made in this
book, but you don’t even know the half. There are people still – I know people
going through this every day, you know? I know people going through this every

My childhood, yeah, sure, it wasn’t a happy ending. I lost my daddy. And at
some point, I lost my mommy emotionally, but she had five kids.

GROSS: Yeah, well, you write about how you left your mother’s home in Brooklyn
to live in your father’s home in the Bronx when you were in high school.

Mr. MORGAN: Yeah. I thought it was because I wanted to play football, and she
didn’t want to let me.

GROSS: And now what do you think?

Mr. MORGAN: But I think it was bigger than that. Now that I look back on it
now, I think that I ran because if I would’ve stayed, I might have became a
statistic like some of my other friends.

GROSS: What…

Mr. MORGAN: I might have got caught up in the streets, and I might not be
sitting here talking to you. So I did what I thought was best for me, and I
ran, and I went to my father who put me in a high school with a football team
and said run, Tray. Have fun. And by the time I really got to know him, I was
still going through anger because I was so angry. I was like any other inner-
city child with a chip on his shoulder because his daddy and his mommy wasn’t

GROSS: And I should say when you went to live with your father, he wasn’t using
anymore, right?

Mr. MORGAN: No, he had stopped maybe 10 years.

GROSS: Yeah, yeah. I just wanted to make that clear.

Mr. MORGAN: But it was too late. Yeah, it was too late. He wasn’t using then.
My father was - he was down like four flat tires at that time, but I was angry.
He was always in my life. My father was always there, taught me how to – took
me fishing and all these things, but it’s not like having daddy there.

GROSS: You write that when you were in high school and living with your father,
your father sent you two psychiatrists because you were so angry all the time.

Mr. MORGAN: Me, I was.

GROSS: Did you understand then what was making you angry, and is your take on
it now different?

Mr. MORGAN: No, I didn’t. I was 16, 17 years old. I just knew I was mad, and I
might have been mad at him. I might have been mad at him because when I went to
school, I was around my peers. I made – I was the life of the party. I made
them laugh and everything, but when I went home, it would just be like I was
mad because now he’s trying to tell me, and I felt like I had grew up already.
By the time I was 11 years old, I was hanging out until 4, 5 o’clock in the
morning. Now with you, now you’re telling me I have to be in by 8 o’clock, and
I have to eat three square meals, and I have to study. What? It’s too late for

GROSS: Do you think you’re still angry? Because you still sound a little bit

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: No, I’m not angry. I’m just passionate. I don’t see myself as
angry, although other people see that. I just see myself as a short, dumpy guy
with bad feet, and I’m passionate.

GROSS: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: I’m a grown man now. I’m doing well off.

GROSS: All right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: I really don’t have anything – and my kids are fine. You know, my
ex-wife is fine.

GROSS: Good, good.

Mr. MORGAN: But when I speak, I speak passionately. I do. It’s not anger. I
mean, that little 17-year-old boy, he’s grown up. He’s a man now. And when I
was angry, when I was younger, I was in a cocoon. Now I’m a beautiful, black

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Tracy Morgan, who now stars on
“30 Rock.” You probably also know him from “Saturday Night Live,” and he has a
memoir now, which is called “I Am the New Black.”

So I just wanted to get back to your childhood a little bit. When your father
died of AIDS when you were in high school, you dropped out of high school, and
you needed money. So you say you started selling marijuana and then eventually
started selling crack.

Mr. MORGAN: Yeah.

GROSS: But – so I’m wondering. Did you take Al Pacino’s advice from “Scarface,”
don’t get high on your own supply?

Mr. MORGAN: No, I never did drugs. My drug of choice was beer, was liquor. As
far as narcotics, no. I would smoke weed and drink beer like any other – like
Michael Phelps do that. But I never did no narcotics - never. My father had
died from that. So I already knew better. You know, I’m a very smart person. I
was able to see that. As a child, I was able to know that I wanted a better

GROSS: You say that it was helpful to you as a comic to sell crack because of
all the characters that you met. What do you mean?

Mr. MORGAN: Well, it wasn’t helpful for me to sell crack, especially to my old
community, and it still bothers me today, but it’s something that I did. It was
survival. Now I’m living. Now I don’t have to do any of that stuff. I’m a grown
man now, but when I did, I wasn’t good at it. So I had my fledging attempt at
being a drug dealer.

GROSS: So, but tell me really, like, how did you feel when you were selling
crack, knowing that you were selling a drug that destroys lives.

Mr. MORGAN: I was a kid. I had no fear. I was crazy, and when you don’t have
fear, you’re crazy. I didn’t have a healthy dose of fear. I was like, everybody
else is doing it. I never thought I could get killed, or somebody could kill
me, and then friends started dying. Friends started going to jail. I know guys
that are doing years in the hundreds. I know people that never made it out of
our childhood. My best friend, who I used to sell crack with, got murdered one
day, murdered by somebody we went to junior high school with. And that was it
for me. I started doing comedy.

GROSS: After that?

Mr. MORGAN: Right after that. Because me and him used to be cooking the drugs
up, and he would say to me, yo, Tracy, man, you should be doing comedy. You
should take your ass to the Apollo. And I was like no, man. And then, a week
later, he was murdered. And that for me, that was like my Vietnam. And I had my
survival guilt when I started to achieve success, why I made it out and some
guys didn’t, because it’s not for everybody. I just – I do what I do so that
some – I can hire some of my friends to work with me and for me, and I could
take care of my family.

GROSS: Okay, so…

Mr. MORGAN: I didn’t write this book to hurt anybody. I wrote – this is my
life. I’d rather tell my story than to have the E Hollywood channel do it.

GROSS: In reading your memoir, it seemed to me the most emotionally difficult
part of what you were writing was writing about leaving your mother. That when
you were in high school, you decided you didn’t want to live with her anymore,
you wanted to live with your father. And you just kind of left one day.

Mr. MORGAN: It was a terrible situation. It was a really terrible situation,
and it wasn’t my mother’s fault. Something just went off in me. I wanted better
for me. And I not only ran away, I came back a year later and got my little
brother and my little sister.

GROSS: And took them with you to your father’s house.

Mr. MORGAN: Yeah, and the (unintelligible)…

GROSS: And he got custody. He got legal custody, which…

Mr. MORGAN: Yeah, and that was really hard. That was the hardest day of my
life. And I heard my mother cry, and it just broke me down. And I think about
it now - I never meant to hurt my momma.

GROSS: In – you know, in the book, you describe how you – are you okay to keep

Mr. MORGAN: Yeah.

GROSS: In the book you describe how you and your mother never reconciled.

Mr. MORGAN: One day we will. Maybe one day, she’ll pick up this book.

GROSS: I figure she would.

Mr. MORGAN: Maybe she’ll read it. Maybe she’ll read it.

GROSS: Do you intend a part of it to be a way of saying to her let’s talk?

Mr. MORGAN: When you talk to someone, they can either argue with you and just
shut off and walk out of the room. When you talk to someone on the phone, they
can hang up on you. But when you write them a letter, they have to read that
letter. They just have to read that letter. Me, I forgive my mother, and I
moved on. That’s for my moving on. That’s for me. My mother has to forgive
herself. I understand, mommy. That’s all I’m saying is I understand. I
understand what the position you was in and why you did what you did. I love my
mother. My mother made sure, her stubbornness - she made sure we was going to
eat. She made sure we had Christmases. That was my mother. My father wasn’t
there for that.

GROSS: You know what’s going to be odd for people hearing this? A lot of people
say that when they see you being interviewed, that they never know, like,
what’s the real Tracy Morgan and what’s, like, part performance, and so people
are always used to seeing you being comically over the top as yourself on
television. I’m not talking about “30 Rock” or anything. I’m just talking
about, like, when you’re interviewed.

Mr. MORGAN: Right.

GROSS: And there’s that famous thing that’s all over YouTube, where you’re
interviewed by a local TV show…

Mr. MORGAN: Well, you’re the first person ever interviewed me in retrospect.

GROSS: Is that true?

Mr. MORGAN: Now you’re see the other side.

GROSS: Oh, okay.

Mr. MORGAN: Now you’re seeing the other side because you was interested.

GROSS: It just, like, completely – it’s, like, 180 degrees from the over-the-
top comic side. It’s like whoa. It’s like…

Mr. MORGAN: I love you for that, Terry. I love you for that, just caring, just
being interested. I love you just for that.

GROSS: All right.

Mr. MORGAN: You know? And I feel good. I feel good.

GROSS: Being that emotional.

Mr. MORGAN: It’s emotional. It’s emotional for me. It is, and I’ve got to be
honest with thyself. I’m funny. I still turn the funny on. The funnybuster’s
still sitting downstairs. Yeah, the funnybuster – I’ve got a whole truckload of
funny downstairs.

GROSS: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I just think people are going to be kind of stunned, like whoa, this is,
like, not what I was expecting. It’s like he’s got a tissue and…

Mr. MORGAN: Well, you think they’re going to say I had a meltdown on the air…

GROSS: No, no, but I…

Mr. MORGAN: People cry. People have emotion.

GROSS: No, I know. I know. I know.

Mr. MORGAN: I feel. Yeah, I feel.

GROSS: My guest is Tracy Morgan. His new memoir is called “I Am the New Black.”
He stars on the NBC series “30 Rock.” We’ll talk more after a break. This is

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Tracy Morgan, the star of “30 Rock,” who also spent seven
years on “Saturday Night Live.” He’s written a new memoir called “I Am the New
Black.” The book details Morgan’s difficult life growing up in what he calls
Ghetto, USA.

Morgan moved out of his mother’s house as a teenager to live with his father.
His father was a Vietnam veteran who started using heroin during the war and
came home an addict. That’s how he later got AIDS. Morgan was living with his
father when he was dying.

Mr. MORGAN: I came home one day and he was about 90 pounds.


Mr. MORGAN: And he was sitting outside, and I don’t know how he found the
strength to climb down four flights of stairs. He had lost all his teeth. He
was just about on his way out, and I looked at him, I said, dad, why are you
sitting out here? And he couldn’t talk. He had lost that ability, and he just
looked at me, and he mumbled: I needed air. Take me upstairs.

And I picked him up in my arms, and I carried my father upstairs, and then as
we was going through the door, he cried. He looked at me, and I said, what’s
wrong, dad? He said: I remember when I carried you through the door when you
was a baby.

GROSS: You took care of your father at the end?

Mr. MORGAN: Yeah. I was there. I brought him food to the hospital, let him yell
at me, because I knew he was afraid. When you’re facing death, you can be
afraid. I don’t know nobody, anybody that walked to the gas chamber and was all
bold. That’s only for TV.

GROSS: What surprised you about how he faced death?

Mr. MORGAN: Huh?

GROSS: What surprised you about how he faced death?

Mr. MORGAN: He still made music.

GROSS: Oh, right. Your father was in a band, and you were his roadie for a

Mr. MORGAN: Musician. He still made music.

GROSS: Oh, you know what? You know what I wanted to ask you to do?

Mr. MORGAN: I have it on an audiotape.

GROSS: Yeah, okay. I don’t know if you’d be willing to do this, but you mention
a couple of songs that he wrote.

Mr. MORGAN: “One by One”?

GROSS: Would you sing one or sing part of one?

Mr. MORGAN: (Singing) One by one, save your brother.

(Speaking) He made that. That was the hook, and then he also made another one
called “Obsession,” and that was about my mother.

GROSS: How’d it go?

Mr. MORGAN: It was just “Obsession.” I’m not – I don’t want to sing it because
right now, that’ll make me too emotional, but it was a song called “Obsession.”
My father had remarried, but he was always obsessed with my mother, and he
wrote that, and those are the last two songs that he wrote. Then maybe three
weeks later, he passed on.

GROSS: My guest is Tracy Morgan. His new memoir is called “I Am the New Black.”
A little later we’ll talk about his work on “Saturday Night Live.” Here’s an
example of it. The guest host on this edition was Garth Brooks. At the time
he’d released an album by his rock-star alter-ego, Chris Gaines. In this
sketch, Brooks has just performed as Chris Gaines. He’s backstage, he’s taken
off his Chris Gaines moustache and wig and runs into Tracy Morgan. Tracy
doesn’t seem to understand that Garth Brooks and Chris Gaines are the same

(Soundbite of TV show, “Saturday Night Live”)

Mr. MORGAN: Hey, what’s up? Great show so far, Garth.

Mr. GARTH BROOKS (Singer): Thanks, man. I’m sorry the pimp chat got cut.

Mr. MORGAN: Oh, don’t sweat it, man. I’ll do it next week. Man, I’m just going
to say goodnight tonight.

Mr. BROOKS: Oh, cool.

Mr. MORGAN: Hey man, I remember that concert you did in Central Park, man. It
was on HBO, man. I was clicking through the channels, and I saw it. It was

Mr. BROOKS: Oh, thanks, dude. It was fun, Don McLean, Billy Joel. It was cool.

Mr. MORGAN: Hey, why you didn’t have the O’Jays on? I mean, they legends.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah. Hey, maybe next time. Thanks, Tracy.

Mr. MORGAN: Hey, don’t shine me on. I’m talking about the O’Jays, baby. They
better than that guy you got this week.

Mr. BROOKS: Are you talking about Chris Gaines?

Mr. MORGAN: Yeah, that lame-ass trick. He don’t show up at rehearsals all week.
Then he’s strutting around here in that crazy-ass suit. Man, who he think he

Mr. BROOKS: Dude, have you heard him sing?

Mr. MORGAN: I don’t need to hear him sing to know I don’t like it. I just think
he’s bizarre. I mean, you’re a real dude. You be fixing your transmissions and
everything, man. That dude is fruit of cake(ph), man, sweet like bear meat.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. MORGAN: I’m telling you. If I was your road manager, man, I would drive
Chris Gaines like a hot plate, man. This is SNL, the 25th year. I mean, you
should have been with Barry White. You should(unintelligible). You get into a
fight, Barry White gonna back you up. Chris Gaines, the first time
(unintelligible) he’s gonna skate on you, man.

Mr. BROOKS: No, he’s not going to skate on me, man.

Mr. MORGAN: My man, he’s soft, man. The dude is chicken, and he fat, too.

Mr. BROOKS: What?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: He’s fat. You can see his gut through that outfit, man. If you were
that big, they’d be calling you Girth Brooks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: You know what I’m saying? You’ve got this soup can with you
tonight, man. You should have booked Willie Nelson.

Mr. BROOKS: Hold it, you like Willie Nelson?

Mr. MORGAN: He smoke weed, right? That’s what I’m talking about, man.

(Soundbite of applause)

GROSS: Tracy Morgan and Garth Brooks on “Saturday Night Live.” We’ll talk more
with Tracy Morgan in the second half of the show. I’m Terry Gross and this is

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross, back with Tracy Morgan, the star of
the NBC series "30 Rock." His character was created for him by Tina Fey, who
created and stars in the show. They first worked together on "Saturday Night
Live," where Morgan spent seven years. Tracy Morgan has written a new memoir
called "I Am the New Black."

I want to get back to "Saturday Night Live," when you joined there.

Mr. MORGAN: Right.

GROSS: I'm going to quote something from the book. You say, I'm real life
ghetto and that's probably why they brought 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 the 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")

Ms. RACHEL DRATCH (Actress): (as Herself) Hello and welcome to the show. I'm

Mr. MORGAN: (as Himself) I'm Tracy.

Ms. 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?

Mr. MORGAN: (as Tracy) Yeah, I just sit out with the home boys, 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.

Ms. DRATCH: (as Herself) Cool. Cool.

Mr. MORGAN: (as Tracy) What about you Dratch? What you did last night?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DRATCH: (as Herself) I went to this Brazilian restaurant on the Upper West
Side with a couple Dartmouth friends. You should go. They have really good

Mr. MORGAN: (as Tracy) Yeah. I don’t know what that is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

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?

Mr. MORGAN: Absolutely.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. MORGAN: Absolutely. We celebrated the differences and the places that we
came from. "Saturday Night Live" was like a university for funny. It was just
all different funnies there. 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. Okay, 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 mean you'll give them the stuff?

Mr. 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

GROSS: So what did you give them? So...

Mr. 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?"

Mr. 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?

Mr. MORGAN: She wrote me in "The View."

GROSS: Oh. Oh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: She wrote me in "Judge Judy."

GROSS: As Star Jones?

Mr. MORGAN: All of these things.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. 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...

Mr. MORGAN: Right.

GROSS: ...a kind of almost tie-dye orange-red top.

Mr. MORGAN: Yeah. I remember.

GROSS: Okay. So here you as Maya Angelou introducing your Hallmark Cards.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Saturday Night Live")

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. TINA FEY (Actress): (as Herself) 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.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. MORGAN: (as Maya Angelou) Thanks, Tina. As always, you effervesce the sweet
aroma of woman in full bloom.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FEY: (as Herself) Thank you. That's good, right?

Mr. MORGAN: (as Maya Angelou) Oh yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: (as Maya Angelou) And now, I shall read some of my Hallmark Cards.
I will begin with this one here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: (as Maya Angelou) It's my favorite.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: (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.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: (as Maya Angelou) Happy 5th Birthday. Gram.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FEY: (as Herself) Wow. That was moving, a very moving sentiment.

Mr. MORGAN: (as Maya Angelou) It made my grandson cry for days.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: (as Maya Angelou) And look, there's a little slot to put money in.

Ms. FEY: (as Herself) Oh, so that's perfect. Yeah.

Mr. MORGAN: (as Maya Angelou) This next one is my favorite.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: (as Maya Angelou) I see you brown skin, neat afro, full lips, a
little goatee.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: (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
little (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's Tracy Morgan in a sketch from "Saturday Night Live" playing the
poet Maya Angelou. So when Tina Fey wrote - told you that she had written a
show around a character that she created for you, what did you think?

Mr. MORGAN: I knew it was going to be funny because everything else she had -
did for me was great. And I was like Tina, I love Tina, I roll with Tina. And,
but what we didn’t know was how successful the show was going to be. I know I
didn’t see all of this coming - 14 Emmys and all of that stuff. Nobody seen -
nobody sees all that. We just like put the work in and hope people love it. And
then work on Alec Baldwin, who is the chief, is one of the five greatest actors
of all time, is Alec Baldwin. So just working with him has made me better. It's
made me and everyone else better just working with him.

GROSS: Now...

Mr. MORGAN: You have to be fast.

GROSS: ...some of the stories in "30 Rock" do connect to your life.

Mr. MORGAN: Right.

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...

Mr. MORGAN: Yeah.

GROSS: some kind of headquarters. If you drink, it can sense the fumes.
So it’s to prevent you from drinking for the...

Mr. 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.

Mr. MORGAN: So she waited until the scars healed to make fun of it. She didn’t
do it while it 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?

Mr. MORGAN: Chico Divine. Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah. So who is Chico Divine?

Mr. 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: Ah-ha. So Tracy Jordan...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: It’s my alter ego.

GROSS: Okay. You were saying there's no - earlier you said there's no
connection now between me and Tracy Jordan.

Mr. MORGAN: My alter ego. But he's my alter ego.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. MORGAN: Chico Divine was a little bit more wild because on TV I don’t drink
liquor. But Chico Divine was, you know, me manifesting the alter-ego side of

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.

Mr. MORGAN: Baby, I was in the papers every week.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. MCINTYRE: I was in the papers every week.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. MORGAN: I was taking my shirt off in clubs. I was dancing with the devil,

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: Holler at me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: Where I come from - in the ghetto - when you party, you took your
shirt off. You say ooh, ooh, and it got - it got, it was a party.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Do you feel like you got him out of your system?

Mr. MORGAN: Other than that - huh?

GROSS: You got him out of your system?

Mr. 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.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. 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 Actor #1: Hey dude, I thought you left.

Mr. MORGAN: (as Tracy Jordan) Yeah. I mean what are you guys doing? Going to

Unidentified Actor #2: Yup. We heard you can't drink. You still coming?

Mr. 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.

(Soundbite of cheering)

(Soundbite of chanting)

Mr. MORGAN: 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?

Mr. MORGAN: No. No.

GROSS: Uh-huh.


GROSS: It's just in the script.

Mr. 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: My guest is Tracy Morgan. His new memoir is called "I Am the New Black."
More after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Tracy Morgan. He stars in the NBC comedy series "30 Rock"
and spent seven years on "Saturday Night Live." Morgan's new memoir is called
"I Am the New Black."

You describe when you got your first check from "Saturday Night Live," you
know, you said you were still living in the ghetto and...

Mr. MORGAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...after you got the check you had enough money to move the family...

Mr. MORGAN: Yeah.

GROSS: ...and you moved in the middle of the night.

Mr. 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?

Mr. 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.

GROSS: And was that it?

Mr. MORGAN: It was awesome 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 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
illusion in part to a sketch that you did on "Weekend Update" in 2007 during
the presidential campaign.

Mr. MORGAN: Right.

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

Mr. 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

Mr. 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: Did that…

Mr. 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.

Mr. MORGAN: …I’m not giving you that.

GROSS: An excuse for what?

Mr. 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

Mr. MORGAN: Yeah, there were times that you weren’t in, yeah.

GROSS: Oh, will I…

Mr. MORGAN: 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 I know how to make them laugh. And a lot of black entertainer sometimes
they search for the perfect audience. They stay in a 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 will 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 will give me a wink.

GROSS: He wouldn’t talk to you?

Mr. MORGAN: Fuel my confidence up. And I too – yeah, I’ll go out there and I’ll
do anything to make Lorne Michaels laugh. And it was a confidence build up 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.

Mr. MORGAN: No, he was like - he was like Vince Lombardi but he’d give you a
wink. He’d give you a wink. That’s (unintelligible) 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 though. You were great, you were great because it
might go to your head. But if he would give you a wink, you know, you did your
thing. But you still got Monday brother and you got to come even harder now.

GROSS: Okay. So we have to hear at that sketch that I was talking before, the
black as the new president. So here’s my guest Tracy Morgan at the weekend
update desk.

Mr. MORGAN: Why is it there every time a black man in this country who gets too
good at something there’s always someone to come around and remind us that he’s

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: First Tiger, then Donovan McNabb, then me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: Now Barack. I got a theory about that. It’s a little complicated
but basically it goes like this. We are a racist country. We ain’t.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: Maybe not the people in this room, but we’re not a racist country -
how the hell that we convince anybody in Texas and Ohio that Barack didn’t know
how to answer the phone at three in the morning.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: Let me tell you something, Barack knows how to answer that phone.
He’s not going to answer, like, hello, I’m scared.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: What’s going on? He’s going to answer like I will get a phone call
like three in the morning, yeah, who is this?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: This better be good. I’ll come down and put somebody in the

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: Some things has never change. So…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: People would say he’s not a fighter. Let me tell you something.
He’s a gangster. He’s from Chicago.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: 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.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: I used to smoke (unintelligible) and drink Old English.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: I grew up on government cheese.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORGAN: I prefer it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So Tracy Morgan, tell us about how that sketch came to be? Did Tina Fey
write the sketch?

Mr. MORGAN: Yeah, we both wrote it. We both collaborated on it.

GROSS: Okay. So you’ve kind of needed a tissue a couple of times during the
interview because you got very emotionally…

Mr. MORGAN: Right.

GROSS: …involved in telling us about some of the hardships that you faced.

Mr. MORGAN: Right.

GROSS: There was an episode, I think, of “30 Rock,” where you went to your high
school and kind of broke down. And I’m wondering that among people who know
you, do they know you as somebody who – although there’s a lot of – although
you’re famous for being funny that beneath the surface, like, you’re really

Mr. MORGAN: I’m quite sure, I’m quite sure. Most human beings are that way. I
think that, yeah, you know, I come from one woman, one man. So, I have my
emotional side. I don’t show it publicly all the time because it’s nobody’s
business. You know, I’m open with you because we are talking but I don’t just
go around in the streets crying. No way.

And as far as people on outside looking at me, I don’t know, you would have to
ask them. Tracy Morgan, I guess, could have been many different things to many
different people. I’m many different ways to many different people. I’m going
to give you what you give me. I’m going to keep it just as real as you keep it
with me. This is not going to be 70-30. This is going to be 50-50, straight
down the middle.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you a lot for talking with us.

Mr. MORGAN: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: And I wish you good luck with that…

Mr. MORGAN: I hope I wasn’t too crazy with it.

GROSS: Tracy Morgan stars in the NBC series “30 Rock.” His memoir is called,
“I’m the New Black.” This is FRESH AIR.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
The Inner Life Of An Imperfect Marriage


Ever hear of the acclaimed British novelist Jane Gardam? If not, our book
critic Maureen Corrigan says you’re in good company, even though Gardam has
written over 20 novels and was made an officer of the order of the British
Empire this year in recognition of her literary achievements, and she’s the
only writer to have been twice awarded Britain’s Whitbread Prize for the best
novel of the year. Maureen has a review of Garden’s new novel, “The Man in the
Wooden Hat.”

MAUREEN CORRIGAN: The best contemporary British writer you probably haven’t
heard off. That’s how I identify Jane Gardam to those readers, especially those
Anglophiles, who ask me for recommendations. There are many reasons to sing
Gardam’s praises, among them her off-the-beaten track subjects, her outwardly
polished, inwardly muddled characters and her rollercoaster tone that speeds
from twee to tragic in a paragraph. But the latest occasion to celebrate Gardam
is that at the age of 81, she has just added another superb novel to her canon.

It’s called, “The Man in the Wooden Hat,” and it’s a companion work to what
many Gardam groupies consider her masterpiece, her 12th novel, “Old Filth.”
Filth is a musty British acronym that stands for the phrase Failed in London,
Try Hong Kong. It was applied unkindly to describe public-school educated Brits
who scurried to the far corners of the empire to make fortunes and careers they
otherwise would have been shut out of in the mother country.

The "Old Filth" of Gardam’s 2004 novel is Sir Edward Feathers, a distinguished
barrister who was born to English parents in the Far East and later became what
was known as a Raj orphan when he was sent back alone to England as a child for
his education. Given that early experience of separation, Feathers is, to put
it mildly, an introvert. Send him on a solitary walk in his wellies followed by
a tumbler of whisky and he seems to be miserably contented. The only steady
connection in his life was his wife, Betty, who in “Old Filth,” has died of a
heart attack while planting tulip bulbs.

“The Man in the Wooden Hat,” is Betty’s retrospective story of their marriage,
and she’s every bit Sir Edward’s equal in terms of her enigmatic emotions and
her tart worldview. Betty and Edward met in Hong Kong after World War II. The
only child of British parents who died in a Japanese internment camp, Betty is
primed to accept Edward’s rather stiff proposal. She confesses to a girlfriend,
however, that she’s not sure she loves Edward, that she foolishly wants the

Here’s what Betty’s girlfriend says in reply, you should want the moon. Don’t
do it. Don’t go for a forty-watt bulb just because it looks pretty. You’ll get
stuck with it when it goes out. You are so loyal and you’ll soldier on in the
dark for ever afterwards. In a sense, the bulk of this new novel is a nuanced
exploration of whether or not Betty’s girlfriend was right. The Feathers’
marriage has its blips of passion and its long drowsy seasons of

But infidelity and loss and bitter mutual dismay also mark the union. The
overriding sadness of Betty’s life is that because of an early hysterectomy,
she can’t have children. This is emotional territory that Gardam has visited
before, most dramatically in her amazing 1991 novel in letters, “The Queen of
the Tambourine.” There’s a scene in that novel in which the prematurely
menopausal heroine visits her doctor and he chirpily asks how she’s doing.

Things drying up nicely, he says. It’s a tossed-off remark that I think
captures the oddness of Gardam’s signature tone - at once witty, yet grotesque.
Together, “Old Filth” and “The Man in the Wooden Hat” compose a vivid diptych
of a marriage. You don’t have to read “Old Filth,” first, though you’ll enjoy
the plot surprises in this latest novel more if you do. Both novels, along with
other gems from Gardam’s backlist are published in paperback in this country by
Europa Editions, a small press founded just five years ago, which has been
doing the Lord’s work in terms of introducing European literary novels, many of
them in translation to an American readership.

Europa’s sleeper hit last year was French writer Muriel Barbery’s wry novel,
“The Elegance of the Hedgehog.” I wouldn’t be surprised if “The Man in the
Wooden Hat,” sweeps up still more accolades for Europa and for the quietly
renowned Gardam.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed “The Man in the Wooden Hat,” by Jane Gardam. You can download podcasts
of our show on our Web site,

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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